Why It’s Hard to Talk About Race

Shirley Sherrod on the death of Andrew Breitbart…

Shirley Sherrod deserves high praise for speaking with such fairness and empathy about Andrew Breitbart’s unexpected death on Thursday. “The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning,” Sherrod said in a statement. “My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time. I do not intend to make any further comments.”

Andrew Breitbart released selectively edited video of Shirley Sherrod giving a frank and honest talk about how she came to recognize the role of class in American justice, and injustice. Breitbart’s mis-representation defamed Shirley Sherrod, provoked her firing, and put her into the middle of a controversy she never asked for, all for 15 minutes of headlines…

Sherrod’s account
In the full video, Sherrod related her experience in 1986 with the first white farmer to come to her for help. (On July 20 CNN received a telephone call from the farmer’s wife and learned his name was Roger Spooner.[26]) Sherrod said that his land was being sold, and “had in fact already been rented out from under him.”[27] At first, she felt that he had a superior attitude toward her, causing her to recall harsh aspects of her life in the South, including the murder of her father[27], but she went on to say that she had not let that get in the way and did not discriminate against him. They became very good friends as a result of her help. She admitted thinking at the time that white people had “all the advantages” but learned that poverty affected both races.[27]

According to Sherrod, she did her job correctly by taking the farmer to a white lawyer who she thought could help him, and she looked for another lawyer when needed. [28] Sherrod rejected claims that she was racist and said she “went all out” to help the man keep his farm. She said that the incident helped her learn to move beyond race, and she told the story to audiences to make that point.[28]
[edit] Spooner family’s account

Roger Spooner, the farmer, said on CNN that Sherrod is not a racist, that she did everything she could for his family; more than 20 years later, he and Sherrod remain friends.[29] The Spooners credit Sherrod with helping them save their farm: “If it hadn’t been for her, we would’ve never known who to see or what to do,” Roger Spooner said. “She led us right to our success.” His wife, Eloise Spooner, said that “after things kind of settled down, she brought Sherrod some tomatoes out of her garden, and they had a good visit.”[28] Eloise Spooner recalled Sherrod as “nice-mannered, thoughtful, friendly; a good person.”[28] The couple were surprised by the controversy. “I don’t know what brought up the racist mess,” Roger Spooner said. “They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me in my opinion.” Eloise Spooner said that on seeing the story of Sherrod’s resignation, “I said, ‘That ain’t right. They have not treated her right.’”[28]
[edit] Full video

The extended unedited video of her speech released by the NAACP[30] showed that in her full speech, Sherrod emphasized what was only touched on in the excerpt:[31] she learned from the incident that poverty, not race, was the key factor in rural development. She said she ultimately worked hard to save the farmer’s land.[3]

One aspect of this story that stays with me is that Shirley Sherrod was collateral damage in an ideological war, or maybe just a self-promoter’s strategy for shaping the narrative with a casual attitude to the truth and the real people affected.

Breitbart used selective editing to distort the words of a woman who had never done anything but to serve our country conscientiously. A woman whose father was murdered by a white man. A woman who did not give in to hatred, but instead fought racism, and bravely spoke about the evolution of her understanding.

He never was man enough to look her in the eye and own up to the damage he did to her career and reputation…

“This was never about Shirley Sherrod,” Breitbart interrupted.

“So apologize to her,” said Boehlert. “Post a correction. Apologize to her.”

But Breitbart ignored Boehlert and stuck to his talking points. “This was not about Shirley Sherrod. This was about the smears that have gone against the Tea Party,” he said.

They’re calling Andrew Breitbart a ‘warrior’, as if warriors are admired for ambushing the innocent. Andrew Breitbart was simply an opportunist. As is so often the case, he used the politics of white racism to advantage. He didn’t find a convenient example of institutionalized black racism, so he created one.

Shirley Sherrod will decide whether to proceed with her defamation suit, given the untimely death of the defendant.

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5 thoughts on “Why It’s Hard to Talk About Race

  1. A lot of bloggers are sending condolences even if they didn’t like the guy.
    I’d only do that if the family had enough sense to be embarrassed about the guy’s behavior. Sorry for their luck, they didn’t ask to be related to a bigoted jerk.

    • He was a human being, and it’s terrible for children to lose their father. I don’t take any pleasure in a man dying young. But Andrew Breitbart did a lot of damage with his ‘win at any cost’ approach to journalism. Is is possible to recognize that, and still regret an untimely death.

  2. …They’re calling Andrew Breitbart a ‘warrior’, as if warriors are admired for ambushing the innocent….

    The thing is, as far as a lot of RW types–Rick Santorum among them–are concerned, there are no ‘innocent’ individuals. It’s that whole stark, Calvinist thing: you are either one of the chosen that will go to heaven, or you are foreknown, or reprobate, and you’re going to hell.

    The RW types are convinced they’re among the former; anyone who doesn’t agree is among the latter.

    “By their fruits you shall know them” is their justification for this.

  3. Breitbart was totally wrong to do what he did to Sherrod.
    On the other hand,I liked what he did to Acorn and Weiner.
    Klaus-you frequently don’t know what you are talking about.
    Breitbart wasn’ t a warrior-warriors get shot at-he was a blogger.
    He was quite proactive in the process.
    Why do you think all conservatives respect armchair warriors?

  4. Nancy-when you acknowledge that Farrakhan is nothing but a filthy race baiter and professional Jew hater I’ll start to believe that you are truly bothered by racism.
    No one gets a free pass on it.

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