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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Lesson in Race Relations

Shirley Sherrod. Many of us had never heard this name at the beginning of last week. How quickly things change.

We're moved to write our own article on this issue because we want so much for some good to come out of this extraordinary and extraordinarily unkind incident. There can be good if we all learn something beneficial and put it to use in the future. I wish Ms. Sherrod didn't have to suffer so that might happen, but that part can't be changed now. At this point, we wish her well and we wish her renewed respect and peace in her own life.

Her speech to the NAACP dinner in March told a terrific story of personal growth, of redemption. She came to understand that people were worthy of attention and assistance just for being themselves, not for some inherited characteristic that might distinguish them from someone else. In the end, she fought for her client with all the vigor she had. She saved their farm for them, and this past week, in turn, they helped save her beaten-up reputation for her.

In the meantime, none of this was pretty. It started because, in an official resolution a couple of weeks ago, the NAACP called the Tea Party a racist institution. Someone who was offended by this sought to show that the NAACP could be racist too. Andrew Breitbart, quoted Saturday by Politics Daily columnist Matt Lewis, said that his point in posting the now infamous clip of the speech was not so much the speech itself, but the audience's reaction to Ms. Sherrod's statements. As she told of thinking to do less for the farmer and shunting him off to a lawyer "of his own kind", the crowd cheered and clapped in approval. Surely these people were also exhibiting racist attitudes, Breitbart said he reasoned.

Sometimes fighting fire with fire works. Forest fires can indeed be successfully addressed this way. But there is no subtlety in a forest fire. We don't have to concentrate or search to grasp the point of what 's going on, as would have been necessary here. I wonder if anyone did. We could recite here a list of people who instead took actions on their knee-jerk reactions and did damage to Ms. Sherrod and themselves. But you know all that by now.

What we would offer here are responses from two conservative commentators. Their reactions show how widespread the feelings about the injustice are and why we are prompted to emphasize them ourselves. When she heard the entire speech, Ann Coulter – Ann Coulter – argued to Sean Hannity on Fox News [Wednesday, July 21] that it had been an important and a "lovely" speech, full of maturity and grace. He was hesitant, so she repeated her sentiments to give them further weight. This was something we should all pay attention to, she implied.

In her column in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, one-time speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, tells considerable of Ms. Sherrod's story: the murder of her father in 1965 and the non-punishment of his killers, Ms. Sherrod's recognitions that there was work for her in the South and again that helping the white farmer was as important as helping a black farmer. Ms. Noonan recommends, and we pass on to you: make a video of this speech [link here] required viewing for teenagers in high schools. Make it an occasion for recognition and discussion of race and also of respect for all persons. If we all learn, maybe Ms. Sherrod can feel some small gratification that her troubles led to something worthwhile.

We have to say one more thing. We are all the more aghast at the reactions of those who summarily dismissed Ms. Sherrod from her job and called on their "zero-tolerance" policy. We've learned that Ms. Sherrod is hardly a nameless face in the civil rights movement. She is married to William Sherrod, who was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. We learn this from Eleanor Clift, the Newsweek columnist, also writing for Politics Daily. The title of her column is "Andrew Breitbart Debacle Just a Warm-Up for Racial Politics Ahead". We pray not. May we all listen and learn and take a deep breath every time we want to use that word.

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Anonymous leda carmen said...

Perhaps the lesson here is that most of us, probably most of us who are White, really understand neither what being racisit or being a victim of racism really is. We know what it looks like from the bleachers of life, sometimes even from a grandstand seat, but none of have really been players. Right now it is not only the actual prejudices that are surfacing, but the rush to use talking media heads to cook and serve allegations and retorts in a way to sway political public opinion. Race relations is something we to which we only pay attention and profess to care about if it serves our political debate. Otherwise it is not part of our working lives...we are not really players except to be automatically culturally involved in the game. We cannot be effectively sensitive even if want to be because we simply don't understand the game like the players. We even expect that to "mainstream" minorities they need to become like "us". But we speak different internal languages. So, I suggest we turn off the television and turn a knee in prayer, asking for the Divine Spirit to speak to our spirits and give us an understanding and sensitivity to what our part is in bridging the communication gap between races.

...then Go in Peace...

7/30/2010 9:26 PM  
Blogger pwhitten said...

I wish that you had mentioned Glenn Beck. When he first learned of the tape, he held off on commenting until the contents could be verified. The next day, on his evening show, he spend quite a bit of time discussing the role of the media in this fiasco, and what happens when comments are taken out of context.

7/31/2010 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't born here but I got old here. I was born in South America where blacks and East Indians hated each other . I know nothing of the '60's here, but I grew up being taught that blacks were inferior. I made my own decisions by the time I was 8 - everyone is equal. I'm nearly 60 now, and it's the saddest time of my life - seeing America split by race hatred again. Folks assume I'm Republican and say the most demeaning and painful things about the Obamas. Folks I respected, and thought I knew. One of my friends told me openly she hated him for his "ignorance", and one claimed it's a shame it wasn't Sarah Palin in the limelight because she's so pretty compared to Michelle Obama. This is the America in which I'm aging - the greatest country in the world where half of our population cannot remember what happened before our President took office. They do not remember the year we invaded Iraq, neither do they remember the year the real estate market crashed. They don't recall when AIG fell and when Lehman Brothers collapsed...all they see is our President being cluless...I'm sad and hurt.

10/05/2010 9:27 PM  

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