Response to the Right Honorable Mr. McCarthy

by Shannen W. Coffin

Andy: No one on these pages is calling for canonization of Shirley Sherrod. I will even suggest that we can hold off on beatification; the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has other investigations to attend to, and I’m happy to let them do their job elsewhere.

Shirley Sherrod is obviously a product of liberal grievance politics. Her reaction to the firing was to blame Fox News for being racist.  She sounds a bit like Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, who blames everyone for being anti-Semitic. The passage you highlight is virtually incomprehensible as matter of historic interpretation — and obviously the discussion of Republican racism is wholly inconsistent with what she’d been preaching a few moments before.

But the focus here was on a particular clip that got her fired. In fuller context, the speech involved her recounting her father’s murder at the hands of a white man who never saw justice, let alone the inside of a courtroom. She also told of burning crosses on her family’s front lawn shortly after her father’s murder — and a confrontation that nearly turned deadly again. It’s understandable that a woman who’d lived such a life might have a racial grievance or two. The story that got her fired involved an episode in which she saw things differently than just black and white. It is pretty clear from her response to the firing and the couple of minutes of her speech that you’ve highlighted that she still has some lingering issues. No one here thinks Shirley Sherrod is quite ready for sainthood. But neither was it necessary to pluck her from relative obscurity as a regional state director of some unknown USDA sub-agency to make a broader point about the NAACP’s agenda.

I’ve seen all the e-mails from readers who suggest we’ve missed the broader point about how some in the audience were laughing or responding less than admirably to her tale. But I really don’t find the responses to be that demonstrative — one or two “amens,” but hardly a broad indictment of a racist crowd. Nor do I think what might happen at a local meeting of a Georgia chapter of the NAACP necessarily reflects on the organization’s national agenda. (I said “not necessarily” deliberately — it might, if pervasive enough, but this video doesn’t give much indication that it does). But the real point is that whatever the reaction of the crowd, Shirley Sherrod paid a pretty stiff price to permit Breitbart to make a rather ambiguous point.

The NAACP’s condemnation of the tea parties as racist was ridiculous and wrong. The use of the Sherrod video to charge the NAACP with hypocrisy was wrong. Sherrod’s countercharge of Fox News racism was wrong. It is all such a vicious cycle of grievance politics. And it wouldn’t be a bad time to stand athwart it, yelling stop.

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