It Took an African American Woman

It took one African American woman, Rosa Parks, to put a fire under the Civil Rights movement.

And now, it has taken another African American woman, Shirley Sherrod, to get America to come face to face with some sad but true facts about where we are as a nation when it comes to race.

The debacle all started when Ben Jealous had the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) draw up a resolution denouncing the “racist elements” of the Tea Party. The Tea Party shot back that the entire NAACP was racist, and then, Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams did a tasteless “satire” in which Ben Jealous writes President Abraham Lincoln wondering what “us coloreds” would do since we were being expected to take care of ourselves.

Some people were incensed by the all-too-dreaded “race card” being played, and got very defensive. then comes to the rescue of accused white racists by playing a snippet of a speech given by Shirley Sherrod in which it appeared that she had discriminated against a white person simply because he was white.

Ah! The die were cast! The NAACP was beholden, said many, to decry racism among black people! This woman was clearly racist! Bill O’Reilly of Fox News went on a predictable rampage, calling for Sherrod’s resignation! The story had not been verified, mind you. O’Reilly merely went on the strength of the video clip.

But O’Reilly and Fox News were not the only ones. The White House apparently called Ms. Sherrod three times, according to her account, pressuring her to resign, and, adding insult to injury, Ben Jealous excoriated her as well. Nobody had bothered to check into the validity of the story, in spite of the fact that doing so is journalistic protocol.

It was knee-jerk politics. Everybody, not in the least the White House, is looking at the 2012 elections. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of “the race question.” The White House didn’t want to look “soft” on racism, and neither did the NAACP.

Meanwhile, Shirley Sherrod, whose father was murdered by the Klan, and who decided the night he died that she would stay in the South to help bring about change, swallowed her shock and began to protest, loudly. Someone would hear her. She might lose her job, but, by golly, the world was going to know what really happened.

And so she talked. With courage and class, she talked, just like Rosa Parks sat, with dignity and grace, in the front of a bus, determined that the craziness would stop, and just like Mamie Till demanded that her son’s casket be left open and photographers be allowed to take pictures of her butchered son, so that people would see what racism is.

It took a woman, in all three cases. It took an African American woman to put her foot down and say, “no more!”

The media, all day, has been acting and reacting in humility and shame, and, it seems, some surprise that such racism is still so rampant, in this, the era where America was supposed to be post-racial.

Mr. Obama is afraid to touch the race question. The Conservative Right has the president and the 2012 race by the neck, almost daring him to seem “too black.” The president has avoided race like the plague. The Right knows how sensitive the race question is, and is preparing its election strategies, as much as possible, on race. Everyone jumped because The Right put a false story involving race on television and acted like it was the gospel truth. Ms. Sherrod said today we have to stop being afraid of The Right. That would include the president …but, he’s in a tough place.

He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Ms. Sherrod has confronted the Big World with an empty jar, a trumpet and a torch. She has confounded the opposition by being who she is and standing on Truth.

It took a woman, an African American woman.

That is … a candid observation.

9 thoughts on “It Took an African American Woman

  1. Good post. Thanks. There are so many things that could be said about this sad story—sad because it demonstrates how completely America’s leading institutions of government and media can miss the point of a moving speech by a courageous woman. But one small take away must deal with the ways in which Rupert Murdoch and his media empire have worked hard to pollute the public discourse in the US. If ever there was an argument against media consolidation, Murdoch is it and the Sherrod story is living proof of what happens when one wealthy political zealot is permitted to put his personal agenda above the public good. Murdoch, single handedly, has done a lot to destroy the traditional neutrality of news coverage in the US. We should keep that in mind as this story unravels.

    1. Thanks, Kirk, for your input and for reminding me of the force behind the type of stuff that is passing as “journalism.” Mr. Murdoch is a force, a strong one and a powerful one, doing an amazing amount of damage. I appreciate you taking the time to read the piece and comment.

  2. In addition to Ms Sherrod, the victims in all of this, continues to be the public at large.

    Your excellent article helps to illustrate how yet another “teachable moment” may have been lost. Unfortunately, many of the consumers of mass media haven’t the tools, expertise or the time to discern fact from fiction. As a result, the “truth” is often lost in the roar of white noise and 24-hour cable news chatter.

    It’s my understanding that Andrew Breitbart has no intention of apologizing to Ms. Sherrod, the NAACP’s apology comes too late and the Obama Administration refuses to lead a serious conversation about race in America.

    I fear that Ms. Sherrod will not be the last victim of a knee-jerk liberal left, an out of control/unchecked media or vicious agendas allowed to hide behind issues of “race.”

    I can’t necessarily support it, but my gut tells me that “misogyny” was also allowed to poke it’s ugly little toe in the pool.

    The ripples of this ugly situation look awfully familiar.

    1. Thank you for your input. I agree with you: this is not the end of the knee-jerk reactions that we are going to see, and it is sad. My idealistic hope is that this situation will marinate on and in the souls of people so that maybe people will look at the problems of racism and how poor journalism will always make a bad situation worse. Thank you again.

  3. Thanks for this great post. Let’s not forget little Ruby, the child in the photos who became the symbol of school desegregation in the South, walking through the racist gauntlet on her first day of school. Asked how she felt and what she was thinking as they spat and swore at her, was she angry at those big white men? She said, and I’m paraphrasing, “No, I felt sorry for them. I was praying for them. I was wondering, what are they so afraid of?”

    The wonderful thing about this recent incident. We can learn from it. We can do better. We need courageous, good, and honorable teachers, like Ms. Sherrod.

    Thank you, peace,


    1. You are so right, Diane. We can learn from this incident; I hope we will. And yes, I did forget little Ruby, who braved all those racist MOTHERS (I still can’t get past that) for the cause of excellence and equity for all.

      Thank you for your input. I dearly appreciate it.

  4. Unfortunately, time has not changed, just the players have.

    And before there was Rosa there was Claudette.

    One observation I have is that if we didn’t have the ability to research and fact check, so quickly, thanks to technology – think of how long this story would have taken to come to light. And because information is instantaneous, we owe it to our children and their children to fix the issue of race – and see it rightly. But my main argument is that it starts in the schools with what we have a children reading. They’re reading books that are outdated, while clearly today’s world is more than up-to-date. These are my initial thoughts, as I have many on the subject. Great post, indeed.

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