Shirley Sherrod, the Director of Rural Development for the state of Georgia at the United States Department of Agriculture, has resigned under pressure after a video clip surfaced in which she admitted she did not offer full help to a struggling white farmer, and mused that he should go seek the help of “one of his own.” The remarks were delivered in front of an NAACP event, and, judging from the video clip, the audience appeared both amused by and approving of Sherrod’s remarks.
The clip was released by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart asserts that he released the tape not to destroy Sherrod, but to expose the hypocrisy of the NAACP, which had recently been accusing the Tea Party movement of racism. In an interview with Sean Hannity at Fox News, Breitbart remarked:
“I have not asked that she get fired. I’ve not asked for an investigation into her. The whole point was to show that the – for the NAACP to spend five days on national TV saying that the Tea Party is racist without any evidence when we can prove that the central argument didn’t happen and the mainstream media won’t play it.”
In response, Sherrod claims that the tape was heavily edited and that, in a broader context, she was trying to make a statement about how it was necessary to rise above thoughts predicated upon racial categorization. Sadly, that brand of apologism falls short of the mark. She admits in the video, under no uncertain terms, that the white farmer received inferior help to what she would have extended a black farmer. At the bare minimum, she is guilty of gross professional misconduct. And, beyond that, she has betrayed an extraordinarily crude mindset.
Of course, the outlandishly racist remarks uttered by Shirley Sherrod pale in comparison to other comments that have been made by politicians over the years. President Richard Nixon was, of course, caught saying “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a Black and a White …. Or a rape.” Surely Nixon’s remarks rate higher on the creep-o-meter.
Much more recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ruffled more than a few feathers when off-handedly remarking that President Barack Obama didn’t talk with a “negro” dialect. On the other side of the aisle, South Carolina state legislator Jake Knotts said of GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley: “We’ve already got a raghead in the White House, we don’t need another raghead in the governor’s mansion.” Knotts later offered a halfhearted apology that was more about bemoaning being recorded than actually offending anyone.
History is filled with ugly, ignorant, and often downright boobish remarks from our elected leaders. But there was something very different about the Shirley Sherrod incident. First, she acknowledged, almost proudly, committing an overt act of discrimination in the workplace. Second, the video clip revealed genuine concerns about the culture and mindset of the modern NAACP. Those two factors coupled together set the Sherrod incident out from other ugly racial comments made in the political arena.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was justified in asking her to resign, and an investigation is surely warranted.
Foxnews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/07/19/clip-shows-usda-official-admitting-withheld-help-white-farmer/. Accessed 7/20/2010.
Transcript of Andrew Breitbart on Hannity. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,597324,00.html. Accessed 7/202010.
COED Magazine. http://coedmagazine.com/2010/07/03/the-5-most-racist-things-said-by-politicians/. Accessed 7/20/2010.
Huffingtonpost.com. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/04/jake-knotts-raghead-remar_n_600238.html. Accessed 7/20/2010.