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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John Mitchell August 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Hi Ouida,
Nice article! I felt really bad for Mrs. Sherrod when this went down. I watched the unedited version of her speech. I totally understand why she would have the initial thought of not wanting to help the white farmer. I do not blame her for initially feeling that way, it was a natural reaction considering her life story up to that point. I commend her for getting past that thought and being a better person for doing not what would have been easy in that situation but rather she did the hard thing. That in itself tells you much about her. Most would have done the easy thing.
Since I am white I know that I can not fully grasp what it was like for her in this position, I can only imagine what it must have been like for her. And after seeing how black people were treated in the south while we were growing up, it must have been a hard moment for her. I am glad that I was raised better than a large majority of white southerners. I am grateful that my family being originally from the west coast was not racist. It always bothered me to see my black friends being treated the way they were growing up. I always saw people for who they were as a person and not what color they were. A good person is a good person….period! I only wish that the rest of the world could think like that.
Sadly this and many other recent episodes have proven that while we have come a long way as a country when it comes to race relations, we really haven’t come as far as we would like to think we have. We still have a long way to go. It has been and will still be a tough journey, because the scars of the past are always with us. Once we get to the point that people realize it is possible to be proud of your racial background without having hate for people of different racial backgrounds, we will have taken a huge step in the right direction. That day I’m afraid may never come, which is truly sad.
Coexistence is the solution but most are unwilling to take the first step. Remove hate from your life.
Blessings and Peace,
John

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Ouida August 4, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Hi John:
I used to think education and exposure were the first steps to overthrowing racism and, maybe, they really are, but we’ve had exposure up the wazoo and we are where we are. This “incident” was really a shock for me. Shirley Sherrod was actually entitled to a full investigation before she lost her job, but her bosses pressured her into resigning thereby circumventing the employee protections she was entitled to in Federal service. Thomas L Friedman, commenting on the mosque that is to be built just a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, referenced a performance of Broadway show tunes performed at the White House. He referred to America as a beautiful melting pot and it is. While driving to the Obama Inauguration with my mother, I was reminded that this truly is a beautiful country. I just hope that we realize before it is to late that this country’s people, all of its people, are its greatest resource and that we have far greater problems to face than race.

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tonya thames taylor August 3, 2010 at 5:12 pm

What caused me sorrow was that the white man’s word was initially not even questioned in his characterization of a black woman.

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Ouida August 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm

What I think was worse is that “our” own organization was so quick to jump on the bandwagon, denouncing Ms. Sherrod without even consulting its own archives!

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Deban August 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm

While I respect President Obana’s right to speak as he will about his heritage I do wish he’d come right out and remind people that he is in fact a biracial man and that really shows where we are in the reality of being. Like the Dine’ (five fingered beings) the point is we are all five fingered beings first, then black, white or a mixture of beautiful tones.
Go Shirley Sherrod, a previously unknown (to me) woman of great strength. The incredibly shallow activity of soundbite ignorance and hubristic reactivity of, some, of the pundits is deplorable and even worse when it propels those in places of power, <read her boss, to react without proper research….UGH… we do have a ways to go…
a small bit of an aside….Last Comic Standing has a few very good comedians and last night several of those guys really did some great commentaries on race and gay marriage, just for a lighter note. I needed that after recently seeing the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. This world has some evil issues…

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Ouida August 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm

The sad thing is that Blacks have known such injustice in America that any attempt by our president to remind anyone that he is biracial will set off accusations that he is trying to separate himself from mainstream Black America. . Yes he does represent the union of two races, but so does over 90% of Black America. Henry Luis Gates, to the chagrin and or amusement of many, has spent a significant amount of time attempting to quantify the European genetic makeup of Black Americans. His conclusion is that the vast majority of Blacks in America are multiracial.

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Mary Kay Massey August 10, 2010 at 10:27 am

I am new to your blog and love it!!

The Shirley Sherrod incident is a wake up call to all of us on many levels. You make mention of the lack of fact checking in this era of the sound bite. We enjoy an increasing amount of access to global information in any manner we can possibly imagine it which is amazing. With it comes (individual and societal) responsibility to see through the political, racial, religious, etc. spin. Without some sort of check and balance we are going to experience ramifications that are much farther reaching than the loss of a job and damage to reputation. This is a problem that we all share.

I have just started reading a book about racism that may be of interest to you. “Between Barack and a Hard Place; Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama” by Tim Wise. He describes rascim today as Racism 2.0, or enlightened exceptionalism. The facts, statistics, and analogy describe just how much has not changed at the core of racism even with a Black man in the White House.

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Ouida August 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

Thank you, Mary!
Yes, we are in for more of this since soundbites have been used to justify wars. I will check out that book.

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