Paula Deen, PR and the apology that never should’ve happened

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About 95 percent of public relations, especially involving celebrities or public figures, are awful. As a budding PR practitioner, I’d like to think that I’m in the five percent, but I’m not, so much of what’s to come is going to be as much about me as it is the practices I loathe. There’s an argument to be made that the low man on the totem pole is just following orders. However, I’m of the mind that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

I can admit that I’m part of the problem in hopes of being part of the solution one day.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re aware of the Paula Deen debacle. And by debacle, I’m not talking about the years of nonsense that got her to this point; I’m talking about the response to the years of nonsense that got us to this point.

Deen’s two videotaped apologies (one professionally done and one that appears to be amateur) reek of awfulness. They have the stench of highly paid PR hacks that wrote the standard boilerplate apology then stood around in an orgy of self fellation about how good of a job they did.

I don’t know what’s in Paula Deen’s heart, but her actions belie a woman who grew up with decades of deeply held prejudice, if not outright racism, who’s suddenly seen the light.

I’m not a fan of the celebrity apology culture and this wonderful article at Clutch lays that argument out wonderfully. Other good reads on the race aspect of Deen’s antics can be read here and here.

Paula Deen shouldn’t have apologized. If I was her advisor, I’d have advised her to express the following ideas:

  • I’m not a bad person. I am a mother, a sister, a wife and a friend to many.
  • HOWEVER, I grew up in a time in which prejudiced and racist views about African Americans were part of the fabric of our upbringing.
  • These views are decade’s old and became so common place that I and many others around me lacked the empathy to put ourselves in the shoes of other people.

If Deen really wanted to make an impact, I’d advise her to talk about the power of words, or “jokes” as she calls them. A lack of dogs, fire hoses and public lynchings don’t mean that racism and prejudice is dead. Just means there’s a lack of dogs, fire hoses and public lynchings.

If Deen really wanted to make an impact, she’d say that she’s willing to do one thing that most public figures don’t do when their apology tours begin: LISTEN.

If Deen really wanted to make an impact, she’d spend some time with people of color. Not people she’s worked for. Not even people like Congressman John Lewis, who got beat down for the cause. But people of color who have had to break through glass ceilings built by well-intentioned people who slept well at night because they weren’t physically harming African Americans, yet still believed that people who look like me are less than.

It probably won’t happen, but a man can dream right?

Honorable mention: Please stop with the “because black people say the ‘N’ word too,” defense. It makes you look like a lemming, incapable of critical thought. And lemmings, incapable of critical thought, most certainly do not deserve to be spokespersons for anything. Image

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One thought on “Paula Deen, PR and the apology that never should’ve happened

  1. Agreed. Racism is a touchy subject as it should be, but racism was around long before Paula Deen. When you’re born into something and you grew up in it, society is partially to blame. She could have played her cards so differently and maybe left with a better image than this. Truth be told, there is no way she was getting out unscathed, but she could have avoided being absolutely destroyed.

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