Video tape is a really powerful medium. Seeing something for yourself is 10,000x greater than reading another’s account of an event. This is a cautionary tale.
Yesterday, Andrew Breitbart of ACORN tape fame released a short video of USDA official Shirley Sherrod speaking to a NAACP group. The tape appeared to show Ms. Sherrod discussing how she had refused to help a white farmer facing foreclosure because he was white (in 1986).
“What he didn’t know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me was, I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him,” she said. “I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, 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.”
The tape was explosive. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pressured Ms. Sherrod to resign, which she did. The NAACP also issued a statement condemning Ms. Sherrod’s remarks. Of course, this not the whole story. The clip was actually part of a longer speech. In the speech she talked about her own struggles with race (her father was actually murdered by a white farmer) and how she realized that she was wrong and that we’re all in it together.
SHERROD: Well, working with him made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t.
AUDIENCE: That’s right.
SHERROD: You know, and they could be black, and they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people — those who don’t have access the way others have.
I want to just share something with you and I think it helps to — you know, when I learned this, I’m like, oh, my goodness. You know, back in the late 17th and 18th century, black — there were black indentured servants and white indentured servants, and they all would work for seven years and get their freedom. And they didn’t see any difference in each other — nobody worried about skin color. They married each other. You know, these were poor whites and poor blacks in the same boat, except they were slaves, but they were both slaves and both had their opportunity to work out on the slavery.
But then they started looking at the injustices that they faced and started then trying — you know, the people with money — you know, they started — the poor whites and poor blacks — they — you know, they married each other. They lived together. They were just like we would be. And they started looking at what was happening to them and decided we need to do something about it — you know, about this. Well, the people with money, the elite, decided, hey, we need to do something here to divide them.
So that’s when they made black people servants for life. That’s when the put laws in place forbidding them to marry each other. That’s when they created the racism that we know of today. They did it to keep us divided. And they — it started working so well, they said, gosh, looks like we’ve come up on something here that can last generations — and here we are. Over 400 years later, and it’s still working. What we have to do is get that out of our heads. There is no difference between us.
The only difference is that the folks with money want to stay in power and whether it’s health care or whatever it is, they’ll do what they need to do to keep that power.
So really, it’s a heartwarming story about how Ms. Sherrod was able to overcome her own struggles with race. She actually helped the farmer save his farm. In fact, she and the farmer and his wife are very close friends. The farmer at the center of the story, Roger Spooner, backs this up.
Instead of this story being a heartwarming story of a devoted public servant and her many years of public service we now have a story of vicious racism and public slander. Shame, shame on Tom VilsacK, the Obama administration and the NAACP for falling for shameless manipulative liar Andrew Breitbart. Shame on the media for continuing the smear on Ms. Sherrod. Have they learned nothing from the ACORN tapes? Obviously they haven’t.
Yes, I’m furious at the administration and the NAACP for caving to rightwing pressure. This means that there will still be huge incentives for wingnuts to keep doing this. But let’s keep things in perspective. Andrew Breitbart and all his wannabes think nothing of ruining someone’s life simply based on race. Shirley Sherrod was targeted because she is African-American. Breitbart’s single-mindedness is that African-Americans are the real racists and white men are the real victims. They push stories like the New Black Panthers and now Shirley Sherrod to prove (in their own minds) that all African-Americans hate white people = Obama hates white people. It’s disgusting and incredibly harmful.
At least there is some positive coming out of the story. The NAACP has apologized to Ms. Sherrod and has learned a lesson – never trust a wingnut with a tape. There are also reports this morning that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is reconsidering his decision and could rehire Ms. Sherrod. Personally I hope Ms. Sherrod gets a great lawyer and sues the pants off of Andrew Breitbart, who denies editing the tape.
If you’re curious, you can watch Shirley Sherrod’s whole speech here.
There’s a facebook group “Give Shirley Sherrod Her Job Back Now”.
It probably wouldn’t hurt to contact (politely) the Agriculture Department to tell them they should re-instate Shirley Sherrod.