Conservative bloggers are expressing outrage over comments at the recent NAACP conference made by Georgia director of Rural Development Shirley Sherrod. After watching the video, I think they have good reason to be outraged. While Sherrod has claimed that the remarks were “misconstrued.” While Media Matters has raised valid concerns over the fairness of the view as edited, the comments still contain racist elements. She has now resigned.
The video has surfaced after NAACP accused Tea Party member of racism and the Tea Party severing of ties with one of its founders over a racist rant.
This video shows Sherrod recounted “the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm” and how she viewed the farmer as trying to be “superior” to her while she controlled the money for such farmers.
“He had to come to me for help. 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 . . . I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have 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.”
She notes that, to avoid any later complaints, she said she took him to see “one of his own” — a white lawyer” “I figured that if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.”
UPDATE: the NAACP denounced the comments but has now retracted the original statement below.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, while condemning her recent comments, had earlier praised her selection. However, even after the retraction of the earlier NAACP statement, Vilsack stood by his decision on the need for the resignation. The next day, however, Vilsack said he would review the decision.
Yesterday, Andrew Breitbart released heavily-edited video of a speech that Shirley Sherrod, then-USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development gave at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia this year. Breitbart writes that in the video, “this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.”
Media Matters has responded to the story and accused Breitbart of misleading people on the story — insisting that the video is heavily edited. They note that Sherrod was telling a story she had described took place decades ago when she worked for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund. The video reportedly excluded the fact that Sherrod spoke of how she went on to work with and befriend the man. She is quoted as saying at the end of the story: “And I went on to work with many more white farmers,” she said. “The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race.”
This account is supported by the farmer’s wife who credited Sherrod with saving their land.
That is indeed redeeming, but I am not sure it rectifies the problem given the shocking first part of the story. UPDATE: there could be legal consequences to the editing of this tape as discussed in a later blog. The story suggests that (assuming this was reportedly roughly 20 years ago), these were her sentiments in 1986. That is pretty shocking even if she did ultimately help the farmer and overcome such racial issues. Nevertheless, the retraction should force Breitbart and others to come forward to explain why the end of the story was clearly removed to avoid the mitigating material.
Below is the full original statement from the NAACP:
July 20, 2010
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous issued the following statement today after a careful investigation into the presentation of former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod.
The NAACP has a zero tolerance policy against racial discrimination, whether practiced by blacks, whites, or any other group.
The NAACP also has long championed and embraced transformation by people who have moved beyond racial bias. Most notably, we have done so for late Alabama Governor George Wallace and late US Senator Robert Byrd — each a man who had associated with and supported white supremacists and their cause before embracing civil rights for all.
With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA Official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias.
Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.
The fact is Ms. Sherrod did help the white farmers mentioned in her speech. They personally credit her with helping to save their family farm.
Moreover, this incident and the lesson it prompted occurred more that 20 years before she went to work for USDA.
Finally, she was sharing this account as part of a story of transformation and redemption. In the full video, Ms.Sherrod says she realized that the dislocation of farmers is about “haves and have nots.” “It’s not just about black people, it’s about poor people,” says Sherrod in the speech. “We have to get to the point where race exists but it doesn’t matter.”
This is a teachable moment, for activists and for journalists.
Most Americans agree that racism has no place in American Society. We also believe that civil and human rights have to be measured by a single yardstick.
The NAACP has demonstrated its commitment to live by that standard.
The Tea Party Federation took a step in that direction when it expelled the Tea Party Express over the weekend. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear from other leaders in the Tea Party movement like Dick Armey and Sarah Palin, who have been virtually silent on the “internal bigotry” issue.
Next time we are confronted by a racial controversy broken by Fox News or their allies in the Tea Party like Mr. Breitbart, we will consider the source and be more deliberate in responding. The tape of Ms. Sherrod’s speech at an NAACP banquet was deliberately edited to create a false impression of racial bias, and to create a controversy where none existed. This just shows the lengths to which extremist elements will go to discredit legitimate opposition.
According to the USDA, Sherrod’s statements prompted her dismissal. While we understand why Secretary Vilsack believes this false controversy will impede her ability to function in the role, we urge him to reconsider.
Finally, we hope this incident will heighten Congress’s urgency in dealing with the well documented findings of discrimination toward black, Latino, Asian American and Native American farmers, as well as female farmers of all races.