Does the Shirley Sherrod Firing Mean We Still Can't Talk About Race?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - 08:57 AM

In some ways, I am a broken record. I keep asking why we can't talk about race in a healthy, constructive way. And the question comes up again in relation to the resignation of Shirley Sherrod from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In short, here's what happened: she spoke at a NAACP banquet in March about how she overcame her own racial prejudice to help a white farmer in Georgia [hear and read her interview on The Takeaway]. She says her experience with vicious racism against blacks in the South, and the murder of her father by a white farmer, made her hesitant to help the whites who applied to her at the USDA. Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart posted a highly edited portion of the video on the website, biggovernment.com.

The part that Breitbart used, and which was replayed on Fox News, only showed the first part of Sherrod's story in which she talked about hesitating to help a white farmer, and left out the part in which she talked about realizing that white farmers were suffering many of the same indignities that African-Americans had endured, and why she ended up fighting for all farmers with the same conviction, regardless of color.

Lester Spence of Johns Hopkins University says this is a case of race baiting for political purposes and that may well be true. But isn't the NAACP and the White House supposed to know better?  Did they have to give a knee-jerk reaction? Sherrod says the USDA told her to pull off the road and send in her resignation via Blackberry. And the NAACP calls for her ouster without speaking with her, and without watching the entire video? They had the unedited version in their archives, because Shirley Sherrod made the comments at an NAACP banquet in March.

I understand that, far from living in a post-racial society now, we are actually in a racially charged country. This hoopla over Sherrod makes me feel that the NAACP is so afraid of charges of racism that they rush to inoculate themselves. Secretary Vilsack is so scared that the administration will be accused of prejudice, despite the fact that Ronald Reagan was the president when this incident happened, that he demand the resignation of a woman who has served the country diligently and passionately for decades.

What is going on? If the mere accusation of racism is enough to scare the White House and the NAACP, it makes it more likely that pundits will use race baiting as a tactic for political gain. Come on, guys, get a spine. The racial hatred we see in headlines, the vast gulf of misunderstanding between whites, blacks and brown people, these things come as a surprise to people who thought we had gotten beyond prejudice. We haven't, and we never will if we can't talk about these issues in mature and safe way.

Quit punishing people for their honesty. Let's talk about what we're thinking, let's have a conversation about the racial tensions that are crippling this nation, and please, let's stop making decisions based on heavily edited video tape.

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Comments [2]

Gilead Tadmor

I do not know where can I direct a support email to Shirley Sherrod's,. Since you spoke about here her, I hope you could pass the following on to her.

Following the barrage of commentary on an event I missed, to begin with, I looked up the video recording of Shirley Sherrod's NAACP's speech. The speech made two facts abundantly clear:

First, from the core values underlying the narrative of Ms. Sherrod's speech, to the last detail, what she clearly promotes is the compassion of a shared humanism, the futility of hate and the evil roots and impact of racism on all races. There is not the least ambiguity in the speech regarding the utter negation of racism and hatred.

In my view, our society would have greatly benefited were there far more, black and white, who would express and support the core message Ms. put forwarded in her speech, and do so as eloquently, as compassionately and as convincingly as she did.

Second, it is hard to imagine a clearer case where nothing but pure malice, utter cynicism and the lack of even the least scruple, than using an excerpt from that speech as an example of racism. A lively public debate between strongly opposing views is surely essential for our well being as a society - none is that wise to not need it. The use of this speech is a terrible example of where such discourse should never go. This abuse callously hurts an individual. It also hurts society by polluting public discourse.

I therefore wish to add my voice in supporting Ms. Sherrod, in her unjust injury, in hailing the message in her speech and in the wish that we become better in rejecting the demagoguery exemplified by what precipitated this unfortunate chain of events.

Gilead Tadmor

Jul. 25 2010 11:27 AM

No, we cannot talk about race honestly until we admit that we are all racist in some manner. This is a part of the problem. No one group wants to own up to working on their prejudice attitudes.

This is a great lesson for the nation on demanding the facts of a story. Shirley Sherrod is just another individual who was thrown under the bus in the name of point, counter-point.

This is also a great teachable moment for the adults in our society. Either we are going to work on maturing enough to deal with people in a humane and respectful way or we need to plan to be stuck in this muck for generations to come.

Jul. 21 2010 09:43 AM

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