Fox News, and the gaggle of rightside blogs, websites, and assorted tea party activists were in sheer delirium when they dug up an old tape of Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department's director of rural development in Georgia, supposedly getting caught with her racism hanging down. The tape was of a speech Sherrod made at a local NAACP banquet on March 27. Her alleged racist sin was that she admitted that she did less to help a needy white farmer than she could--it happened twenty years earlier.
The cause of the rightwing's delirium was two-fold. They could joyously shout "gotcha" at the NAACP, black Democrats and civil rights leaders that have relentlessly pounded the tea party and conservatives for months for saying and doing nothing about the racists in their midst. They got even greater joy and satisfaction from Sherrod's plight since this gave them a chance to rant that this is proof that there's a double standard among blacks when it comes to dealing with race. Put simply, blacks are quick on the trigger to rail at whites for any and every real or perceived racial transgression, but are stone silent, or secretly or openly condone, even revel in racial bigotry, against whites.
This is baloney any way you look at the race issue and how it plays out in black and white. Start with Sherrod and what she actually said and did. She didn't resort to the stock code words, misdirection, feints, or dodges that GOP and tea party has honed to a fine art for decades to stoke white fears and bigotry. She spoke at a public forum, and in what soundly more self-confessional, than boast, took herself to task for her own racial favoritism. "I learned about myself and how far we still have to go."
Sherrod said much more in her talk and the suspicion is that the much more was to make clear that this was a personal teaching moment, an epiphany, for her on how bigotry can corrupt and damn anyone, even someone who themselves has been the target of bigotry. Sherrod has certainly dealt with that bigotry first hand in the blatant and shameless treatment of black farmers. The issue was partially resolved this past February when the Obama administration announced it agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement to resolve charges by thousands of black farmers that the Agriculture Department discriminated them in loan programs for decades. The racist treatment of black farmers was not the act of one local official in one state. This was the systematic, and deliberate racial targeting of black farmers by the official government agency charged with administering loans and programs for farmers. Thousands of black farmers lost their farms and land as a result of the officially sanctioned discriminatory lending practices. The settlement didn't end the outrage. Congress had to approve the settlement by the end of March, 2010. It cavalierly left for Spring break before approving the settlement at the time.
Now back to Sherrod. Needless to say, her full speech which might have provided more insight into why she did what she did and how she learned from her act was nowhere to be heard in the self-serving edited version that Fox News blared all over the place. A humiliated and embarrassed Sherrod promptly offered her resignation. It was just as promptly accepted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. NAACP president Ben Jealous quickly issued a statement applauding Sherrod's resignation, and did not equivocate in stating that the NAACP had a zero tolerance for discrimination in any form and by anyone, no matter their color.
He did not publicly disavow Sherrod and her act issue after weeks passed of badgering, cajoling, harassing, and withering criticism about alleged black racism. Jealous did not pull a page from Sarah Palin and other tea party leaders when they come under fire for racism. They reflexively point the finger at blacks and civil rights groups for alleged racial bias toward whites. Jealous by contrast did not finger point the GOP and the tea party's endless history of racism and racist acts to cloud, obfuscate, and muddy the Sherrod issue.
Sherrod"s action was indefensible, and she was the first to admit it. But it was the regrettable act of one person, one place, one time. This hardly rises to the level of an institutional racial high crime and misdemeanor. Sherrod paid a dear price for her intemperate act. Unfortunately the same can't be said that the GOP and the tea party have paid the same price for their bigotry. They've done everything possible to see to that that won't happen.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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