July 30, 2010

When is Racism Not Racism?

When it's not only taken out of context, but the message is actually turned into the exact opposite of what was said. The entire point of Shirley Sherrod's story was that she was able to forgive the very people who had killed, beaten, deprived of rights and freedoms, forced into slums and ignorance, and persecuted in every way members of her own family.

Her father was shot to death by a white man when she was 17, but never served time despite eyewitnesses at the scene. The 6,000 acre communal farm she started in Georgia was opposed by the surrounding farmers, who thought it was a communist camp, but also by the segregationist Governor Lexter Maddox, who ensured not funds were brought into the state for the project. She and her husband lost their farm when they were unable to get Department of Agriculture loans, while white farmers around them had little problem getting the same. Eventually a lawsuit had to be brought against the USDA, and the USDA not only admitted they were in the wrong, but that they were wrong to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

Now, can you think of any reason why she shouldn't harbour a life-long grudge, or distrust, or even an open hatred of white people?

What was used as "evidence" of Ms. Sherrod's inherent racism was a three minute piece of a 50-minute speech where she was describing the fact that she didn't give all the help she should have to a white farmer when he was trying to keep his land. Even then, she took him to a "white lawyer" who only had "a little training" regarding the new chapter 12 bankruptcy laws as they applied to farms.

And that was it. That was the total sum of her supposed racism. Even in this little segment of tape, she alludes to her realizing that what she did was wrong, and later in her speech she discusses how her faith had brought her from a place of hating white people to one of trying to help all the poor. You know, someone who actually thought about "what would Jesus do".

So it has been pointed out, rather forcibly in some quarters, that the person who had put the edited tape on the air was a scumbag who went out of his way to present her as the exact opposite of who she was.

Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator called Sherrod a liar for describing her relative as "getting lynched" when he was in fact only "beaten to death", and that perhaps she was trying to "add glamour to a family story". No, I'm not kidding.

A bit of social context here: we're not talking about something that happened 100 years ago. All this is within living memory: it took until 1965 before the Jim Crow laws were finally taken off the books in the United States, and Ms. Sherrod was born in 1948.

Think of that. When were you born, or your parents, or your grandparents? Imagine that being not only in your family's history, but having happened to your living relatives. How long would it take you to get over it?

My own grandfather shocked me when he told the man working on his roof to "get rid of that raghead or don't come back" some years ago. He had never used anything like a racist term anywhere near me before, and I had no idea that attitude was sitting under the surface. I live in a logging town, and it's easy to hear derogatory terms in the bars and from school kids, but it never occurred to me that my family would have taken part.

If even my own gentle grandfather had a hatred for other races, I can't imagine what someone trying to live in a place filed with him (and worse) would have been like.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: given the option of living anywhere in time and space, I'll take right here, right now every time.


posted by Thursday at 12:49 pm


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