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Shirley Sherrod in a post-racial America

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Mark Jefferson | 7/27/2010, 6:23 p.m.
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Mark Jefferson ...

Shirley Sherrod in a post-racial America

This is what happens when you live in a racialized house of mirrors.

A presidential hopeful, in order to defuse the specter of black anger hovering over his campaign — and, by doing so, rescuing his candidacy — is obliged to equally balance, at least morally, white American fears and resentments of black Americans with black American’s endurance of four hundred years of chattel slavery and an additional hundred years of institutional racism, terror and violence.

Liberal media promote a narrative of a post-racial America, all the while assuring us that candidate Obama was, to borrow from then Sen. Biden, an “articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy.”  

At the same time, conservative media depict Obama as a Nazi, Communist or terrorist Muslim, hell-bent on destroying the union while exhorting the citizenry to take “our” country back.

Enter Shirley Sherrod. After a lifetime of working across racial lines in the truest spirit of our ongoing struggle for equal rights for all, she is condemned by the political right, our country’s oldest civil rights organization and a White House whose current occupancy was made possible in no small part by her efforts and the countless, anonymous efforts of those, like Sherrod’s, to hold our nation accountable to its expressed aspirations.

To be sure, what caused Ms. Sherrod’s knee-jerk dismissal is not new. It is but another chapter in a sorry book on U.S. race relations.

After the “New Yorker” cover Michelle Obama wearing fatigues and strapped with an AK-47 and images of the President with a bone in his nose, it is hard to be surprised at this latest attempt at race baiting. Still, Andrew Breibart’s mendacious depiction of  Sherrod as exemplar of the “rising tides” of reverse racism, reached for and grasped, if ever briefly, a new low of race relations in our Republic.

Breitbart reaching for this new low in racial animus is not surprising. Coming from what has become of the right side of the political aisle, it is not even the most egregious. That honor belongs to Patrick J. Buchanan when he penned his little discussed toxic opinion piece — “Brief for Whitey,” on March 21, 2008, in response to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy — a piece that signaled the beginning of the race baiting to come.  

In “Brief for Whitey,” Buchanan, MSNBC’s favorite right-wing elder uncle, made clear his, and we can only suppose many of our fellow citizens’ — opinions of how black Americans should view their peculiar experience on our shores.

“First,” Buchanon wrote; “America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.  Wright [read: all black folk] ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.”