NAACP, tea party, Shirley Sherrod and racism

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Tea party supporters can deny all they want that their "movement" is rife with racism. The American people aren't buying it.

"Methinks the racists doth protest too much," says one Washington Post commenter on a blog about a tea party group restating its opposition to racism.

One white Republican who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 told this reporter that tea party and other post-2008 anti-government protestors "don't like a black president, period."

"They can deny it all they want, but that's what I think," she said. "Where were they during the Bush presidency?"

This "swing" voter represents a major trend among Americans: they want the Obama administration to succeed and don't like the use of racism to attack the president.

A renewed national debate on racism emerged after the NAACP, at its recent convention, passed a resolution calling on the tea party movement to condemn racism in its ranks and leadership. 

In a July 13 press release on the resolution, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous said, "We take no issue with the tea party movement. We believe in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in a democracy.

"What we take issue with is the tea party's continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements. The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no place for racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in their movement."

Apparently, some on the far-right thought that reasonable urging from the nation's "oldest and largest" civil rights organization was unreasonable. A firestorm of rhetoric ensued from tea party groups and their powerful supporters like Fox TV.

Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams called the NAACP "racist" and then posted a bizarre, incendiary fake letter addressed to President Abraham Lincoln calling on him to reinstate slavery because "Coloreds" had "a great gig." 

Williams proved the NAACP's point by using racist lies and crude caricatures of African Americans that could have been lifted right out of Klan literature.

Indicating the wide disgust at such blatant racism, the Tea Party Federation "expelled" the Tea Party Express.

But the racist pile-on didn't stop there. Far-right blogger Andrew Breitbart and his comrades at Fox broadcasted an obviously edited video of civil rights veteran and Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod giving a speech at a Georgia NAACP meeting in March. Engaging in "gotcha" fraud like it used to wreck ACORN and former White House advisor Van Jones, the far-right tried to portray Sherrod as an "angry black woman" who discriminated against a white farmer.

The sound-bite dirty trick led USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to rush to fire Sherrod.

But the full 45-minute speech got aired on the Internet, and showed that what Sherrod really said about not giving "her all" to help a white farmer was part of a much bigger story about understanding, growth and redemption. Sherrod helped save the white farmer from losing his farm.

Vilsack has now apologized and offered Sherrod a new position. Sherrod said she wasn't sure if she would accept.

Sherrod's 45-minute speech showed deep thought and commitment to making life better for people. She touched on her life in rural Georgia, racism and black-white unity and appealed to young African Americans not to reject work in agriculture.

She told how her father, a leader in his community in the Jim Crow South, was lynched by a racist mob.

Sherrod is a veteran of the civil rights movement, along with her husband, Charles Sherrod.  She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1965 and committed herself to making a better life for African Americans - and all poor people. 

She is just the kind of person you'd want working for the USDA.

Many civil rights advocates and progressives have criticized the Obama administration for carelessly bowing to the far right in this case. Many are sending messages of support for Sherrod to the White House.

Many point out the "depressing" and "sad" irony of a black employee getting fired from the USDA for discrimination when the USDA has historically been rife with racism towards Black farmers.  (For related People's World stories on African American farmers and USDA, click here.)

Missing in this firestorm has been a basic understanding of racism and the role it has played - and continues to play - in this country. Can African Americans be racist? No, because racism is not just a personal prejudice. It's a reflection of an economic system.

Describing a new racist counteroffensive since the election of Obama, Sam Webb writes:

"Many people say that racism is simply an attitude or a prejudice of one people toward another people. That allowed Republican senators to make the ludicrous claim that Sonia Sotomayor was a racist, during the hearings on her Supreme Court nomination.

"In reality, racism is a historically developed set of practices, institutions and beliefs that systematically subordinate racially oppressed people to an inferior status in every area of life."

As Americans rejected existing racist practices, he argues, new ones emerged, spurring new struggles against them. The current racist rampage, he writes, is centered on stripping away "the legitimacy of the first African American president."

The Republicans, tea party and others who use racism will run into a "powerful anti-racist response not only from people of color, but also from the white majority and white workers," Webb says.

But if racism goes unchallenged, he writes, "It could lead to disaster, via a much uglier version of the Bush-Cheney administration."

The NAACP has provided an opportunity to build that struggle for multi-racial unity and against racism. Along with labor unions and others, it is organizing for a major jobs march Oct. 2 under the slogan "One Nation Working Together," combined with voter mobilization for the 2010 midterm elections.

Both are opportunities to send a message to the far right that Americans won't tolerate racism.

Photo: Georgia USDA Rural Development State Director Shirley Sherrod welcomes a group to Georgia as part of a USDA program. (USDA/CC)

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  • I don't think that her speech was worth getting too excited about, however I do think that there is more behind the situation than we see and someone was trying to bring it to light. Shirley Sherrod was part of a fraud committed when a $50,000 claim for 39,697 black farmers ballooned into a $1.25billion claim for seemingly non-existent farmers - and Sherrod & her husband walked away with $300,000 (or more) for themselves - hopefully they will find out where the rest of the $$ really went!

