There's nothing like having your "bidness" played out on the international stage in media coverage. The "bidness" I'm referring to is the Obama administration's phobia of talking about, dealing with, acknowledging, combating, coming to terms with.... race. Yes I'm on a very slippery slope here, a white woman of extreme privilege critiquing the first black president of the United States on race.
The specific situation is the firing of Shirley Sherrod over excerpted comments, taken our of context, in a video made public by a suspect conservative source. There were no less than 3 opportunities to avoid the calamity that played out. That calamity was a train wreck that culminated in the demand for Sherrod's resignation and subsequent apology and offer of another job in the administration.
The first opportunity involved the source of the release of the video combined with the venue where the comments were originally made. How could the opportunity be missed to ask a simple question.... "Who gains what from Andrew Brietbart publishes in a heavily edited tape on a blog post titled, 'Video Proof -The NAACP Awards Racism 2010' in a week where vicious racist words by Tea Party members are called out by the NAACP?" See it and read it for yourself. The video is embedded in the post a ways down the page. Click here: Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism 2010 Seems like a simple question. So why wasn't it asked? Who gains from this? That simple question would have required a considered, measured, fact seeking internal response from the administration. Instead, there was a knee jerk request for Sherrod's resignation. Black women still end up on the short end of every stick where a white man is involved.... even if the person making the ultimate decision is a black man. But let's not digress into a discussion of the intricate marriage of racism and sexism in this country. Let's stay with the missed opportunities the administration had for catching this error before it was committed.
Secondly, have we come to the point in this country that folks are presumed guilty if something unflattering appears on Fox News without even the courtesy of investigating the situation? One look at the context of the comments within the speech would have shown that Sherrod was illustrating her own journey to wholeness on the topic of race. If she made an error it was in broaching the forbidden reality that oppression breeds oppression and privilege creates a corollary oppression. The second missed opportunity was the jump to assuming her guilt without following the basic tenet of our justice system, "innocent until PROVEN guilty." Look at the whole video for yourself and make your own decision. Sherrod video full version. How would you have come down after seeing the entire video versus how it seemed viewing the edited excerpt? When I saw and heard 43 minutes versus less than 2 minutes....my view changed. When I heard the legacy of violence, murder, and hate that this woman endured it rekindled my memory of what life was like in the south. I remember seeing the crosses burn at the Klan meetings on the hills of the countryside as we drove through after dark. I only saw it a few times but that memory is etched in my mind in terror even as a white person. I can't imagine what life was like for black people. I really can't.
Third and lastly for this blog post, I find it absolutely amazing that an official of the federal government was asked for her resignation without giving her a hearing of her side of the story. This is the same administration that, after reacting with outrage at the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home, (It's notable that subsequent investigations found that racism was not involved in the arrest of a black man in his own home... but I digress...) who invited the white police officer and the Harvard professor to a "beer summit" at the White House so that "everyone's" (read white police officer's) position could be heard. Doesn't it make you wonder why someone, anyone, didn't take the time to simply give this valued public servant the courtesy of hearing her side of the story. Bob Herbert wrote a wonderful Op-Ed in the NY Times yesterday on the topic. Click here and read Thrown to the Wolves. He stops just short of saying outright that Sherrod was "lynched" but that's the image that came to my mind.
Most of my friends haven't even been talking about this situation this week. It's just a black woman fired by her black boss after all. But I've been upset about it all week because it illustrates what happens when internalized oppression is not dealt with, not processed, not given the opportunity to heal. It scares me. And reminds me of my friend Rev. Canon Ed Rodman. He ends his prayers with this phrase, ".... and let us not become instruments of our own or others oppression." Amen.
Shirley Sherrod's point was that it's about class as much as race. She illustrated her own journey to this conclusion, her own journey to understanding that racism from any source is evil. She was speaking to a group of black people about her struggle to come to terms with her own internalized racism that had, in one instance, caused her to withhold the full force of her assistance to a person who was white. Go on and listen to her outrage at the treatment of the white farmer by his white attorney. She did help the white farmer. She talks about realizing that not having access to power is the underlying issue for racism.
God bless Shirley Sherrod. God bless the administration. God bless us all living in this legacy of racism. It's time we started talking about it and dealing with it.