JUST AS Paula Deen cooked and ate for years based on a menu designed before nutrition-minded folks started understanding the causes of heart disease and diabetes, her knowledge of acceptable cultural mores also seems to be stuck in an era when using the N-word was acceptable for celebrities other than rappers.
While being questioned in a discrimination lawsuit filed by former employee Lisa Jackson, Deen said she has used racial slurs in the past but insisted that she and her family do not tolerate prejudice.
The Food Network star and Savannah, Ga., restaurant owner answered questions about her racial attitudes in a May 17 deposition by a lawyer for Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House. Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, own the restaurant. Jackson sued them last year, saying that she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.
Jackson, by the way, is white.
According to a transcript of the deposition, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, an attorney for Jackson asked Deen if she has ever used the N-word.
"Yes, of course," Deen replied, though she added: "It's been a very long time."
The white-haired biscuit guru recalled the time she worked as a Georgia bank teller in the 1980s and was held up by a black gunman. Deen told the attorney that when she later told her husband about the holdup, she thought that she referred to the robber as a n-----.
The corn bread queen said she also may have used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants, but she couldn't recall specifics.
"But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on," Deen said. "Things have changed since the '60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do."
What about not cruel or mean behavior?
The civil suit was filed in March 2012 in Chatham County Superior Court and was transferred to federal court a few months later. Deen and Hiers have denied the allegations.
"Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is" or what gender a person is, Deen said in her deposition. "It's what's in your heart and in your head that matters to us."
But Deen, a self-proclaimed jokester who comes across as sweet as her tea, seemed to struggle when asked if she considered jokes using the N-word to be "mean."
"That's kind of hard," she said, grabbing a shovel and starting to dig a hole for herself. "Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. . . . They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don't know - I just don't know what to say. I can't, myself, determine what offends another person."
How about the assumption that most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks and black folks?
Jackson's attorney, Matthew Billips, also pressed Deen to explain whether she had once suggested that only black waiters be hired for her brother's 2007 wedding.
Deen said that she once mentioned the idea to her personal assistant and Jackson, but immediately dismissed it. Deen said she had been inspired by an upscale Southern restaurant that she and her husband had visited.
"The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie," Deen said. "I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret [it]."
Asked if she used the N-word to describe those waiters, Deen replied: "No, because that's not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job."
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- Daily News wire services
contributed to this report.
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