Ms. Shirley Sherrod
A Teachable Moment!
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
Since Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign (fired) from her post at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) because of an edited video clip of her words–taken out of context–was blasted over the media (television, radio, Internet, You Tube, newspapers, etc.), there has been a curious resurgence of similar racially motivated activities that historically, had been caused by ‘a rush to judgment.’
It was amazing how comments and critics of the incident, on both sides of the issue, ignited a firestorm of controversy via the airwaves in an instant including the USDA, the White House, the NAACP, to name a few, without first checking the validity or the source of its origin. Had that been previously ascertained or had there been a more cautious approach taken, there would not have been “egg on so many faces.” Nevertheless, a teachable moment can come out of this tragedy, as the dust settles and cooler heads prevail.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) ought to be applauded because it did not jump on the bandwagon and rush to judgment in the media maelstrom. CBC Chairwoman, Representative Barbara Lee took a reasoned approach and issued the following statement: “It is troubling that Shirley Sherrod was asked for her resignation as Georgia State Director for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of an edited video clip. A full review of the clip demonstrates Ms. Sherrod’s personal transformation. She was clearly educating the public about the power of redemption. It is now apparent that Secretary Vilsack did not have all of the facts available to him and overreacted.
“The Congressional Black Caucus continues to believe that Ms. Sherrod was unfairly asked to resign, without due process and should be reinstated immediately. There are many individuals still serving in the Department of Agriculture who were responsible for years of discrimination against African American farmers.”
To its credit, the NAACP has re-issued a follow-up statement clarifying the rush-to-judgment statement that it had initially issued. Ben Jealous, the national president, subsequently stated in part, “With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA Official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias.
“Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans. I apologized to Ms. Sherrod, clearly a committed and selfless public servant, who had been unfairly maligned.”
Since Sherrod’s speech has been placed in its proper context, she has received a call from President Barack Obama and has been offered another job with the USDA, a position titled Deputy Director of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach at the USDA. She said that the offer was delivered in a draft what USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack offered her on the phone last week. Although she has read through the offer but not in its entirety, she still has many questions before coming to any decision. “I need to have a conversation with someone,” Sherrod said, though not sure whether she would speak with Vilsack directly. “I don’t feel good about it because I know I didn’t do anything wrong, during my time at USDA, I gave it all I had.” The fact is Sherrod did help the White farmers mentioned in her speech. They personally credit her with helping to save their family farm–a point totally overlooked in the rush to judgment.
One commentator wrote: “Another thing that Sherrod doesn’t feel good about is the over-the-top statement the NAACP initially rushed to release backing Vilsack in a transparent attempt to portray itself as colorblind. ‘Racism is about the abuse of power,’ said Benjamin Jealous, NAACP president and CEO. ‘We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers. Her actions were shameful.'”
It is ironic that people use the term ‘colorblind’ to describe the kind of society to which they want to belong. Most of the indignities that Black people and people of color suffer is primarily because of color. Color is a fact of life, and it is obvious. To ignore it is hypocritical and disingenuous.
Also, it was unfortunate that the NAACP, in correcting its initial condemnation of Sherrod would issued the following statement in part, “The NAACP also has long championed and embraced transformation by people who have moved beyond racial bias. Most notably, we have done so for late Alabama Governor George Wallace and late US Senator Robert Byrd–each a man who had associated with and supported White supremacists and their cause before embracing civil rights for all.” To compare the transformations of Wallace and Byrd, in rectifying the initial error of condemning Sherrod, is like adding insult to injury. They should not even be mentioned in the same breath.
Furthermore, the unrepented, conservative blogger and Tea Party activist Breitbart, who started the controversy, appears to be a hit within the GOP; he is shamefully “milking” this unfortunate tragedy for all he can scrape up. According to a media release, the Republican National Committee has invited him to attend a private fundraiser along with its chairman Michael Steele. (Birds of a feather …).
Rep. Barbara Lee ended her written statement: “Ms. Sherrod has been an effective public servant and it would be tragic to lose a person of such caliber, competence and commitment to fairness and equality and one who has dedicated her life to working for a more perfect union.”