By Manuel McDonnell Smith
In a bid to repair her badly tarnished image, celebrity chef and restaurateur Paula Deen finally appeared on NBC’s Today show on Wednesday morning, five days after she skipped a scheduled appearance to explain her use of the N-word and other slurs revealed in a deposition in a harassment suit filed by a female employee.
Nearly breaking into tears from the first question from host Matt Lauer, Deen admitted that she has been “just overwhelmed” and “in a state of shock” since the revelations. “There have been some very, very hurtful lies said about me,” she said. “The main reason I am here today, Matt, is it is important to me that I tell you and everyone out there what I believe and how I live my life. I believe that every creature on this earth, every one of god’s creatures, was created equal. … That’s the way I was raised, and that’s the way I live my life.”
Remaining stoic in the face of Deen’s tears, Lauer asked if she was just there just “to stop the financial bleeding” after losing some business deals. She was defiant, proclaiming, “QVC has not dropped me. There’s only two that have dropped me. I’m so very thankful for the partners that I have that believe in me.” Lauer asked if Deen as a business owner were given the same circumstances, would she fire herself Deen replied, “Would I fire me Knowing me No.” (Later that day, WalMart, Caesars Entertainment, & Home Depot announced they would end their business partnerships with her.)
Deen then talked about her upbringing, saying that racism was not tolerated in her household. Appearing perplexed, Lauer asked directly, “How does someone use the N-word … and not be considered a racist” Deen replied, “The day I used that word, it was a world ago, it was 30 years ago. I had had a gun put to my head,” describing her anxiety during a robbery and offering fear as the excuse for her use of the term. She then went on to insist that she used the “N-Word” only once, a stunningly bold fabrication that is refuted by her own under-oath testimony in the same case that led to Wednesday’s interview:
Lawyer: Okay. Have you used it since then
Deen:I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.
Beyond her own use of the N-word, Deen has been publicly accused of allowing the use of other derogatory terms for African-Americans, with one relative reportedly describing an employee as “my little monkey.”
Continuing in her deflection of blame, she also charged young people for their rampant use of the N-word. “It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens, and I hear what these young people are calling each other,” she said. “These young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throwing that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl.”
Deen added that her only prejudices are against “thieves and liars.”
Bringing the conversation back to the impact of her language on her business interests, Lauer asked if Deen supported her fans’ call for a boycott of Food Network. “I don’t want that,” she said.
At the end of the tearful interview, Deen disclosed that she has no regrets about her admission to having used the racial slur, because she strongly believes “in telling the truth,” asserting that her personality on TV is the same one she has off-camera. “What you see is what you get,” she said. “I’m not an actress.”
Before the segment wrapped, Deen again blamed unknown forces for the controversy surrounding her, saying, “There’s someone evil out there that saw what I had worked for, and they wanted it.”
Since our first report on Monday, DiversityInc readers have overwhelmingly shown their own distaste for the chef’s racial comments. “How can a woman her age not know better” questioned reader Marsha. “We don’t need any more of this type of racism. Enough is enough. Goodbye and good riddance.” Lajuana Caldwell shared her “hope that people will continue to express their position on this issue at the checkout stands. I recall the nation making a decision to stop using the N-word! Where was Paula Those who elect to make excuses are as troubling and unfortunate as the decision to raise a confederate flag because of the so-called heritage factor or to call the Washington football team the Redskins. Lilly Buckwalter writes, “She is in freefall. How can she atone”
For Deen, finally facing up to a national interview may be her first step in that direction.