Eugene T. Paslov: Shirley Sherrod’s dilemma is all of ours
President Obama fell into a trap. The NAACP was snookered. Most of the news media forgot the basic rules of journalism.
As David Brooks pointed out on Meet the Press (July 25, 2010), “As a young journalist in Chicago, I learned that if you hear your mother loves you, check it out.” No one checked anything.
The right wing went immediately for the jugular. They (Glen Beck and Andrew Breitbart – the Tea Party blogger who initially spread the misleading video clip about Shirley Sherrod, a black Department of Agriculture official who worked in Georgia) fired off numerous allegations claiming the Obama administration was racist, Shirley Sherrod was racist, and the NAACP national organization was racist. Everyone but the Tea Party was racist.
One wonders how reasonable people (those in the Obama administration, our premier civil rights organization, and even those in the Tea Party who are hard working, decent people who are fearful for their future) could be led down the slippery slope of charges of racism. How an accusation of racism against our nation’s leadership could develop a narrative of its own is frightening. It’s a deadly malady, and we must begin working on a cure.
On the surface, it appears that most of the administration and its supporters were acting out of fear.
The Obama administration didn’t want to be seen as supporting an alleged racist black woman (not bothering to check out her story). They were frightened of the right-wing political machine that immediately went into action trying to impregnate the administration with politically salacious charges.
The NAACP was frightened. The right-wing political backlash is formidable and can be used to destroy even an honorable, historically significant institution like the NAACP.
Look at what right-wing bloggers did to ACORN. (By the way, it was the same Andrew Breitbart who was involved in the fictional prostitution scam that brought down ACORN.) Fear has taken hold of our political system and its leaders are terrified.
There are three take-a-ways from this incident: First, don’t trust right-wing ideologues – Breitbart, Beck, et. al. – to say anything truthful. They are only interested in political damage and will lie to achieve it.
Second, The Obama administration and our civil rights organizations must exercise political courage and backbone. Check out information and fight for what is right.
And finally, Shirley Sherrod had an epiphany. Her father was killed by a white farmer and she overcame her rage. She learned to work with the poor, regardless of their race. She helped them. It was what her father had taught her.
It’s what we all need to learn.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.