Paula Deen said she’s no racist.
The folksy Southern cooking queen tearfully took to NBC's "Today" show Wednesday for the first time to talk about the racism scandal that has rocked her cooking empire. She said she is “somewhat in a state of shock” over what were “hurtful lies said about me.”
Asked by host Matt Lauer whether she was a racist, Deen said, "No, I'm not."
“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wished 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,” Deen said near the end of her interview. "Please, I want to meet you. I want to meet you. I is what I is and I'm not changing."
In the wake of revelations that Deen admitted to having used the N-word in the past and considered throwing a plantation-style wedding, the Food Network and Smithfield Foods cut ties with the celebrity cook. The home shopping channel QVC said it was reviewing its business relationship with her and casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corp. said Wednesday it planned to "part ways" and re-brand its Paula Deen-themed restaurants at four of its properties.
Deen stressed that she still has plenty of supporters and that her "Today" appearance was not intented to stop the financial bleeding. She said that she wanted people to "know who I am."
Pressed on the issue, Deen said, “Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No."
Deen, 66, was originally slated to appear on “Today” last Friday amid the height of the N-word controversy sparked by a deposition in a court case, but canceled last minute.
She posted two online video apologies hours later begging for forgiveness from her fans for having used racial slurs. In one of the YouTube videos, Deen apologized to Lauer for having been “physically unable” to make the “Today” interview.
Deen has been under fire since a former manager of a Savannah, Ga., restaurant owned by Deen and her brother filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against the pair. The employee, Lisa Jackson, claimed she was sexually harassed by Bubba Hiers and that Deen used the N-word around her.
"Yes, of course," Deen said in the May 17 deposition of having used the slur, adding, "It's been a very long time."
But she told Lauer Wednesday that she had only used the N-word once in 1986 in reference to a black man who held a gun to her head.
“I know my love for people, and I’m not going to sit here and tell everything I’ve done for people of color,” Deen said, adding that "somebody else can tell that."
Deen did not regret telling the truth in her court deposition and the only people she's prejudiced against are thieves and liars, she said.
Asked about her comments in court that she can't determine what offends another person, Deen brought up what she hears in the kitchens of her restaurants.
"It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and I hear what these young people are calling themselves," Deen said. "It’s very distressing for me because I think that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not showing this word at each other."
Deen said she counted Rev. Jesse Jackson among her supporters and to "never underestimate the power of those voices because these people who have met me and know me and love me, they’re as angry as the people are that are reading these stories that are lies."
Deen is the author of 14 cookbooks that have sold more than eight million copies. Her media empire also includes the bimonthly magazine "Cooking with Paula Deen" with circulation of nearly one million, according to her website.