Redeeming Shirley Sherrod

It’s beginning to look like Ms. Sherrod has been wrongly maligned… by both the left and the right:


From everything I’ve read, I’m told that the firing of Shirley Sherrod, the once and probably future Agriculture Department official in Georgia, is about race or dishonest journalism or the vagaries of the 24-hour, incessant news cycle. Permit me a dissent. It is mostly about cowardice.

The coward in question is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who, even though from Iowa, fired Sherrod in a New York minute, and by extension and tradition -“The buck stops here,” remember? – Barack Obama himself. Where do they get off treating anyone so shabbily?

Sherrod was caught on video supposedly telling an NAACP meeting last March that she had not given a certain farmer the service he deserved because he was white. A clip of that speech made the rounds of right wing blogs and media outlets — Fox News, for instance — and in no time Vilsack ordered the woman canned. He moved with what would have been commendable dispatch had he first heard her side of the story, viewed the entire video and asked what its source was. The answers should have stopped him in his tracks.

The full video showed that Sherrod, after repressing some racial antipathy, treated the farmer with dignity and efficiency — and, anyway, the entire event took place more than 20 years ago. Had Vilsack seen the entire video, he would also have learned that Sherrod’s story had a moral: She learned that poverty, not race, is what mattered. Since this is America, it is God who taught her that.

But that full video was not shown by the right wing blogger Andrew Breitbart.

Sherrod was fired so quickly she says she was called on her cell phone while driving and told to pull over. Her resignation was then demanded. She did as she was told — and then screamed to the media, which, since this is America, is her God-given right. Her story, complete with praise from the white farmer’s widow, started to spill out. It was clear she had been done wrong. Vilsack would not budge. The White House would not budge. The Obama administration could not afford to appear soft on black racism. They could not afford to say sorry, either.

Little by little, the administration backed down. Vilsack yesterday explained that he had asked for Sherrod’s resignation because “the controversy surrounding her comments would create a situation where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her bring jobs to Georgia.” These are appalling words. “Rightly or wrongly?” The two are not the same. One you punish, the other you defend. This is what our system is about. Look it up.

And, even if rightly, you do not dismiss an employee, wreck a career, without doing due diligence. What’s her side of the story? Where did the video come from? Is Breitbart a trustworthy source? The term “rightly or wrongly” suggests that the truth does not matter — only perception, the politics of the situation. That, in turns, brings us back to the beginning. This entire episode is only partially about race or tawdry journalism. It’s fundamentally about cowardice — about not doing the right thing until pressured and not adhering to fundamental principles of fairness.

I don’t agree with everything that Cohen writes in that piece but I do believe that a wrong has taken place and that it needs to be righted.  Sherrod needs to be reinstated at the USDA and post haste.  And some belly button gazing needs to take place for all involved in this sordid mess.

The bottom line is that there were lots of folks “acting stupidly” here much of it fed by an Administration that loves to fuel racial disharmony.

The Anchoress’ take on this is one filled with wisdom:

Shirley Sherrod says she is not certain that she would accept a reinstatement to her office even if the USDA offers it to her.

I think she should not. This woman needs to write a book. Politics aside, (and Sherrod may have had a little time to reconsider her absorption of the NAACP’s message that tea parties = racists) her personal story is gripping, poignant and wholesome – a staggering snapshot of where America was 50 years ago, and how far the nation has come, despite the political opportunism and flame-fanning of the worst elements of our society. Sherrod’s remembrances of parents and siblings are gorgeous lovesongs to the value of the nuclear family. “My father was just everything to us,” she says.

Her father sounds like the sort of unsung hero-hardworking, good-humored, family-focused, liberty-seeking-who should resonate with all of us who do not wish to be told where or how we may live, or whether our house may be built of brick or blocks.

And his murder-two months before the birth of his longed-for, beloved son-(watch from 8:00 on) and how it impacted Sherrod’s decisions as a 17-year old, and the story of her own evolved thinking – this is the stuff of a book that could be more than a great, inspiring read. This is a book that could teach, and unite and bring real healing. Her story encompasses the lunacy of a bygone age, the shared personal sorrows to which all can relate, the lessons of faith, surrender, personal and social triumph and, finally, how precariously we all stand in our present moments.

Talking about the slowly risen dawn of her understanding, Sherrod said to the young people attending her talk:

“When you are true to what God wants you to do, the path just opens up.”

She is so right.

The Anchoress goes on to rightly relay that she’s likely to disagree with Sherrod on a number of different policy related issues but that in the end, there is enough common ground in what Sherrod has to say that someone needs to take advantage of it and with it promote some unity.

So I’ll join the growing throngs who see what has happened here as travesty. 

Might we all learn something about what’s taken place.

Three Deceptions
What Hath Breitbart Wrought?