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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.

Would it even matter to correct Buchanan’s claim that only 600,000 Africans were brought to these shores in chattel slavery? In this political environment, probably not.  Still, the thrust of Buchanan’s argument is not lost: black Americans should get down on their knees and thank God that we are Americans. What’s a little picked cotton have to do with anything? Praise the Lord and thank your lucky stars we brought you here.

It is the assumption that black Americans should be thankful for being blessed to live in the land that belongs to Buchanan, proud son of the Confederacy, which allows many of our fellow citizens to protest that they want “their” country back.

This assumption also allowed liberal media to muse incessantly about whether white Americans were ready for a black President throughout the 2008 race for the White House. And this is the same assumption that, tragically — or is it comically? — snookered so many who ought to have known better into reproving Sherrod’s life work without so much as picking up the phone to hear her side of the story.

As the attorney general recently said — and was roundly condemned for saying — we are still a nation of cowards when it comes to race. The political right’s silly, thin and ahistorical view of race and equality makes for a discourse that is as dishonest as it is disheartening. Indeed, some with only a marginal familiarity with the English language are even calling on the president to “refudiate” the NAACP’s description of certain elements in the Tea Party as racist.  

To them, the term “nigger” and monkey props are not sufficient to earn that label. After all, the country belongs to them, and Tea Party members are allowed to say whatever they want to say.

Sherrod’s firing was the result of a disingenuous bargain that was struck when then-Sen. Obama became a serious contender for the presidency: You can be president of “our” country so long as you decline to give voice to any black grievance —  so long as you never acknowledge the racial nightmare that makes up all but the most recent decades of our history.  

Disingenuousness remains, regrettably, the state of our union when it comes to the question of race.  

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. is a professor at the Harvard Law School and a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Project. Mark Jefferson is a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Project.