What Paula Deen Actually Teaches Us About The S Word

Written on June 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm , by

Sorry. It’s a word that should not be that difficult to utter with meaning and sincerity. But, in fact, it can be quite difficult to say.  Look at the firestorm of controversy surrounding media darling, celebrity chef and businesswoman Paula Deen.

Her blatant admission to using a racial slur in the past led to questions about her racial sensitivity and potential for intolerance of others. Speculation pooled and simmered to a slow boil. But the temperature could have swiftly cooled if Deen had simply done the right thing immediately. She should have appeared on national television and acknowledged her past position while clarifying her present one with a simple, “I am sorry. I apologize if I offended anyone.” Instead, there was a disappearing act—along with two hasty apologies via YouTube videos. And when she did return to the national television spotlight, her interview lacked remorse but was full of defense.

A simple, heartfelt sorry. Why is it so hard to immediately and publicly say: “I messed up.” “My bad.” “Let me apologize.” Aside from the obvious answer of avoiding consequences, it might be our need to be right even when wrong. Our insistence on going down in a blaze of denial rather than surrendering with a sorry flag is rooted in a basic inability to look at our own flaws . . . and those of our parents.

I remember as a child staring wide eyed at a police officer who asked me to verify my harried mother’s story about why we were speeding down an urban street. His eyes locked mine over my mother’s imploring look and he asked me three simple words. “Is that right?” I shook my head slowly, “No.” He looked satisfied as he wrote the ticket and my mother questioned my ratting her out. My answer was simple: “You always told me to tell the truth.”

Don’t the truth and sorry co-exist? What greater gift can we give our children than the ability to use their own feelings and truth to meaningfully say, “I am sorry.” We can teach our children to apologize simply by staying focused on the deed. We can teach our children to not insert the word ‘but’ in the apology, instead use the word ‘and.’ We can teach our children that apologizing may release guilt and point them on the path of good.

The ability to say ‘sorry’ implies that you care enough to acknowledge feelings outside of yourself and can diffuse potentially ugly and violent situations.  All it requires is an awareness, courage and a desire to make things right. It can be easier than we think—and more necessary.


What do you think of how Paula Deen has handled this controversy? Post a comment below and tell me.

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.


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10 Responses to “What Paula Deen Actually Teaches Us About The S Word”

  1. I believe that a lot of you media/reporters/experts?? have pre-judged and closed your ears and hardened your hearts. I distinctly heard her say and convey “I’m sorry” multiple times, both in words and in her behavior. I’m not condoning what she did all those years ago, but what more do you want except your ‘pound of flesh’. Quite frankly I wish you would examine your heart closely and see if she did exactly what you claim she has not done, would you truly forgive her?? Or is your judgement made and you have found her wanting without giving her a chance??

  2. I agree with Ruth Ann. She said she was sorry. Forgive and move on. She was honest on the stand and of course the media just blows it way out of proportion.

  3. She has been called on the carpet for this. She has said she is sorry. However, how many other high profile people have used racial comments that were only heard by their spouses, should they be condemned also? I think once the media got a hold if it they made a mountain out of a mole hill. Let anyone who has not used any racial comments cast the first stone.

  4. I have no tolerance of any type of racial discrimination. The reason is my father played professional football in the 1960′s and 70′s. When the team played in southern states they had a hard time finding a hotel that would allow the black players to spend the night before the game. These were championship professional players, admired world wide, who played their hearts out every Sunday, and because of the color of their skin they could not get a hotel room? Tell anyone who has been discriminated against, or called a racial slur Paula Deen could not of done a better job of treating others as she expects to be treated.

  5. She said she was sorry, we forgave Bill Clinton, Michael Vicks, Tiger Woods, let get over it. I am sure if it was a male chef as sorry would have been quite enough. But this is all way out of hand.

  6. How much should one woman be punished? It was 30 years ago. What a railroad job on a self made woman. I hope she survives. Martha Stewart lied, did time in prison for her inside trading. Bill Clinton did horrible things as president, taking advantage of his presidency and of a naive intern, now he’s father of the year. Such hypocrisy!!

  7. I cannot stand racism since I remember myself, that’s the way I was raised in Europe, I also happened to marry a most wonderful black American many years ago, obviously my children are biracial, my big extended family has every race and many nationalities. But this political correctness has gotten out of hand! As soon as something like that comes out in public politicians and celebraties rush to the media to say they are sorry. Sorry, but I am not buying their “sorries”, it’s all “damage control” by their advisors. Not to mention that apparently it’s OK to gang up on Paula but it’s not OK to condem remarks about “Uncle Thomas” when that “Uncle Tom” happens to be a conservative the media love to hate. In short, leave Paula alone, non-whites who deal with her in everyday life are capable of making their own judgement whether to have contact with her or not, a racist she is or not.

  8. I believe she is sorry, but doesn’t really know what to be sorry about. I believe she doesn’t really see anything that she has done wrong. This is the way she is and this is how she was raised. It’s rather sad to think she is so one-sided on seeing people and society. This is very true since she is supposedly a businesswoman. How can she be so involved in the business world, working with so many different types of people, and not know that what she is saying is wrong? I just don’t think that she really “gets it.”

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