LOS ANGELES — Oprah Winfrey has finally weighed in on the Paula Deen N-word scandal, and the media mogul knows that Deen is not alone.
“I think that Paula Deen was used sort of like a symbol,” Winfrey told “Entertainment Tonight” host Nancy O’Dell. “But I think lots of people use that word inappropriately all the time.”
The controversy began at the start of the summer when Deen was quoted in a May deposition as saying “of course” she had used the N-word. The former Food Network star was being questioned by lawyers for a lawsuit filed against her and her brother, Bubba Hiers, by a former employee alleging that she suffered violent, sexist and racist behavior while working at their Savannah restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House.
Winfrey said she doesn’t know if she’ll pursue an interview with the celebrity chef, but seemed open to the possibility when Deen “is ready to talk.”
“I think you have to let the dust settle and figure out where you are in all of that before you can actually have a real conversation,” the star of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” added.
O’Dell transitioned from Deen to Winfrey’s own experiences with racism, and asked if she had ever been called the N-word.
“I would have to say that racism, for me, doesn’t show itself that way. Nobody in their right mind — unless they’re a Twitter thug - is going to call me the N-word,” Winfrey said. “Nobody in their right mind is going to do that to my face. True racism is being able to have power over somebody else, so that doesn’t happen to me that way.”
It does manifest for Winfrey in business situations, such as board meetings where she is the minority in either race or gender.
I can see in the energy of the people there — they don’t sense that I should be holding one of those seats. I can sense that,” Winfrey added. “But I can never tell — is it racism or is it sexism? Because often times, it’s both.”
While a few argue that everyone should be able to use the N-word if the black community uses it to address each other, Winfrey doesn’t think any body should use it — black or white — because of the word’s harsh history.