Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shirley Sherrod Not Sure She Would Go Back to the Agriculture Department

Sherrod not sure she would go back to Ag Dept

AP - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 4:51:09 AM

The woman at the center of a racially tinged firestorm involving the
Obama administration and the NAACP said Wednesday she doesn't know if she'd return to her job at the Agriculture Department, even if asked.

"I am just not sure how I would be treated there," Shirley Sherrod
said in a nationally broadcast interview. Agriculture Secretary Tom
Vilsack said Wednesday he would reconsider the department's decision to oust Sherrod over her comments that she didn't give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago.

The White House called the Agriculture Department Tuesday night after more information about Sherrod's remarks emerged, a White House official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the call, said the White House and the department agreed that the case should be reviewed based on the new evidence.

A conservative website posted video of Sherrod's remarks, causing a
furor which led to her condemnation by the NAACP and her ouster by
Vilsack. Until Tuesday, she was the Agriculture Department's director
of rural development in Georgia. Then, she said, she was pressured by superiors to resign.

Sherrod said her remarks, delivered in March at a local NAACP banquet in Georgia, were part of a larger story about learning from her mistakes and racial reconciliation, not racism, and said they were taken out of context by bloggers who posted only part of her speech.

Vilsack's statement came after the NAACP posted the full video of
Sherrod's comments Tuesday night.

"I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and
consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are
providing services in a fair and equitable manner," Vilsack said.

The Obama administration's move to reconsider her employment was an absolute reversal from hours earlier, when the White House official said President Barack Obama had been briefed on Sherrod's resignation after the fact and stood by the Agriculture Department's handling of it.

But growing calls for the administration to reconsider the decision
put pressure on Vilsack, who stressed that the decision to ask for her
resignation was his alone. The NAACP, which initially condemned
Sherrod's remarks and supported her ouster, later said she should keep her job. The civil rights group said it and millions of others were
duped by the conservative website that posted partial video of her
speech on Monday.

Appearing in a nationally broadcast interview Wednesday morning,
Sherrod said she "couldn't get the people I was working with" to
listen to her explanation.

She said the tone of her comments posted on the website were
misleading because they lacked context. "That's not me. If you look at
my life's work, you would know that's not me."

"... If they would have looked at the entire tape, I don't see how
they could have come away thinking I was a racist," she said.

Sherrod said she was "particularly hurt" by the NAACP's condemnation.

"All of my life has been about civil rights work and fairness," she
said. Asked if she would go back to the department if asked, Sherrod said, "That's one ... I just don't know at this point."

The white farming family that was the subject of the story stood by
Sherrod and said she should stay.

"We probably wouldn't have (our farm) today if it hadn't been for her
leading us in the right direction," said Eloise Spooner, the wife of
farmer Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga. "I wish she could get her job
back because she was good to us, I tell you."

As Sherrod reached out to media to plead her case and more people came to her defense, the administration faced criticism that officials nervous about racial perceptions overreacted to her comments and made her a political sacrifice amid dueling allegations of racism between the NAACP and the tea party movement.

In the clip posted on, Sherrod described the first
time a white farmer came to her for help. It was 1986, and she worked for a nonprofit rural farm aid group. She said the farmer came in acting "superior" to her and she debated how much help to give him.

"I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost
their farmland, and here I was faced with helping a white person save their land," Sherrod said.

Initially, she said, "I didn't give him the full force of what I could
do" and only gave him enough help to keep his case progressing.
Eventually, she said, his situation "opened my eyes" that whites were
struggling just like blacks, and helping farmers wasn't so much about race but was "about the poor versus those who have."

The two-minute, 38-second clip posted Monday by was presented as evidence that the NAACP was hypocritical in its recent resolution condemning what it calls racist elements of the tea party movement. The website's owner, Andrew Breitbart, said the video shows the civil rights group condoning the same kind of racism it says it wants to erase. is the same outfit that gained fame
last year after airing video of workers at the community group ACORN
counseling actors posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend.

In his original statement on the matter Tuesday morning, Vilsack said he had accepted Sherrod's resignation and stressed that the department had "zero tolerance for discrimination." Later in the day, after herrod spoke to the media about the intention of her comments,
Vilsack sent out a second statement that said the controversy
surrounding Sherrod's comments could, rightly or wrongly, cause people to question her decisions as a federal employee and lead to lingering doubts about civil rights at the agency, which has a troubled history of discrimination.

Sherrod said officials showed no interest in listening to her
explanation when she was asked to resign. She said she was on the road Monday when USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her and told her to pull over and submit her resignation on her Blackberry because the White House wanted her out.

"It hurts me that they didn't even try to attempt to see what is
happening here, they didn't care," Sherrod said. "I'm not a racist.
... Anyone who knows me knows that I'm for fairness."
Online: Full video posted by NAACP:

The firing of Shirley Sherrod -- and the cowardice of Tom Vilsack

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.

Vilsack had a solemn obligation to treat his employee fairly. Obama, who reportedly was briefed on the matter and stood by his man, had a similar obligation. The two ought to be ashamed.

By Richard Cohen | July 21, 2010; 9:18 AM ET

Shirley Sherrod: Sacrificial lamb on the altar of race

By Jonathan Capehart

As teachable moments in the minefield of race in America go, the case of Shirley Sherrod is a big one. When I first saw the video clip this morning, I was astonished. There was a black agriculture department official, Sherrod, boasting about how she used her federal position to deny help to a white farmer. Oh yeah. She needed to go. Or so I thought.

As the day wore on and the truth was revealed, my heart sank. The videotape that caused a firestorm had been selectively edited. Sherrod was relating a story of redemption from 1986 when she worked for a non-profit in Georgia. Sure, she didn’t want to help the white man before her too much because he displayed what she called a superior attitude towards her. But Sherrod went on to talk about how she spent the next two years trying to help the man save his farm. Sherrod said she learned from that experience. That it wasn’t so much about black and white as it was about helping the poor.

But before all the facts were in, Sherrod lost her job. She told CNN that an undersecretary at agriculture told her that the White House wanted her out. The White House denies this. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the decision was his. Meanwhile, the wife of the farmer told CNN that Sherrod saved their family farm.

This is a travesty on so many levels. Yet my focus on is on how all this exposes why race and conversations on race almost never go well.

Attorney General Eric Holder got into a mess of trouble last year when he said that we are "a nation of cowards" because "we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race." But he was absolutely right. When there is talking, there is no listening. No attempt to take a step back, to hear the words being said and to try to at least understand if not empathize with the pain, anger or frustration coming from the other side.

The Sherrod episode just bolsters Holder’s case. To talk honestly and openly about the nation’s original sin and its impact you risk getting shredded. Comments are taken out of context. Motives are questioned. A defensive posture is adopted on both sides. False impressions and misunderstandings take hold. And bad things end up happening to good people of good will.

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