The summer continues to sizzle and it may be a while before cooler heads prevail. Nevertheless, thoughts of the past week and the future come to mind:
African Americans of a certain age might have known the name “Shirley Sherrod” prior to this week. Those who have a more nuanced perspective on the history of the civil rights movement in the America of the 1960’s might have recognized the name “Sherrod”. Before this week some might have known that Shirley Sherrod and her husband were leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Georgia at a time when membership in SNCC was a death-defying act. Some might even recall an old Jet magazine story that would have detailed the murder of Shirley Sherrod’s father by white men who were never imprisoned, never tried, never indicted indeed, they were never arrested.
As this week comes to an end, we all know her name. But we don’t know her name because of her fine and historic work with disenfranchised black and white farmers in the South. She is not a household name because of her incredible ability to overcome pain with compassion and to replace vengeance with redemption.
Unfortunately, America knows Shirley Sherrod because she has been victimized. First by the slime blogger, Andrew Breitbart, who intentionally put an out of context portion of a speech by Ms. Sherrod on his site, creating the false impression that she was the incarnation of the mythical black reverse racist victimizing defenseless white people. Her speech was the exact polar opposite of this slime bite and Breitbart knew it, or should have known it.
And then Ms. Sherrod was victimized by the NAACP and its president Benjamin Jealous. When shown the Breitbart clip, Jealous and his staff didn’t try to find a tape of the entire speech (clearly easily available), and accepted the Breitbart slime bite as gospel and attacked Ms. Sherrod as a reverse racist and called for her ouster from the United States Department of Agriculture.
And then, in the continuation of a story that takes on mythic tragic characteristics, the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture orders her to resign immediately. She was asked to resign even though the only basis for such an order was the Breitbart slime bite. Due process, human decency and common sense should have given Ms. Sherrod the opportunity to defend herself against this bit of internet calumny. But it was clearly important for Ms. Sherrod to be an ex-employee of the USDA prior to the Fox News cycle of that evening.
When the truth about Ms. Sherrod began to bubble up through the accumulated slime and bile and bigotry, it became clear to the White House, USDA, the NAACP and even Fox News that she had been wronged. Fox News apologized. The NAACP apologized (Mr. Jealous claimed that he was “snookered”. Perhaps he should have added “hoodwinked and bamboozled” for good measure). The White House apologized. USDA apologized and offered Ms. Sherrod a new job.
But it is clear that this shameful episode reveals much more than the unwarranted and thoughtless attack on a woman who has led a good and respectful and productive life. The episode also reveals the paucity of good judgment that would permit news organizations, a major civil rights organization, the White House and a major federal agency to stomp on the reputation of a respected individual with no evidence greater than an unsubstantiated slime bite from a blogger of questionable virtue and veracity.
Whoever put the “jerk” in knee jerk was overzealous in the extreme. I am aware of no place in the private sector where due process would not permit an accused employee to respond to the kind of charges leveled against Ms. Sherrod prior to the extreme step of termination – particularly in this economy.
Was the NAACP so afraid that the mythical reverse racist black person was indeed real? Like finding out that Big Foot lived next door? Was the USDA and the White House so afraid of Fox News highlighting a possible reverse racist black person that the nation could not survive for another 24 hours while some basic due diligence was completed?
Perhaps it would be helpful to ask Van Jones, the departed green initiatives czar what happens at the White House when Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et. al., start baying at the moon and howling for your blood.
A Man of Hope…..
In the unlikely story that is America, there’s never been anything false about hope.
Like many things in life, the internet can be fascinating and annoying. There are many too many bits and pieces of unnecessary information that come across our screens every time we go online. And then there are nuggets of news and thought that make browsing worthwhile.
I just received a note suggesting that on August 4th, Barack Obama’s birthday; there should be an effort to celebrate. Not so much observing the President’s birthday as using that occasion as an opportunity to reaffirm the belief in hope and progress and change that brought about the unlikely story that is President Barack Obama.
And it may be about the right time for reaffirmation. The fulminations of Michael Steele and John Kyl and Eric Cantor and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin can dull the senses after awhile. The constant artillery barrage of the nihilist fringe of the Tea Party movement along with the Foxinistas like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity could lead to thinking that 2008 was just a mirage and the “reality” of the right wing of the right wing is in the ascendancy.
But the purported right wing ascendancy is the mirage. In less than eighteen months the Obama Administration has reconfigured health care in this country after over a half century of failed efforts. The ravages of a sustained depression that would have eviscerated this country were avoided due to the boldness and alacrity of the President.
The financial reform legislation just signed into law was the most comprehensive overhaul of this nation’s financial services sector since the Great Depression. In over two centuries this country had two women appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. In less than two years President Obama has appointed two women to the Supreme Court of the United States. And we should not forget the historic $1.25 billion resolution of the decades of discrimination claims by black farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture.
And there are the items that truly defy metrics. For example, it is widely agreed that the international reputation and global image of the United States were at historic lows two years ago. It is also widely agreed that the reputation and image of this country have been rehabilitated, enhanced and burnished by the new President. The value of this improvement is incalculable and of value for generations to come.
It is true that President Obama has revealed his humanity and has erred. Once is clearly too much for some zealots and true believers. But the errors and lapses in judgment are far outweighed by the historic accomplishments and the continuation of promise and hope that this president has brought to the American people.
And that is why it might be a good thing to use August 4th as a day of celebration as some have suggested. We can use the day to celebrate the fulfillment of promises and to reaffirm our belief in the power of hope and the strength of dreams and the possibility of change. There will be those who continue to mock the power of hope – John McCain and Sarah Palin immediately come to mind.
I will leave the mocking to the smaller minds. I know that I am not prepared to cede the future of this country to those who would make it smaller and meaner and less just.
On August 4th I just might get my “CHANGE” banner out of the closet and dust off my “HOPE” button and work a little harder with my fellow believers in making some more dreams come true.
Have a great weekend!