NAACP officials and the Obama Administration stoked the embers of racial unfairness by condemning and forcing out a federal employee for remarks she made in a two-and-a-half minute video clip yanked out of context from her 40-minute address to an NAACP event.
The NAACP, whose mission is to investigate and seek redress when people bring allegations of unfair racial treatment, itself reacted unfairly to comments by Shirley Sherrod, who was head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural development office in Georgia until she was forced to resign on Monday.
Here's what Ms. Sherrod said in her speech about her encounter with a white farmer while she was working for a nonprofit farm aid group 24 years ago:
"I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough, so that when he … needed to go back and report that I did try to help him.
"So I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm. So I figured if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.
"That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have. It's not so much about white - it is about white and black, because I took him to one of his own …"
Though the clip ends there, Ms. Sherrod continued to talk about her realization that class, not race, was the issue, and that by working with the farmer, she embraced racial reconciliation. She added that when she learned that the white attorney was not helping the farmer, she took him to another lawyer and closely worked with members of the farm family, even befriending them.
Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart argued the clip shows the NAACP tolerates racism, even as it has tried to paint the Tea Party as racist. He posted that short piece of Ms. Sherrod's speech on his Web site, BigGovernment.com.
The NAACP has apologized for condemning Ms. Sherrod without considering the full story. Just as grievous is Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, who demanded Ms. Sherrod's resignation without knowing all the facts.
Though he has since said he offered her another job at USDA and Ms. Sherrod has spoken to President Obama, you would think that the constitutional principle of "innocent until proven guilty" would apply to federal agencies, too. But not so.
Ms. Sherrod was not given a chance to explain her side of the story. She said USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her three times to ask for her resignation while she was driving back to her office Monday. At one point, she said, Ms. Cook told her to pull over and submit her resignation on her BlackBerry because the White House wanted her gone.
"It hurts me that they didn't even try to attempt to see what is happening here, they didn't care," Ms. Sherrod told the Washington Post. She told the Associated Press: "If they would have looked at the entire tape, I don't see how they could have come away thinking I was a racist."
Apparently, the Tea Party is sensitive to being described as having "racist elements." The Republican Party has for years been targeted for having racist elements. The Democrats are not without blame, as they, too, have racist elements. That said, if the Tea Party can't take the criticism, then it needs to shut down.
Meanwhile, Ms. Sherrod was mature enough to acknowledge the transition that ended in her helping the white farmer and his wife. They say she never mistreated them and that she saved their farm.
Americans are so sensitive about race that only a few are allowed to grow and change on the subject. Whites are not the only ones who must embrace racial reconciliation. Blacks must also be afforded that opportunity.
The late Sen. Robert Byrd was allowed to move from a shameful, segregationist past - in which he once had ties with the Ku Klux Klan and was part of an effort to demolish the civil rights and voting rights acts - to become a distinguished statesman. At first, Shirley Sherrod was not given the same opportunity.
The NAACP, Mr. Vilsack, and the White House overreacted. That's partly the result of the 24-hour news cycle that initially only gives part of a story and seeks fast response.
Apparently Mr. Vilsack was more interested in getting Ms. Sherrod's resignation before Fox News jumped on the controversy than in getting the whole, true story.
Though Ms. Sherrod told CNN that the White House wanted her to quit because the controversy would "be on Glenn Beck tonight," the lesson for the administration is to investigate before acting. Conservative talk show hosts were among the first to call for the USDA to rehire Ms. Sherrod.
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