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Backward Progress? The Shirley Sherrod Attack: Racism & Redemption July 22, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination.
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WOW—That’s the first word that comes to mind when reviewing the recent events surrounding Shirley Sherrod’s speech, firing, and White House apology with an offer of a new job.  If you are wondering why you have never heard of Shirley Sherrod before, there is a good reason.  Until about a week ago, she was a midlevel employee at the Department of Agriculture with no particular notoriety.  Her inadvertant fame is the result of her forty-five minute speech to the N.A.A.C.P. in which she described how her father was murdered, in 1965, by white men who were never indicted and her initial feelings of reluctance when she was later called upon to assist some struggling white farmers who were trying to keep their farm.

Understandable right?  Sure, especially since she ultimately did assist the farmers, the Spooners, who have spoken out in her support and indicated that all would have been lost without her support.  It was an experience of enlightenment that Ms Sherrod was describing—The problem is that her comments of initial reluctance were taken out of context and posted by a blogger– Two and one half minutes of a forty-five minute speech were taken out of context and created a firestorm on the internet and cable news networks that  resulted in even the national office of the N.A.A.C.P. calling for Ms. Sherrod’s  resignation.

 Not only that, but the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Vilsack, actually demanded her resignation stating that the Department of Agriculture does not tolerate any type of racism.  WOW is the operative word here…..Because now that everyone has access to the entire speech, Ms Sherrod has received an apology from Mr. Vilsack and the White House and has been offered a new position that will allow her to contribute to erasing the Agriculture Department’s “checkered civil rights history.”   

One has to ask whether in our fast paced, technologically advanced world, we need to call for a moment of pause, reflection and investigation of the facts of an event before reacting.  The answer seems clear: adopting an approach of mindfulness so that we can respond thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally based  upon an incomplete picture, ought to be the way to go. A healthy dose of skepticism with a sprinkle of mindful reflection may have avoided this entire event.

Jesse Jackson concluded that there remains a ” redemptive story book ending.”    He further stated,  “I wish that Shirley Sherrod and the Spooner family could be invited to the White House and give them the credit that they’re due, because it is a great American story. A rural white family in Georgia and a black woman, overcoming years of segregation. It would be great if the president were to seize this moment.”

Just seems that an awfully backwards process ultimately shed light on Ms. Sherrod’s and the Spooner’s civil rights progress.  Whether it is a “story book” ending for Ms. Sherrod remains to be seen as certainly it appears that she has been caught in an unimaginable nightmare of late.

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Comments»

1. Ruth & Paul - July 23, 2010

It seems that when the media has an opportunity to reach ‘low’ for a story it gets blown out of all porportion, yet when there is a ‘high’ story it gets lost in the news.

2. The Worden Report - July 23, 2010

Were the journalists in the Sherrod affair so much different than the blogger? Moreover, are bloggers who provide news not journalists as the “journalists” claimed after getting the story wrong? http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/1005/

3. Ruth & Paul - July 23, 2010

Absolutely! It appears that no one did his or her job well. Instead of grabbing onto a sound bite, did they responsibly read the whole speech or watch the video?

4. legalethicsemporium - July 23, 2010

It depends on how you define the terms blogger and journalist—both are providing news, but bloggers have not generally been held to the same standards as journalists—in this particular case the bloggers spreading word of the video sound bite as the “ultimate truth” and the journalists who reported upon it all appear to have acted recklessly. Isn’t there some distinction between everyone’s First Amendment rights and responsible journalism?

5. Ruth - July 24, 2010

Reckless is the word. It seems sometimes the need to write and publish in a hurry makes jounalists and bloggers reckless. Instead of understanding the whole ‘story’, they grab the attention-getter and go with it.


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