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Shirley Sherrod

by Ouida on August 3, 2010


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Last week Bob Herbert, op ed columnist for the NY Times went on a rant about Shirley Sherrod.  Generally I believe Mr. Herbert to be a whiner, complaining about the world as he sees it without offering any clear solutions.  But how do you offer any credible solutions involving an incident in which edited video is taken as fact and lies as the truth?  Lies become actionable and not necessarily to punish the liar.

Now that we have a Black man in the White House, hurling the “R” word at someone causes even the most unlikely people to head for the exits, abandoning the supposed racist in the dust; and, sadly, no one fact checks.  President Obama gave an incredibly beautiful and on-point speech about racism during the 2008 campaign.  When I heard it, I could not believe my ears because he spoke honestly about the state of race-relations in America.  The mess surrounding Ms. Sherrod simply underscores that, racially speaking, things are worse than we thought.

The unedited speech is rife with irony.  At its beginning, she speaks of the pride she has serving in the administration of the first Black president. At its middle she speaks of the anniversary of the murder of her father, a Black farmer who was murdered at the hands of a white farmer who was never brought to justice even though there were witnesses to the crime.  The murder of Blacks in the South from the post Civil War days through the 1960’s was not uncommon.  Since the men who committed these crimes had no fear of prosecution, they often made no attempt to hide their identities.  Midway through her speech Ms. Sherrod mentions a white farmer who came to her for aid 24 years ago.  Did Ms. Sherrod really say what was depicted in the 2 and a half minute video posted on the Biggovernment.com website?  She sure did, that and so much more.  Her original speech was 43 minutes long.  Andrew Breitbart lifted 2 and a half minutes right out of the center of it.   When her father was murdered, Ms. Sherrod decided to remain in the South to work to change the status of Black people.  Her involvement with the Spooners, the white family who came to her for aid, taught her that she was there to help all people, people who lack access because of their socioeconomic status.  Ultimately for her, poverty became a larger issue than race. Ms. Sherrod talked about the need for unity among all races, she talked about the need for community development in Black communities and that our communities should foster education and economic empowerment through business ownership.  Ms. Sherrod helped the Spooners, now in their 80s, remain on their farm and they have all remained life-long friends.  Ms. Sherrod is not the most gifted speaker in the world, but her speech is lovely and worth a listen to;  although, sadly, the NAACP did not remember enough of the speech to avoid condemning Ms. Sherrod, they have graciously provided the unedited version on their website.

Did Ms Sherrod initially attempt to limit the assistance she provided to the Spooners because of race?  Yes she did.  Did she then give more than her all and help the Spooners remain on their farm?  Yes she did.

Was her initial attitude so surprising?  Not really; it was the mid 80s.  Three Black men, including 16 year old Yusef Hawkins had been murdered by white mobs in New York City, it would be a few years before Rodney King would be beaten before our very eyes on national television and I and my brown-skinned classmates heard the “N” word more times in Manhattan uttered by our supposedly well-educated white medical school classmates than I ever heard growing up in the South.

The Sherrod affair is sad.  We’ve come a long way since the wholesale murder of Blacks was condoned by society.  We’ve come a long way even from the 1980’s, but Shirley Sherrod reminds us that in a sound-bite society in which the “R” word has become the new “N” word, we still have a ways to go.

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