Saturday, July 31, 2010
It's As If She Had No History At All
This is a good piece by Derrick Jackson in the Boston Globe about the Sherrod mess and it brings up something that has been bothering me for some time. Here's the relevant passage:
Forgetting about the implications for the administration, I've been struck for some time about the apparent need among a fairly large number of Americans to pretend that racism is ancient history with which we no longer need to be concerned (at least as it pertains to racial minorities.) The fact is that Shirley Sherrod lived during the great cataclysm of the civil rights movement and paid a huge personal price for standing up against the forces that killed her father. But that wasn't the end of it. She has spent the rest of her life trying to fight other insidious forms of racism like these discriminatory loan practices that continue to this day. I suspect that somebody forgot to send her the memo that the whole thing is over and that she just needs to move on. Indeed, it's been made crystal clear that the fight isn't over. (The fact that she was targeted for statements about racial reconciliation is even more galling.)
She said if someone with her history can be treated as if she had no history at all, the Obama administration risks being oblivious to real racial rot.
Sherrod’s rich and tragic 62 years makes it all the more embarrassing for Obama. Her father was murdered in 1965 by white men who were never indicted. Her younger sisters endured cross burnings for integrating schools. Her husband was a courageous civil rights worker who was beaten by an ax-handle-wielding white mob. The family home was shot into and the Sherrods lost their own farm to discriminatory loan practices. All that also makes it, in her words, “unbelievable’’ that the national NAACP at first joined the chorus condemning her.
Far too many people are acting as if this woman wasn't a living witness to the horrors of Jim Crow and the fallout of 200 years of racist history and instead believe that she's nursing ancient grievances. Her life is treated as the forgotten detritus on the trash heap of history, as if it's all over, a museum exhibit.
Indeed, it's even worse than that --- her history wasn't just demeaned, she was victimized all over again, this time as a "reverse racist" fired on bogus charges of discriminating against the same white farmer she actually helped. Sure, she was hired back after a stink was raised, but what can you say about the reflex that would allow people to assume so easily that this person deserved to be fired without so much as a cursory investigation? Or the instantaneous furor over ACORN for that matter. (Here's a little thought experiment: just imagine how this would have gone down if the white farmer and his wife hadn't emerged to give testimony.)
People act as if the incredible life experience of people who have lived through this tumultuous history is less than nothing. Today, it's becoming an article of faith among far too many Americans that these same people, rather than spending their lives heroically trying to right the injustices done to their people for centuries, are actually perpetrators of the crimes that were inflicted on them. Shirley Sherrod, the woman who lived through the violence of the civil rights movement, is accused of racism and many people automatically believe it ---- and think that black racism is a huge problem that needs to be solved because whites are an aggrieved minority suffering at their hands. (And just in case a white person is revealed to have used an impolite word, it's only because they were provoked into it by people who complain about racism.)
Here's a terrific example of how inverted the whole debate has become:
What do you say to people who call you a racist?
Breitbart: Yes. It may be a task that’s so Herculean, but I think it’s a worthy goal to try to open up America to individuals who just so happen to have a different skin color, that they have every right and every freedom to think what they want to think. That’s my battle, it’s my goal.
Can you understand how this has been difficult for her to get caught up in that?
Breitbart: As difficult as it probably was for her, it’s been difficult for me as well, especially to hear her hurl an accusation of racism at me, when my motivation is absolutely pure and is driven by a desire for this country to move beyond its horrid racist past.
Perhaps that's even true. His mind works in very convoluted ways. But his method of doing it is just a tiny bit questionable. After all, it consists so far of posting doctored videos of black ACORN workers apparently condoning child prostitution (replete with extra footage of a "pimp and ho") and then another edited video of a woman allegedly making a racist speech that was actually a speech about racial reconciliation. (I shouldn't forget the bogus time stamped video purporting to prove that nobody hurled racial epithets at civil rights heroes at the capitol.) He seems to be going to great deal of trouble to "prove" that blacks are criminals, liars and racists if he wants to attract them to his cause.
Now, Breitbart is a very disturbed circus clown who is merely playing to his crowd, so it's unfair to tag the entire right with his peculiar illness. But his whining complaint that "it's been hard for him too" is what he shares in common with them --- the feeling of victimization at the hands of people who are taking things they don't deserve. That's the common thread. It's not new, but the combination of the election of the first black president and the full realization of the end of the American Dream seems to have brought it splashing to the surface.
It's not that white right wingers don't have a reason to be angry and bitter, but blaming African Americans is cheap and stupid, particularly since those same white people have been blithely pushing the policies of the very people who've been exploiting them. On the other hand, Shirley Sherrod and her husband Charles have every right to be bitter and angry at whites --- and they're not. For that alone they deserve our amazed appreciation. I can't say I would be so forgiving.
But they also deserve to have their lifetime of fighting for racial justice honored and respected, not dismissed as so much old news. Even if this recent experience didn't prove in living color how easily their lives can be twisted into something ugly by people with an agenda (and that the mere threat of such a thing can send timorous Democrats into fits of overreaction) they would still deserve respect for living the lives they've lived. After what we've just witnessed, I'd say they deserve it more than ever.
LEMON: The local civil rights organizer was a transplant from Virginia. Where he helped found the student non-violent coordinating committee. A young firebrand name Charles Sherrod.
CHARLES SHERROD, SHIRLEY SHERROD'S HUSBAND: We had no idea of the monster that we were undertaking to fight.
LEMON (on camera): Across the south. White officials were using every trick in the book to keep civil rights activists in check, to keep black voters from turning out. That helped set the stage for a violent confrontation as demonstrators began to gather here at the courthouse in downtown Newton on the day that became known as Bloody Saturday.
CHARLES SHERROD: I saw some whites coming out of the hardware store with axe handles, and they approached us and started beating us with the axe handles. They beat us down to the ground.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: And my aunt Josie, she's a little petite woman. She fell on. You know, she put her body over his and was hollering at them to stop beating Charles Sherrod because they were going to kill him.
LEMON (voice-over): But that didn't stop Sherrod from driving back roads to meet every black family in the area.
CHARLES SHERROD: I was canvassing in Baker County, knocking on the door and three or four pretty girls came to the door. They started talking about this girl, their sister, that was prettier than either one of them. I want to see this girl. So they said they got a picture. I said I want to see this picture of your sister. And I pointed at it, and I said, I'm going to marry that girl.
LEMON: He did marry Shirley. It was a love story in a land of hate. Phone threats became part of the household routine.
CHARLES SHERROD: We're going to blow up your head up, you better be at your house. We're going to burn you down. We're going to do this. We're going to do the other. It was just the regular nigga, nigga, nigga.
GRACE MILLER: I would just tell them to be careful because I knew they were determined. And I just tell them to be careful. My heart would just bleed while them going home because I didn't know whether they would make it there or not.
MILLER JONES: She kept telling Shirley, you got to stop. But she kept pushing. She said, mother, it's going to be all right.
Could this man ever be that brave?
digby 7/31/2010 02:30:00 PM