But there are a few points that have been bugging me and I MUST clarify....
1. The issue isn't that Deen used 'the n-word' once, thirty years ago, or even that she used it once three years ago. All of these allegations came out in a legal deposition pertaining to harassment charges against her. One of the legal definitions of harassment is that the employer created a hostile working environment for the discriminated-against person, such as consistently using offensive racial and/or sexual slurs.
2. It does seem clear that Deen did mention she wanted a 'Southern, plantation-style wedding' with an all-black staff. And that indicates more than a simple 'recent slip of the tongue.' And that there are allegations of systematic and consistent racist language on a daily basis at her restaurant and other businesses, not just a smattering of accidental bad language.
It certainly isn't true that 'all white women of Deen's generation are racists from the South.' That seems pretty offensive to Southern women who ARE NOT and also belies the fact that there are plenty of equally racist Northern women today who just happen to be racist about different types of groups they see as the servant class (don't even get me started on what I have overheard some people say about the women they hire to clean their houses and the men who mow their laws). No one gets a 'free pass' as far as I am concerned for deep and systematic discrimination: being from the South doesn't make you racist but nor does it free you from the standards of common humanity and decency.
Like most precocious junior high girls, I breezed through Gone With the Wind, picking it up because I heard it was a dirty book and then staying with it because of the opening chapter's description of Scarlett O'Hara as a heroine with no imagination who was cruel and callous, dark-haired and a survivor.
Most of my books featured very imaginative intelligent girls like Harriet the Spy and Ramona Quimby or bookish romantic heroines with inner beauty like Jane Eyre. Cathy from Wuthering Heights was as close as you could get to a heroine who was Byronic and 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know' but she dies halfway through the book and Heathcliff is the real hero.
In contrast, Scarlett is a total bitch and the center of her own universe, the type of girl who would never talk to me in real life. She made mistakes, but she'd be far better off in today's world than I am. So she fascinated me, even as the obvious racism of the book was repellent.
It made me feel better years later to realize that as simple as the book is there is so much more complicated racial ideology behind the surface that Margaret Mitchell probably didn't intend but unconsciously slipped in...like the fact that despite being technically white, Scarlett and Rhett Butler embody so many 'black' stereotypes, such as Rhett's swarthy complexion, sexuality, and dismissive view of the Southern cause and gentility....and if the annoying cinematic stereotype so many African-American actresses are forced to embody is that of a 'sassy black woman,' I would argue that is EXACTLY what Scarlett O'Hara is...sassy, mouthy, uncomplicated and earthy.
In contrast the truly 'lily white' characters in the book are Ashley and Melanie and significantly they are weak, passive, and ultimately death-driven and non-generative, in contrast to the sturdy Scarlett and her ability to give birth easily and without pain and kick ass while surviving the burning of Atlanta.
Perhaps that is why some African-American woman like the book, despite themselves. I love this quote from an essay published on NPR: "Scarlett O'Hara, founding mother of the Me Generation. Frankly, my dear, I found her unabashed self-interest delicious. My own mother, though, was mystified. Why would her child, who would eventually sport a two-foot wide Afro, be so interested in a plantation belle?" Through literary slight-of-hand Scarlett allows the reader to have the strength of an African-American woman, in other words, with white Southern privilege.
Still, despite the positive characteristics of Scarlett, we as a society still seem very blind to how much racism bubbles beneath the surface of the idealization of the antebellum South, and despite Barack Obama's election, I still sometimes see 'stars and bars' on bumper stickers in my area and shudder. Hell, the Dukes of Hazard was a popular TV show when I was a kid in the 1970s, if I remember correctly.
No matter how much I coveted the apple green dress wrapped around Scarlett's 17-inch waist, I knew what all of that cotton was made from: pain.
But in some sense, I guess we are hypocritical as a society to react with horror to Deen: the race issues bubbling beneath her manufactured persona were always there, we just didn't want to admit to them...so much of our battles about things like food have a racial subtext and Paula's pride in deep-frying everything that moves, putting an extra half-stick of butter in everything, and using processed food galore to create her 'cuisine' smacked of a hatred of Northern elitism, kale, and judgement of her region for its past.
Yes, all of us have said things we might regret on a personal level and we are all reflections of our very imperfect history.
But ultimately, racial and sexual harassment within an organization, just like history and a great Civil War, doesn't happen by accident--it takes callousness and a considerable effort of will to maintain and the individual responsible for that organization can't shrug it off.
Frankly, my dear, from what I have heard about working in restaurant kitchens, pretty much all of them involve some form of chest-thumping and ass-grabbing, but at minimum this should not be condoned by management. They say a fish rots from the head down...and in this case the 'head' of the fish was batter-fried in butter and yes, I do give a damn if what was said, was said.