The Whole Story – Part 2: The Lynching of Shirley Sherrod
This is a story of racism, that insidious dark side of human nature born out of ethnocentricity. We could consider it an attitude, a philosophy, or to some a way of life. But for now let’s look at it as if it were a virus.
This virus is communicable, but not necessarily fatal. It is passed from one person to another by action or example through education. The inflicted can brush it off and overlook the transgression if they have the patience of a true saint. More than likely, however, many of us mere mortals may react in kind with our own racist-motivated actions. Oh, we may justify our reactions as self-defense, but rest assured those onto whom we pass our attitudes won’t see it that way.
I know this is a very dark view of human relations, but I don’t know of any other way to explain reasons why we have treated each other with such disdain and suspicion over the course of mankind’s history.
Still, there is hope. Racism can be treated with understanding and overcome with a sense of tolerance. Understanding happens through communications.
As a child, former Agricultural Department employee Shirley Sherrod caught this virus. Racist acts were performed on members of her family: her father murdered by a white man who escaped punishment, another relative lynched by a sheriff, and crosses burned in front of her family home. Sherrod in turn reflected and absorbed the hatred displayed against her family. As an adult, she freely admitted that she was prejudiced against whites. I’m tempted to admit that yeah, I’d hate whitey too, if these acts were perpetuated against my loved ones. However, this impulse of human nature doesn’t have to be a lifelong belief.
At one point in her career as a social worker with a non-profit, she had the opportunity to help a white farmer out of some financial problems. She later admitted that she hesitated to help him, but ultimately she directed him to a white lawyer. The incident led her to a revelation that the real conflict was not between whites and blacks, but rather the haves and have-nots.
Sherrod told the story of her journey out of prejudice at an NAACP meeting earlier this year. Her current troubles began when the right wing media’s answer to Michael Moore, Andrew Breitbart, released a very short version of her videotaped speech on a conservative website. The excerpt made it appear that the civil rights group audience cheered her discriminating against the white farmer. The denunciations came fast — over the Internet, over network television, and from the NAACP itself. Her employers at the Department of Agriculture — claiming pressure from the Obama Administration — acted quickly. Sherrod’s resignation was demanded and received without her having the opportunity to explain her side of the story.
The trouble was that no one checked out the whole story, or bothered to watch her entire speech before they jumped to conclusions. Once the entire tape was released by the NAACP, everyone’s tone on the left - and right - changed faster than the weather.
The Obama Administration should have, by all rights, known better. The source of the material — a conservative website — made it immediately suspect. That’s conservative, as in “Conservative”, as in C-O-N-S-E-R-V-A-T-I-V-E, as in “We are against everything you stand for because you have a capital D after your name!” Now you know who I’m talking about, right?
In one small way, it is admirable that the administration and the NAACP quickly recognized the potential public relations problem. Obviously, Obama is eager to demonstrate that he has zero tolerance for racism regardless of what color the victim is. Unfortunately, in their haste to recognize the correct problem, they jumped on the wrong person. Now these well-meaning people need to slow down and get all the facts in before they react.
So what if Glenn Beck says mean things about Obama on his show! That’s what Fox “News” pays him to do. (Quotation marks around the word “news” mine. After this incident Fox “News” should not be considered as a serious information-gathering service.) Let him rant as much as he wants! Then once the facts are known he’ll be the one with the full dozen eggs dripping from his face.
It was also very good that Sherrod got apologies from the White House, from Obama (personally), and even from Bill O’Reilly! I would have paid money to see that! As for America’s latest civil rights hero, Sherrod is mulling over a job offer with the Department of Agriculture, and starting a lawsuit against Breitbart. I sincerely wish her all the success in the world with both endeavors.
In the meantime, Mr. President, maybe you should offer the lady a beer...
(Thank you for reading, and always be wary of the virus which endangers all of us!)