Friday, July 23, 2010

Racism and redemption

It seems that just about everyone involved in the Shirley Sherrod affair have covered themselves with shame, whether they realize it or not. Certainly the fearmongering right-wing media (that includes you Fox News) that twisted two minutes of a 45-minute speech out of context to create the appearance of a government conspiracy against white people. Who the heck is Andrew Breitbart anyway? I hadn't heard of this joker until quite recently, but apparently he makes Matt Drudge look like a paragon of responsible journalism. There's also the spineless Obama administration officials who hastily fired Sherrod without investigating the facts. Amy Davidson reports that Sherrod was called on her cell phone and told to pull her car over by the side of the road and resign, now.

Peggy Noonan has a sterling column in today's Wall Street Journal on the real Shirley Sherrod, what she really said, and what me might learn from the latest tawdry episode in the story of race in America. Here's the part that resonated with me the most because it's where I'm at right now.

Indignant, she set herself to save the Spooners' farm. "That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have," not white versus black. "It opened my eyes." She worked the phones, reached out to those who could help, talked to more lawyers, called officials.

And she saved that farm.

"Working with him," said Ms. Sherrod, "made me see . . . that it's really about those who have versus those who don't." It's helping the frightened and powerless. "And they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic."

She said that 45 years ago she couldn't say what she will say tonight: "I've come a long way. I knew that I couldn't live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, 'If we had tried to live with hate in my heart, we probably be dead now.'" She said it was "sad" that the room was not "full of whites and blacks." She quoted Toni Morrison: We have to get to a point where "race exists but it doesn't matter."

There is beauty in the speech, and bravery too. It was brave because her subject wasn't the nation's failures and your failures but her failures. The beauty is that it deals with the great subject of our lives: how to be better, how to make the world better. It's not a perfect speech—she's tendentious in her support for health care and takes cheap shots at Republicans. And it's not the poor versus the rich, it's the powerful helping the powerless. But it's good.

Contra Noonan I don't mind someone being "tendentious" in support of health care (whatever that means), and some times it is poor versus the rich. Moreover, the powers that be have not been above using race as a tool to divide people who should be making common cause, a point Sherrod makes in the speech. Despite those nits I'm glad to see someone on the right saying what needs to be said. Thank you, Peggy Noonan! Read the whole column, and then take her advice and listen to the full presentation that caused all the ruckus (which I've done). It's an amazing story.

UPDATED: In all fairness to FNC I should mention that Bill O'Reilly has apologized for "not doing my homework." Thanks to one of my readers for pointing that out.

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