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In the last 24 hours, Shirley Sherrod has gone from being portrayed as a racist government official who was vilified by conservatives, liberals, and the White House, to someone who is being held up as a victim of a rush to judgment without anyone bothering to get the facts straight. Both the White House and the NAACP were tripping over their feet to be first to condemn Sherrod’s comments. But what’s the point of being first if you aren’t correct? Is it worth it to potentially ruin someone’s life? Let me be clear, this was never about Sherrod, it was about the country’s racism problem.
Let’s face it, once the NAACP accused the Tea Party movement of having racist elements, the group was going to be under extreme scrutiny from critics. And though the NAACP claims it was “snookered” by Fox News and the edited video clip on the Big Government blog, the organization had a duty to make sure that the accusations of racism were true. The group didn’t watch the full video. Instead, the NAACP threw Sherrod under the bus when his group initially issued — and later — removed a statement condemning Sherrod’s acts. All this was done in an effort to make sure that its glass house remained intact.
Did USDA Secretary Tom Vislack “overreact” as the Congressional Black Caucus claims? Was Vilsack kowtowing to a PC agenda? Or was he simply trying to respond to racism at an agency that is under fire for its documented discriminatory practices against black farmers? I’ll take B and C for $500, Alex.
“If they had just taken the time to — even without looking at the tape — to look at me, to look at what I’ve stood for, to look at what I’ve done since I’ve actually been at the department, I don’t think they would have been so quick to do what they did and so insistent,” Sherrod said during an interview with CNN.
It would have been wonderful if the NAACP, conservatives, and the White House had looked at Sherrod’s record, but we know this was never about her. It was all about racism and pointing fingers.
Are there lessons to be learned in all this madness? I hope so. No one wants to be seen as tolerating racists within their ranks, but there has to be a better way to address the problem than what we’ve seen in the last 48 hours. Race isn’t a pawn in a political chess game. There needs to be an open and honest dialogue about race and racism and how they inform and affect people.
I hope that the NAACP and its leadership remembers that with their great power comes great responsibility. Hopefully conservatives have learned that their tired smear tactics aren’t going to work as people repudiate knee-jerk responses. And I hope the White House and members of the Obama administration realize that they can’t play politics with people’s lives. And to all the so-called journalists out there, do your research.
Deborah Creighton Skinner is the editorial director at BlackEnterprise.com.