CHICAGO – Civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Wednesday that he has agreed to help Paula Deen try to make amends for her use of a racial slur, saying she should not become a “sacrificial lamb” over the issue of racial intolerance.
Jackson told The Associated Press that the celebrity chef called him this week, and they discussed how she might recover from her admission that she had in the past used a slur considered demeaning to black people, which cost her job with the Food Network and an endorsement deal with Smithfield Foods.
If she is willing to acknowledge mistakes and make changes, “she should be reclaimed rather than destroyed,” said Jackson, adding that he’s more troubled by ongoing racial disparities in jobs, lending, health care, business opportunities and the criminal justice system.
“She may be a symbol of intolerance but she should not be a sacrificial lamb,” he said.
Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, are being sued by a former manager of the restaurant they own in Savannah, Ga., who accused them last year of sexual harassment and a hostile environment of innuendo and racial slurs. According to a transcript of Deen’s deposition, she was asked if she has ever used the N-word. She admitted she had in the past, but said she doesn’t use the word anymore.
Jackson said Deen could move forward if she settles the legal dispute with workers who have complained of discrimination in her company and “accepts the responsibility” to create a fair work environment.
“What she did was wrong, but she can change,” he said.
Deen told the “Today” show during a tearful interview earlier Wednesday that Jackson has given her “wonderful support.”
Jackson said he has agreed to talk to Deen again, saying “she could be a real advocate for sensitivity and caring.”
“I sense she is deeply troubled by what happened ... her legacy and reputation are at stake and [she wants] a way out,” Jackson said. “We are providing a way out.”