Shirley Sherrod and the politics of white fear

I was going to write something about the Shirley Sherrod situation last night, but I never got to it, and now it seems like old news. I did, however, want to open up new post, in case people had comments that they wanted to express… For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the situation, Shirley Sherrod was, until recently, an official within the Department of Agriculture. That, however, changed yesterday when the Obama administration, acting through Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, forced her to resign, in the wake of a shitstorm stirred by Tea Party provocateur Andrew Breitbart. According to Breitbart, Sherrod, who is black, had confessed, when speaking at an NAACP forum, that, in her capacity as Director of Rural Development in the state of Georgia, she chose to not aggressively assist white farmers. And Breitbart had the video evidence to prove it. In this video, Sherrod said the following.

“The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time… but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn’t know is that while he was taking all that time trying to show me that he was superior to me, I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land, so I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough…”

Sherrod said that she would be vindicated when the unedited version was brought to light, but it seems as though the Obama administration didn’t want to give her the benefit of the doubt. They forced her out in hopes of avoiding further discussion of this narrative being pushed by Breitbart – that it’s payback time now that Obama is in the White House, and the blacks are coming for your money and property.

Sherrod, as it would turn out, was right. She hadn’t done any such thing as an official at the Department of Agriculture. The story that she was sharing was from much earlier in her career, 24 years ago, when she was working for a non-profit. And, she ended up becoming friends with the white farmer in the story. Furthermore, she had helped the man to save his family farm, despite her earlier reservations. None of this, however, had been included in the edited version of the speech shown by Fox News and others. The White House apologized and Vilsack offered Sherrod her job back, but the damage had been done. Sherrod is quoted as having said, “It hurts me that they didn’t even try to attempt to see what is happening here, they didn’t care.”

A great deal of blame belongs with Breitbart, who, at the very least, should be sued for libel. (If you would like to file a complaint with the FCC, you can do so here.) But, Obama also bears some responsibility for not standing up to the right wing propaganda machine. As he did in the case of ACORN, where Breitbart also selectively edited video footage in order to stir up the anger of the frothing right, Obama chose to concede the fight without so much as throwing a single punch. And it’s beginning to piss people off… I’d love to write more, but Eugene Robinson has done a better job than I could ever hope to… Here’s a clip:

…The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama’s presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration. The way to deal with bullies is to confront them, not run away. Yet Sherrod was fired before even being allowed to tell her side of the story. She said the official who carried out the execution explained that she had to resign immediately because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck’s show that evening. Ironically, Beck was the only Fox host who, upon hearing the rest of Sherrod’s speech, promptly called for her to be reinstated. On Wednesday, Vilsack offered to rehire her.

Shirley Sherrod stuck to her principles and stood her ground. I hope the White House learns a lesson.

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  1. Paul on Cross
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The whole episode is disheartening. Say what you will about Bush, at least he stood by his people for a while before cutting them loose. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it helps move his agenda forward more easily if these distractions are quickly dealt with. But what I see is someone with no backbone. He didn’t fight for the public option in health care reform. He didn’t fight for real change in financial reform. He’s not supporting Elizabeth Warren now. He’s a strategy guy, not a fighter. I want a fighter. I don’t want incremental change.

  2. Edward
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing to me that the “mainstream” media takes Breitbart seriously after the whole Acorn thing. There’s no excuse for them getting tricked by him twice like this.

    I was listening to a woman on right wing hate radio this morning and she was ripping into Obama for firing this woman without researching the whole thing first. This was the same woman, mind you, who was calling for Sherrod’s head earlier in the week. There’s really no winning with these people.

  3. Meta
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Rachel Maddow had a good segment on this:

  4. 'Ff'lo
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Yesterday on “The View” (yeah, okay, I watch some of “The View” sometimes) (what can I say) Sherrod described the phone calls she took during the 3.5-hr drive back from some retreat or field work or something, after being told she was on administrative leave. She was driving the govt car back to the office to turn it in and pack up. Eventually one call relayed that the White House wanted her to resign *right away.* As in pull over in her car to the side of the road and resign via her Blackberry immediately, which she did. Makes it real interesting that now the story is that Vilsack was the bad guy, no, no one at the White House ordered it.

    Paul on Cross is right about Obama. And he’s a strategy guy who’s gone way overboard with the pragmatism, and who’s never been much of a questioner of power structures or interrupter of unjust mechanisms. This very pragmatic desire to quash any potentially inconvenient bubble sure made him look terrible in this incident.

    The Willie Nelson piece about Shirley @ the Huff Post was a pleasing read, and I like his point about the loss of her actual work in the job, as well as all the injustice. I also like the Salon piece on her husband for its bigger-picture stuff on history & sensibility ( . At the end Walsh quotes Clay Carson: “This is a symbol of something much larger: On civil liberties issues, he’s just lost it. Nobody should ever be dismissed from a position for something they’re saying on Fox. As a matter of principle, you don’t fire someone without some kind of internal due process and investigation. But this is an administration that can order the assassination of an American citizen. It’s disappointing, to say the least.”

    The very freakin’ least, yeah.

  5. Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the links, folks. I’m going to check them out tonight…. And, for what it’s worth, I hope Shirley S gets a shit load of cash from Whitey.

One Trackback

  1. By Astroturf wars, and the battle to defund NPR on October 25, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    […] at FOX News, but I think that his firing was wrong. It wasn’t right when the Shirley Sherrod was forced out of her job due to a few quotes taken out of context, and it’s not right here, just because I don’t like the man. The worst part is, […]

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