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. BigGovernment.com 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.