Fox News, and the gaggle of rightside bloggers, and assorted tea party activists were delirous when they dug up an old tape of Shirley Sherrod. The Agriculture Department’s director of rural development in Georgia was supposedly getting caught with her racism hanging down.
The tape was of a speech Sherrod made at a local NAACP banquet on March 27. Her alleged racist sin was that she admitted that she did less to help a needy white farmer than she could—it happened 20 years earlier.
The cause of the right wing’s delirium was two-fold. They could now joyously shout “gotcha” at the NAACP, black Democrats and civil rights leaders that have relentlessly pounded the Tea Party and conservatives for saying and doing nothing about the racists in their midst. They got even greater joy and satisfaction from Sherrod’s plight since this gave them a chance to rant that this is proof that there’s a double standard among blacks when it comes to dealing with race. Put simply, blacks are quick on the trigger to rail at whites for any perceived racial transgression, but are stone silent, or secretly or openly condone, even revel in racial bigotry, against whites.
Any way you look at the race issue, this is baloney. Start with Sherrod and what she actually said and did. She didn’t resort to the stock code words, misdirection, feints, or dodges that GOP and Tea Party has honed to a fine art for decades to stoke white fears and bigotry. She spoke at a public forum, and in what sounded more self-confessional, than boast, took herself to task for her own racial favoritism. “I learned about myself and how far we still have to go.”
Sherrod said much more in her talk than what was quoted, and that was to make clear that her’s was a personal teaching moment, an epiphany. For her it was a humbling lesson on how bigotry can corrupt and damn anyone, even someone who herself has been the target of bigotry. Sherrod has certainly dealt with that bigotry first hand in the blatant and shameless treatment of black farmers. The issue was partially resolved this past February when the Obama administration announced it agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement to resolve charges by thousands of black farmers that the Agriculture Department discriminated against them in loan programs for decades. The racist treatment of black farmers was not the act of one local official in one state.
This was the systematic, and deliberate racial targeting of black farmers by the official government agency charged with administering loans and programs for farmers. Thousands of black farmers lost their farms and land as a result of the officially sanctioned discriminatory lending practices.
The settlement didn’t end the outrage. Congress had to approve the settlement by the end of March, 2010. It cavalierly left for Spring break before approving the settlement at the time.
Sherrod’s full speech which might have provided more insight into why she did what she did and how she learned from her act was nowhere to be heard in the self-serving, edited version that Fox News broadcasted. A humiliated and embarrassed Sherrod promptly offered her resignation. It was accepted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
NAACP president Ben Jealous quickly issued a statement applauding Sherrod’s resignation. But just as quickly the NAACP realized it was “snookered” by Fox News and the right-wing echo chamber on Sherrod’s alleged racial sin and wisely reversed its initial position applauding her resignation. Now Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack should do the same and immediately reinstate Sherrod.
Sherrod had a double misfortune. Not only was she targeted by conservatives for ouster. She was used by them as a pawn to hit back at the NAACP and civil rights organizations that have rightly put much heat to the GOP and Tea Party activists for their very real racism and perpetual race card play.
The Sherrod debacle should be more than a teachable moment for a government official and a wronged employee. It is yet another object lesson of how organized, agenda driven, right-wing ideologues can bully, badger, intimidate and ultimately frighten government officials into violating all precepts of fairness, due process, and just good common sense, and rush to racial judgment about a black official.
Sherrod‘s action against the white farmer, of course, was indefensible, and she was the first to admit it. But it was the regrettable act of one person, one place, one time. This hardly rises to the level of an institutional racial high crime and misdemeanor. The same can’t be said about the GOP and the Tea Party, who have yet to pay the same price for their bigotry.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally-broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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