The Shirley Sherrod story goes something like this. Shirley, a former Agricultural Department official was forced to resign after a blogger posted comments she made to an N.A.A.C.P audience about race. The comment was taken totally out of context and once the entire speech was revealed, it became clear that she was talking of racial reconciliation and hot to overcome the divisions that exist in American society.
Tim Vilsack, the Agricultural Secretary has been criticized for, and has admitted himself, that he was “quick to jump the gun” and should have investigated into the accusations made by the blogger, Andrew Breitbart on BigGovernment.com. Sherrod has received numerous calls from top officials, including the President apologizing for this mistake and asking her to consider returning to her job; a prospect she is contemplating but unsure about.
The episode has raised the issue of race once again. Racial discrimination is still very much a part of the fabric of life in the US and very little has been done to address its root causes. Questions are being raised about how the administration and media would have reacted if it was a white person being accused of racist comments? Would they have been asked to resign without being allowed to present their side? I doubt it. The race debate has really been turned on its head with the entire nation going nuts over the slightest hint of racism towards whites.
Sherrod wasn’t even given a chance to tell anyone her side of the story. She was asked to resign via her blackberry at that very instance, and in addition to ring wing politicians and media, other people were also quick to judge her and brand her as spreading racist thoughts. This shows the extent to which we’ve lost sight of the most basic elements of justice, responsible reporting and decency in our society. People are quick to react to such episodes but are oblivious to the troubles of black people in the US. African Americans face economic, social and educational hardship as it is and the long economic recession has only exacerbated their plight. They do not have equal access to the basic amenities of life and opportunities to get out of their poor state, and the nation prides itself on being free and promoting equality.
Instead of addressing these concerns and looking at the state of not just African Americans but other under-privileged minorities such as Hispanics, politicians, journalists and the public rather spent their time, money and effort condemning others for speaking up about racial issues.
It is definitely difficult terrain to maneuver in, especially for the President, Barack Obama. His own biracial background would suggest that he would be the best person to tackle this issue but being a black leader in the US is not easy. He has to balance the pressure to address this issue from his supporters with the pressure from his opponents to not racialize the presidency. Race is definitely a loaded term in the US and is almost an inert force that threatens to erupt in this complicated society that sees things in black and white.