Is a person a racist if s/he uses racist epithets? Paula Deen admitted to using the n- word to describe African-Americans many times in her deposition. On NBC’s "Today" show, she admitted to using the n- word just once in her life. Ms. Deen is from the South. Despite what the Supreme Court may say, many folks in the USA still believe us Southerners are racist or more likely to be racist. See CBS news report.
Certainly, the use of the n- word is considered direct evidence of discriminatory bias in discrimination lawsuits. Numerous cases so hold. Matt Lauer is right to ask Ms. Deen if she is a racist. I think the better view is that we all carry some potential for racism. It is those who recognize that persistent human weakness who better avoid actual racism.
Back in the 1970’s when I was a student at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, Texas, one of the federal judges was accused of racism when he was said to use the n- word with some frequency and he was a member of an all-white country club. His supporters, a few of my fellow students, defended him, saying, "well, he is older, he talks like people used to." The problem with that logic is that if he talks like "they used to," then maybe he still acts like "they used to." The language we use has meaning. It does reflect who we are. I think we all could improve our language and who we really are. And, I know that in improving how one talks, employers will significantly improve their chances in a discrimination lawsuit.