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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 27th, 2013
05:51 PM ET

Analysis on race relations in America: We cannot just throw people away

It has been an explosive week for race relations in America, with the debate in the George Zimmerman trial over the use of the term "cracker," Paula Deen's empire imploding after she admitted using the n-word, and the the Supreme Court striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts declaring that "times have changed."

Trayvon Martin was speaking with his friend Rachel Jeantel on the phone just moments before he was killed. Jeantel was on the stand for five hours Wednesday. During that time, she testified that Martin described Zimmerman as a "creepy [expletive] cracker."

There are now people questioning why "cracker" is acceptable but the n-word is not, saying that using the word "cracker" is evidence Martin was racist against white people.

"Being a racist doesn't mean you deserve to die, let's be clear about that," said Clinton Yates, columnist for The Washington Post.

"I think that that word is more of an indicator of whom Trayvon was referring to in an age context," said Yates. "I'm not saying that the racial component isn't there, but I think in terms of what he was trying to convey to the person he was talking to is, 'This is an older white guy.' Hence the reason for using that word."

"The funny thing about racial etiquette is the rules are always changing and not everybody always knows the same rules," said Clarence Page, columnist for The Chicago Tribune. "Frankly I think our society in general has kind of agreed, has come to a consensus that there's no word that quite matches the n-word for its power."

Revelations that former Food Network star Paula Deen admitted she used the n-word have let to several companies suspending or ending relationships with her. She lost contracts or endorsements from Walmart, Target, Food Network, Novo Nordisk, and Home Depot.

Yet Deen has released letters of support from at least nine companies, one of her cookbooks is currently number one on Amazon, and people are lining up for her annual cruise.

Deen tweeted, "I want to express how deeply your kind words have moved me the last few days. Thank you and love to all."

Page said Deen's core supporters would be there for the star no matter what.

"But those people that would be crossover supporters, those who would be potential Paula Deen fans, are obviously turned off," said Page.

Companies dropping Deen endorsements, said Page, is similar to athletes losing shoe endorsements after they are caught behaving badly.

"Companies want to be a part your brand as long as you're seen by the public in a favorable light. But if you tarnish your brand, they dump you. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment," said Page.

Yates said as a society, America needs to work on bringing people like Deen back to where the country should be, and not simply shun her.

"I would have loved to see Paula Deen step up and say, 'This is who I was, this is what I knew, and I'm willing to change that,'" said Yates. "There's this big thing that we do where we cast people out into the countryside when they've been outed as racists, and there is no path toward getting back to some level of understanding."

"It is not okay to think that things she said and did were reasonable, but why can't we show her and everybody who believes such racist things a path back to what we need to do to come back together as people?" said Yates. "It seems to be we just want to throw people away and never let them back."

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