NEW YORK, June 26 (Reuters) - U.S. celebrity chef Paula Deen, under fire after she admitted using a racial slur, said in a tearful TV interview on Wednesday that she is not a racist and would never intentionally hurt anyone.
The Southern food doyenne said in an interview on NBC’s “The Today Show” that it was important for her to tell “everyone out there what I believe and how I live my life.”
When asked if she felt she had racist tendencies she replied, “No.”
It was her first TV interview since The Food Network said last Friday it would drop her show after she was sued for racial discrimination and admitted in a legal deposition to using a racial slur in the past.
Deen, who has built a business empire that includes cookbooks, restaurants and kitchen supplies, said she was raised in a home where her father would not tolerate unkindness to anyone or bad behavior.
The controversy surrounding Deen erupted last week when a deposition was released in transcript form in which Deen, who is white, was asked if she had used the “N-word,” and responded, “Yes, of course.” The “N-word” is a euphemism for “nigger,” an epithet for black people.
Asked about the epithet in the deposition, Deen said she had used the slur when describing, probably to her husband, how a black man robbed a bank where she was working in the 1980s. She said she had used the word since, “but it’s been a very long time.”
In Wednesday’s interview, she recalled the bank robbery and said: “I had had a gun put to my head, a shakin’ gun.” She did not give a full description of that incident.
She said: “As a child, I was raised in a home that my father tolerated bad grades. He would tolerate ... maybe me breakin’ a curfew. But he told me, he said, ‘Girl, if I ever find out that you have behaved in a way where you think you’re better than others, or have been unkind, your butt is gonna be mine’.”
DEEN SAYS SHE IS “HEARTBROKEN”
Deen said she was thankful for the support she has received, and also heartbroken because she has had to comfort friends who were distressed about things being said about her that she said were untrue.
“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. Please, I want to meet you. I want to meet you,” she said, sobbing.
The 66-year-old celebrity chef had called off a scheduled interview with NBC on Friday to discuss the situation and instead released a video defending herself.
The Food Network, which is owned by Scripps Network Interactive Inc, later said it would not renew her contract when it expired at the end of June.
Pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc also dropped Deen, who had a name-brand line of hams with the company.
The controversy was sparked by the release of a deposition which had been taken as part of a lawsuit in which Deen, who is white, was asked if she had used the racial slur and she responded, “Yes, of course.”
The deposition related to a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee, Lisa Jackson, who worked for Paula Deen Enterprises.
The lawsuit alleges that, while discussing with Jackson plans for Hiers’ 2007 wedding, Deen said she wanted a “true southern plantation-style wedding.”
“Well, what I would really like is a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around,” Deen said, according to the lawsuit.