“One reason why Deen has been so successful in creating her empire is precisely because she has taken an intrinsically problematic image of America – one constructed … when the South defined itself in political and cultural opposition to the North – and covered it over with a thin dusting of Old Bay,” writes Marcus Hunter on the Flavorwire blog. “She was able to present southern charm as something that has transcended the racial tensions that characterize so much of the region’s history. Well, until now.”
To be sure, the South’s culinary heritage interweaves both black and white culture in a way that Southerners like Deen understand innately, in their own way. Whites may make private N-word jokes, as she admits in the deposition, but they also, as she told the New York Times a couple of years ago, share a special affinity for blacks.
"I feel like the South is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such an integral part in our lives," Deen said. "They were like our family."
It’s not a crazy point.
"For decades and decades, the South's legacy has been the basic trope that permitted white Americans [to excuse] themselves from all racial guilt and project it to the American South,” University of North Carolina professor Larry Griffin, author of “The South as an American Problem,” told the Monitor in 2010.
And in the deposition itself, she claims that her view of the N-word has changed over time. She also related one time she used it. When asked in what context, she replied, “It was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”
“What did you say?”
“Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple. I didn’t feel favorable towards him.”
She said she used the word when retelling the story to her husband. She said she’s used the word since then, “but it’s been a very long time.”
But in the deposition in a harassment lawsuit involving her brother, allegations were raised that the word frequently flies in the restaurant’s kitchen. In her deposition, Deen defended an episode from 2007 when she imagined a plantation-style wedding reception with an all-black wait staff.