NEW YORK (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, as retailer Walmart said it was cutting ties with the chef.
In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, the Southern food doyenne said she never intentionally hurt anyone and 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 Friday it would drop her show after she was sued for discrimination and admitted in a legal deposition that she had used a racial slur in the past.
Deen, who has built a business empire that includes cookbooks, restaurants and kitchen supplies, was also dropped by pork giant Smithfield Foods Inc last week. On Wednesday, Walmart was the latest company to sever ties.
“We are ending our relationship with Paula Deen Enterprises,” Walmart spokeswoman Danit Marquardt told Reuters.
Marquardt said Walmart, the biggest division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world’s largest retailer, will not place new orders beyond those already committed with Deen’s company for branded products including groceries, cookware and candles.
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.
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 when Deen discussed plans for her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers’ 2007 wedding with Jackson, 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.
Asked about the epithet in the deposition on Wednesday, 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.”
Deen 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.
DEEN SAYS SHE IS “HEARTBROKEN”
On “Today,” Deen said she was thankful for the support she has received, and also heartbroken because she has had to comfort friends 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 expires at the end of June.
Deen’s fans have voiced their support for the chef online, expressing anger on the Facebook pages for the Food Network and Walmart, with many saying they’ll boycott both companies for severing ties with Deen. The story was corrected to add dropped words in 11th paragraph
Reporting by Patricia Reaney and Jessica Wohl; Editing by David Storey, Piya Sinha-Roy and Stacey Joyce