Embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen appeared on “Today” Wednesday morning, defending herself vehemently against charges of racism and explaining her past use of the N-word.
In a tearful yet defiant interview with Matt Lauer, Deen began by explaining her reasons for abruptly canceling a previously scheduled visit to “Today” last week.
“I was just overwhelmed. I was in a state of shock,” said Deen, 66.
Pointing out that since Friday, Deen has lost lucrative deals with the Food Network and Smithfield Foods in connection with the matter, Lauer asked whether she believed she’d been treated fairly by her business partners.
She dodged the question, instead using it to state her belief that “every one of God’s creatures was created equal, no matter who you choose to go to bed with at night, no matter what church you go to pray.”
Lauer pushed a little harder, suggesting that Deen was only there to “stop the financial bleeding.”
“I want people to know who I am. And people that have worked beside me, have walked beside me know what kind of person I am,” she replied.
Despite goading from Lauer, Deen carefully avoided speaking out against either the Food Network or Smithfield Foods, saying only that she would not have fired herself under the same circumstances.
"Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No," she said.
Moving on to the thornier subject of intolerance, Lauer asked point-blank if Deen was a racist.
“As a child, I was raised in a home that my father tolerated bad grades, he would tolerate me breaking a curfew, but he told me, ‘Girl, if I ever find out that you have behaved in a way that you think you’re better than others, or have been unkind, your butt is going to be mine,” she said.
Lauer pushed her to explain her use of the racial slur, which she admitted to using repeatedly in a court deposition leaked last week by the National Enquirer.
Deen elaborated about the circumstances surrounding of her use of the term, which she said was following a bank robbery in which she was held at gunpoint by an African American man. She also denied having uttered it under any other circumstances, somewhat contradicting her statement in the original deposition.
“It’s just not a part of who we are,” she said.
Lauer then turned to a passage from Deen’s deposition, in which she said “most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks ... I can’t myself determine what offends another person” when asked if she had ever used the epithet in a joke.
“That last sentence gets me,” Lauer said. “Do you have any doubt in your mind that African Americans are offended by the N-word?”
As many of her defenders have done over the last few days, Deen pointed to the use of the word within the black community.
“I have asked myself that so many times,” she said. “It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other. ... I think for this problem to be worked on, these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other.”
The only kind of people she is prejudiced against were “liars and thieves,” said Deen, who broke down in tears recalling a recent encounter with her 7-year-old grandson. “He looked up at me and he said, ‘I don’t tell lies.’ That’s how I raised my children, that’s how I raised.”
She ended the conversation with a dramatic plea. “I tell you what, if there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back. If you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me.”
“I is what I is, and I’m not changing,” she said. “There’s someone evil out there, that saw what I had worked for, and they wanted it.