Published July 21, 2010
Who is making this stuff up?
How is it possible that the first black president of the United States, under pressure for alleged reverse discrimination against whites at the Justice Department, fires a black Agriculture Department official for telling a story of racial redemption?
How is it possible that such a bright man as the president repeatedly reacts without the facts when it comes to a topic so explosive as race? Last summer he spoke out on a racial controversy without the facts and buried himself in political quicksand that ended with a staged “beer summit.”
Who is buying the beer this time?
The questions keep coming.
How is it possible that the once glorious NAACP – the leading name in America’s fight against racial segregation – has come to the point where it is pushing the first black president to fire anyone – but especially a black woman -- on a charge of racism without checking to be sure she was a hateful racist? And the NAACP had the full tape, the full facts before they went after her.
Who can believe that the White House and the NAACP would act on the basis of an Internet video maliciously edited to intentionally distort the woman’s speech? And it is even more incredible that the woman is told that the White House feared Fox News host Glenn Beck might discuss the story and that they wanted her fired before his show went on the air.
Since when is Glenn Beck the czar of White House race relations?
The answers to these questions say a lot about what happens when America mixes race, lies and videotape.
It all started when the 62-year-old Shirley Sherrod, gave a heart wrenching speech of racial redemption. She said while working 24-years-ago for a rural farmers’ cooperative a white farmer, Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga., asked her for help in avoiding bankruptcy.
But Sherrod felt Spooner was treating her like dirt, talking down to her in a slow cadence as if she were some uneducated black woman lucky to have a job.
Sherrod said she initially didn’t do all she could to help Spooner but when she discovered that white officials she referred him to failed to help him she had a revelation. She said she realized race was not the issue and dedicated herself to helping poor people of any race. The second part of the speech was cut out -- creating the appearance of black on white racism.
Sherrod’s full story is not in doubt.
According to Eloise Spooner, the white farmer’s wife, Sherrod helped her husband greatly. “We probably wouldn’t have [our farm] today if it hadn’t been for her leading us in the right direction… she was good to us, I tell you,” Mrs. Spooner told reporters who bothered to check before writing.
It is also important to know that Sherrod is a black southerner who has revealed that her father was killed by a white farmer. Despite witnesses and evidence of the crime, she said a southern grand jury refused to indict anyone for murder. The racial pain, the bitterness inflicted on Sherrod as a child might have created hateful feelings towards white people in her heart but the incredible, redemptive “Amazing Grace,” story is that she did not become a racist.
But then someone – still unknown – took Sherrod’s touching speech and edited it to create the impression that she was a black racist. The editor made it appear that Sherrod claimed to a black audience that she withheld help from a white man because he is white.
That twisted tape was placed for all to see on a right-wing website, BigGovernment.com, as a two and half minute video clip. The idea that the black president had a black official who discriminated against white people fit with a recent burst of charges coming from some of the president’s conservative critics.
In recent days the right has been charging the Obama Justice Department with reverse racial bias for not aggressively pursuing charges against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation. Much of that weak charge was stoked by fears among conservatives that the Obama Justice Department might file charges against Bush Justice Department officials for improperly firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons. (Yesterday the Obama Justice Department declined to press any charges.)
Meanwhile, in the dangerous racial game of tit-for-tat the lefty NAACP then embarrassed the righty Tea Party by demanding that the Party renounce any racist elements in its ranks.
That led some high ranking Obama administration official to a knee jerk response: fire Shirley Sherrod now! Do it in the name of ‘zero tolerance’ for racial discrimination but without giving her a chance to speak. And never mention that the real reason is creating political cover against any charges, no matter how baseless, that might come from the right-wing.
When the White House execution order of Sherrod reached the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the official there did not stop the bandwagon.
The department has its own history of racial discrimination in failing to help deserving black farmers. They did not want to stir old ghosts.
Everyone – the White House, the Agriculture Department, the anonymous editor, the website – has political dirt and racial guilt all over their hands. The little guy, Shirley Sherrod, was just “collateral damage,” in a political war.
The usual race-baiters, the Al Sharptons and David Dukes, must be smiling.
But somehow Shirley Sherrod got the true story out because tapes exist of the full speech. Now the White House has apologized to Sherrod.
And now the Agriculture Department has now offered Sherrod a new position.
But what has been revealed, once again, is the pattern of race-baiting and racial lies that is used by left and right when they convince themselves they have larger, more righteous political goals to reach.
Juan Williams is NPR Senior Correspondent and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It."
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