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Woman overboard as USDA official gets the boot for racial remarks; claims she was forced to resign

On CNN Newsroom today, Tony Harris interviewed the fresh color-aroused person of the week (former Tea Party spokesbot Mark Williams being last week’s numnut) to hit the airwaves, Shirley Sherrod, a former USDA official. She said on tape to an audience at a conference that she didn’t do all she could to help a white farmer in her position, because he was white.

Of course in light of Williams’ public meltdown, this was red meat for the wingers. Sherrod told Harris that it was all taken out of context, and:

In the video, she explains that she took the farmer to a white lawyer, assuming “his own kind would take care of him.” But the lawyer didn’t help, Sherrod tells CNN, and the moral of the story was that “the issue is not about race. It’s about those who have versus those who don’t.” She says she wound up befriending the farmer.

Now I think I know what she meant, but I don’t think you could come up with a more bone-headed statement than the above, along with what really got her in hot water — on the tape she said “she’d decided not to give a white farmer ‘the full force of what I could do to help him.‘” I don’t think any amount of walking back that she has done so far really reverses the original intent of those statements.

1) What Shirley Sherrod said, given the limited snippet of video that first emerged, really did sound like she was airing dirty laundry among “friends” — it was purportedly an NAACP rally (can’t trust Breitbart on that one), and it did appear to be a discussion about race-based discrimination and power she had over the situation. Abuse of power is what it is, and this is fodder for the right, and someone in her position should have never done such a thing — but then to tell that tale in a public venue is judgment beyond idiotic.

2) Her “walk back” of the incident so far on multiple TV appearances – it was decades ago, not while she was in her current position, and that it was a tale about why race-based assessment in the incident was wrong doesn’t really match up with the statements on video. That she later helped and befriended the white farmer’s family says something, but it doesn’t clean up the original mess Sherrod made.

Sherrod’s reaction so far rivals Mark Williams’s cluelessness about the third rail of race. And as you can see the shock from the third rail doesn’t discriminate. And it results in knee-jerk reactions.

That is the most interesting aspect of this case. Look at how fast she was tossed overboard by everyone concerned without even wanting to hear her explanation. The USDA didn’t want to hear it, and the Obama admin and the NAACP were quick to react because of the wingers, teabaggers and nutcases like Beck and Limbaugh, were ready to toss her overboard without any context, given the recent tea party dustup.

It also shows what a wimpy administration this is when it comes to the right – it has no problem blowing off progressives (and the LGBT community).

When Attorney General Eric Holder said we are nation of cowards when it comes to discussing race honestly and openly, he was right. People like Sherrod and Williams prove that when the masks come off through gaffes, we don’t know what to do with it, and those connected to the voices cut the cords with lightning speed because they don’t want those conversations opened up or attached to them.

It’s also another lesson about media training and knowing what is prudent or even sane to say if you’re not sure cameras are rolling.

Below the fold, the initial response of the NAACP.

 From its release (the org has not reacted since Sherrod came forward and spoke to CNN):

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous issued the following statement today after learning of the resignation of Shirley Sherrod of the United States Department of Agriculture:

“Since our founding in 1909, the NAACP has been a multi-racial, multi-faith organization that– while generally rooted in African American communities– fights to end racial discrimination against all Americans.

We concur with US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in accepting the resignation of Shirley Sherrod for her remarks at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet.

Racism is about the abuse of power.  Sherrod had it in her position at USDA.  According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race.

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. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.

The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing.  We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action.

We thank those who brought this to our national office’s attention, as there are hundreds of local fundraising dinners each year.

Sherrod’s behavior is even more intolerable in light of the US Department of Agriculture’s well documented history of denying opportunities to African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American farmers, as well as female farmers of all races.  Currently, justice for many of these farmers is being held up by Congress. We would hope all who share our outrage at Sherrod’s statements would join us in pushing for these cases to be remedied.

The NAACP will continue to advance the ideals of America and fight for freedom, justice and fairness for all Americans.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding