The Crescent Report

July 22, 2010

Another Teachable Moment in the Saga of Race Relations in America

Filed under: From the Desk of Imam Mahdi Bray — Imam Mahdi Bray @ 4:02 pm

The unfortunate event surrounding what happened Shirley Sherrod is not an aberration.  In fact, bigots, Islamophobes, racists and other forms of haters/dividers have a copyrighted playbook.  Its works like this: Get false information and character assassination into cyber space (Steve Emerson and Robert Spencer are experts in this).  Next, find a video or audio clip and selectively choose sections of the clip out of context (remember the Dr. Esam Omeish video or the famous one in which I am depicted pumping my fist at a rally for Palestine as the crowd spoofed the media and politicians for suggesting through guilt by association that American Muslims were terrorist supporters and unworthy to make political contributions to political candidates in the 2000 elections).  Finally, give the lies and distortion credibility by presenting it as news on FOX and presto!  YOU’VE GOT DIRT being circulated as news and facts.  The sad part is that so many people get “punked”, even the Whitehouse.  Check out the piece below.  Imam Mahdi Bray

Quote of the Day: “You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Another Teachable Moment in the Saga of Race Relations in America

Most of us are familiar now, to some extent, with the story that broke this week about Shirley Sherrod. She is the (African-American) U.S. Department of Agriculture former director of rural development work in Georgia who resigned from her job, under pressure, because of comments that were attributed to her suggesting that, more than 20 years ago, she declined to help a financially troubled white farmer because of his race.

A 38 second-long video clip of Ms. Sherrod’s alleged remarks to a local NAACP gathering was  posted on  BigGovernment.com, a conservative web site owned by Andrew Brietbart, and  then on the FOX network. This was enough to earn her the scorn of some conservatives who called for her immediate sacking. (Note: BigGovernment.com became notorious last year for posting another video, also fabricated, that led to the demise of the progressive organization ACORN).

But there was one small problem in this story: Shirley Sherrod never made the statement attributed to her on the video.  In fact, her talk to the NAACP group was about the need for ending racial prejudice, not affirming it.  And the white farmer in the story came forward to agree that Ms. Sherrod was, indeed, helpful to him in his effort to avoid foreclosure.

So what happened? Simply put, Shirley Sherrod was smeared, quite intentionally, in order to make her to appear as being racially prejudiced and discriminatory in her professional treatment of a white client.  The editing of the video was a deliberate hatchet job designed to force her to resign her position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  And all of this happened in the context of the current charges, made by the NAACP and others, about tolerance for racism within the ranks of the (conservative) Tea Party movement.

Things of this magnitude don’t happen in a cultural or political vacuum, to be sure.  The apparent calculation behind this deed might well have been that, if conservative whites can be indicted for being racist, Black people can be set up to take the same hit for being “anti-white”.  And so the drama evolved, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the N.A.A.C.P, and even the White House falling in line to throw Shirley “under the bus” and pressure her to resign.

But why do people seem to ignore, or quickly forgive, the more egregious examples of racism or racial bigotry when committed by (white) people with, arguably, much more power than Ms. Sherrod?  I’m referring to the deafening silence from Tea Party leaders in response (or non-response) to the outrageously offensive and ugly comments from TP leader Mark Williams who announced, in two separate screeds, that ” Allah is a monkey god and Muslims are his animals”, and then, not to be content with offending just Muslims, wrote a scathing, hatefully sarcastic letter targeting demeaning African-Americans.

Some principled conservatives have repudiated these remarks.  But other very prominent conservative movement leaders, like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, have been silent on the matter.  Could it be that there is an openly racist element in the Tea Party that some powerful people are reluctant to alienate?

Having acknowledged their gross and insulting error in judgment, Secretary Vilsack and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs have profusely apologized to Ms. Sherrod.  Secretary Vilsack also asked for Ms. Sherrod’s forgiveness, and then offered her a “unique” new position at the USDA that would deal with racial reconciliation and justice matters.  She is, as of this writing, considering the offer.

This mess might be, for some, another example of another “race flap”, or an unfortunate rush to judgment by federal officials (and the media) who all got snookered by the sordid intentions of a Right-wing website.  That is all true.  But the larger lesson, I believe, is one of showing the true intentions of powerful interests that will blatantly engage in lies and disinformation to deflect criticism from a far more institutionally powerful epicenter of bias and institutional racism in American society.

All political conservatives are not racists, and indeed, all racists are not politically conservative.  But it isn’t Shirley Sherrod that this nation needs to question.  It’s Andrew Brietbart, and the people that he fronts for, that we should be concerned with.

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