After admitting to using the “n-word” in the past and organizing a party featuring black people dressed as slaves, Paula Deen has been getting dropped by her sponsors like a hot, possibly racist, cathead biscuit. While the Paula Deen scandal speaks volumes about the current racial climate in America, another important lesson should be lifted from it: A bad reputation is poison in the marketplace.
Walmart, which has ironically been embroiled in various racial lawsuits and complaints, was the first major retailer to drop Deen. Following its lead, retail juggernauts Sears, Walgreens, Kmart, Target, Food Network, and others have already made the decision to stop doing business with the 66-year-old chef and TV personality.
However, many people don’t see what the big deal is. There’s a Facebook group called “Support Paula Deen” which has attracted nearly 600,000 members. Even professional race-baiter Jesse Jackson has tweeted that he is willing to forgive Deen. But as innocuous as many people perceive Deen’s racial transgressions, it has proven to be enough to effectively topple her soul food empire.
And while many people may sympathize with Deen, it should be understood that businesses have every right and reason to disassociate themselves with whomever or whatever they find to be harmful to their image — just as the consumer has the right to refuse to support any business they dislike. Many people neglect to appreciate just how valuable reputations are to businesses.