When Clarence Thomas was seeking confirmation as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and questions were raised about his fitness based on the claims of his former subordinate, Anita Hill, Thomas launched a bitter counteroffensive, claiming that he was the victim of a high-tech lynching. Many people recoiled at Thomas’s expropriation of the term, saying it was beyond the pale. Thomas succeeded in quelling the opposition to his nomination, and we all have seen how that worked out.
Over the past few days, we have seen an attempted high-tech lynching of the good name of a public servant, Shirley Sherrod. Ms. Sherrod has reacted with far more grace than Mr. Thomas did, and the outcome may, for our nation, be far more positive.
What a few days it has been!
Before Monday, few, if any, of us, had heard the name Shirley Sherrod.
Suddenly, her name, her face, and her voice burst upon the scene, courtesy of a snippet of video tape brought to us by Andrew Breitbart. At warp speed, Fox News picked up the snippet and began relentlessly and breathlessly banging the drum… that here, captured on tape, was an official of the U.S. Department of Agriculture admitting that she did not do all that she could for a farmer in danger of losing his farm, because he was white, and she was Black.
And to top it all off, she was admitting this before a meeting of a local chapter of the NAACP, which had just called on the Teabaggers to expel the (white) racists from their midst.
The perfect counterpoint! What hypocrites! All of the air could be seen gushing from the NAACP balloon….
Sadly, the Secretary of Agriculture took the bait and demanded Ms. Sherrod’s resignation.
Breitbart and Fox did not count on the full story coming out. The story imploded almost as quickly as the frenzy had washed upon us.
What can we, as a nation, learn from all of this?
We can learn several things….
— There are usually more than one side to a story.
— We should withhold judgment and gather all of the facts before forming conclusions.
— We must treat information from sources that have proven deceptive in the past with the strictest scrutiny.
— We should give the accused the chance to defend themselves.
— The people who drove this story have an agenda. They seek to divide us.
It’s an old, old story… divide and conquer.
In her brutally honest rendition of her experience those 24 years ago, Ms. Sherrod has shown us that the major conflicts in our society are not black vs. white, or black vs. hispanic, or black vs. Jew, or black vs. Asian, it is the poor vs. the rich. It is the struggle to give everyone a fair shake, regardless of their background, regardless of their connections or lack thereof.
The Administration clearly handled the opening chapter of this story in an extremely ham-handed fashion. However, it is not too late to use the episode as a means of raising people’s consciousness.
The same people who sought to sacrifice Ms. Sherrod’s reputation and her job are the same people who vote against extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, while seeking to preserve tax cuts for the richest segment of society.
The same people who seek to inflame racial tensions for short-term electoral advantage are the same people who claim to put Country First, and who revel in asserting that we are One Nation, Under God
The same people who point to Ms. Sherrod as a poster child for the oppression of whites are the same people who deny marriage equality to our gay brothers and lesbian sisters, all in the name of all that is holy.
Hopefully, at least some of the people who have previously been duped by the Breitbarts, the Aileses, the O’Reillys, the Palins, and the Hannitys will catch on to how they have been used as pawns, against their own interests.
The Obama Administration must be feeling ashamed and chagrined right now. There is certainly room for recrimination.
At the same time, the Administration should realize that it has been handed a great opportunity to bring home the message that vested interests, powerful interests, have been caught playing the game, red-handed.
The time for real and broad dialogue about race relations, about the nature of our society, and about the role of the media is now, while the memory of this shameful and shameless episode is searingly fresh in everyone’s mind.