    Hopefully attention can be placed toward truly mending race relations rather than for some people to use the nation's sordid past to cheat & scheme for personal gain. Two wrongs don't make it right. Just because there is definite racism in our past doesn't mean that we should stoop down to their level for revenge or riches.

    Let's rise above it all and live in such a way that untruthful claims do not even make people wonder if they are true or not!

    Posted by Aymee, 08/12/2010 2:55pm (4 years ago)

  • Thanks Terrie for that excellent article. Since most of the Dixiecrats fled the Democratic Party in the South after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act the Republican Party has been their political home. The Tea Party is a new sanctuary for the same racist elements. When I look at their demonstrations I see the same racist mentality that was at little Rock and Birmingham back in the day.

    Because they believe in white supremacy the election of Obama has driven them into a racist frenzy. Trying to demonize and degrade black leaders and movements is what they do. They also tried to slander Dr. King including the charge that he hated white people. The NAACP's challenge to them to deal with the racism in their ranks and Shirley Sherrod's principled stand against their racist provocations needs to be honored all over the country cerainy with big number in Washigton on October 2nd.

    Posted by Jarvis Tyner, 07/27/2010 3:16pm (4 years ago)

  • BUT AMERICANS LIKE TO BE "THE BOSS-MAN".....telling others what to do, how to do it,when to do it.....it is all part of "THE MASTER/SLAVE" mentality which permiates their development............just a thought for your day.

    Posted by j. h, 07/26/2010 4:00pm (4 years ago)

  • Fox News should issue an apology to Ms. Sherrod. Of course, they won't.

    Isn't it typical that even when caught, Breitbart stood by his blog and the video?

    These right-wing ideologues can't admit an error. They are such prisoners of their own ideology. Unless these people are defeated at the polls, we are in for a nightmare.

    I did not think that there could be anything worse than Bush-Cheney. How wrong am I?

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 07/26/2010 3:35pm (4 years ago)

  • Ms. Sherrod did not say her father "was lynched by a racist mob". If you saw the CNN program "Who Is Shirley Sherrod", or actually screened the full video of her speech at the NAACP, you would be aware that he was shot in the chest after an argument with a white neighbor farmer after a dispute over cattle. There was no indictment/charges. Her story has such power and poignancy because her trauma and fury was later mitigated by deciding not to leave the South, even after a cross burning on her families front lawn, and working with farmers and her discovery that the struggle was more about CLASS than about race. Please correct this weird misinformation.

    Posted by Emmett Grogan, 07/26/2010 2:43pm (4 years ago)

  • Wonderful article, written in a manner that makes it completely accessible and persuasive to a broad audience. Love that one-sentence definition of racism; am posting the article on facebook as we speak.

    Posted by Elena Mora, 07/24/2010 9:59am (4 years ago)

  • Great article, should be distributed widely!

    There is a concerted effort on the US right to deny that racism still exists. Part of that effort consists of accusing minority leaders and organizations of "reverse racism". Not only the NAACP and other African American groups, but Latino groups like the National Council of La Raza are the target of very vicious attacks. NCLR is sometimes accused of "racism" because of the word "Raza" in its name (raza in Spanish can mean race but more often means people or even one's family). The purpose of these attacks is to delegitimize and marginalize thos individuals and organizations that are actively fighting real existing racism. If they succeed in doing that, they weaken the anti-racism struggle. This we can not allow; it should be a priority for everybody on the left to understand the game that is being played and work to stop it.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 07/23/2010 2:46pm (4 years ago)

  • Historically,with Mary White Ovington,W.E.B. Du Bois,Joel Elias Spingarn and others,representing womens rights,(including women of color)African American rights and human rights in general(including labor's rights) the NAACP has been horrendously,glaringly and inaccurately maligned by the dual forces of racism,far right and right reaction.
    Historically,this NAACP is largely an African American founded organization. It was Mary White Ovington herself who wrote that this greatest and oldest of civil rights organizations could not have been what it was,without the heroic forces organized through W.E.B. Du Bois's Niagra Movement(with its Pan-Africanist influences also cultivated by Du Bois).
    Socialism itself had a big influence on the NAACP(founding member White,for example a socialist and we all know about the genius Du Bois,a Communist).
    Tolerance and inclusiveness have,and continue to be a hallmark of the great NAACP,as it protects;immigrants,the differently abled,white and Black,with its iconic opponent of anti-communism,Horace Julian Bond aka Julian Bond(also first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center).
    The NAACP has been and shall continue to be a bright glistening star for human,legal and civil rights for all Americans and aspirant Americans.
    Thank you Teresa for this excellent article.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 07/23/2010 11:54am (4 years ago)

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