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Terri Simon

I am what I am

Let me say right up front that I don't know all the ins and outs of the recent Paula Deen scandal. I've read bits and pieces, watched snippets of the problem on TV and the Internet, and heard varying radio accounts of the Paula Deen issue. For someone who reads, watches and listens to a lot of news, the entire situation seems somewhat convoluted and confusing.

From what I've gathered, Deen, who owns Deen's Lady & Sons and Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House (along with her brother) — both in Savannah, Ga., is being accused of numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism toward a former restaurant manager, Lisa T. Jackson. Jackson is suing Deen and her brother for sexual and racial harassment.

I read a bit of the transcript from Deen's deposition where she admitted to using the "N word" many, many years ago, testifying she uttered the racial slur "when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head ... I didn't feel real favorable towards him."

When her attorney asked her if she had ever used the "N word" since that time, she said, "I'm sure I have, but it's been a very long time ... But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the '60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior."

While there is always more to the proverbial story, those words have cost the famous Southern chef from Georgia several endorsements, her agent, a book deal, her TV show on the Food Network, and perhaps most importantly, her image and reputation.

As the Deen saga has unfolded, I don't mind admitting it's been troubling to me. I've watched and admired Deen, who brought herself up in the world from a divorced mother of two who scrapped for every penny she got — to a successful entrepreneur, author and celebrity chef who has been admired and loved by many.

Obviously I have no way of knowing if Deen is telling the truth in her deposition. None of us do, except those closest to her. On the other hand, we don't have any way of knowing the former restaurant manager's motivation for her lawsuit.

I do think the media was overly zealous to convict before all the facts were out, and I also think they sensationalized the story.

Please don't write me letters or emails telling me I'm a bigot or a racist because of this column. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have several friends who are different races and from ethnic backgrounds whom I love dearly. I embrace our differences, find comfort in our similarities, and appreciate what they bring to our table of friendship.

But as I think about the Paula Deen issue, there is no way I would ever pass judgment on her ... or anyone else for that matter. I've got my own back porch ... so to speak, just like everyone else does. I'm not a saint, as my dear friends know — never proclaimed to be, and quite frankly, if I had to testify in a court of law about things I did 30 or so years ago, I probably wouldn't be too proud of some of my antics either.

God knows we've all said and done things of which we aren't proud. While I'm not happy about it, I'm not ashamed to admit it either. I've made mistakes — still do. Sometimes the filter in my mouth fails to work, and before I know it, something comes directly from my brain and passes through my lips without that valuable filtering system, which I've learned to cherish. No, I'm not talking about racial slurs, but still, I sometimes say things that some would deem less than appropriate.

I don't know what will come of Paula Deen. While everyone's past can come back to haunt them, I prefer to live in the present and meet the demands of the world as I am right now — not who I was 30-some years ago.

I am what I am shaw-push-component-1