Shirley Sherrod...

More

...will not go away:


Sherrod was rudely ousted by USDA officials in July after blogger Andrew Brietbart -- back in the news recently for his role in Rep. Anthony Weiner's lewd-texting scandal -- released excerpts of a Sherrod speech. The video, which had been edited, made it appear she had withheld funds from a white farmer because of his race. 

Department of Agriculture officials fired her instantly. A day later, it became clear that Sherrod was actually talking about the importance of overcoming prejudice. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack publicly apologized and offered her another job, which she declined. President Obama called her to express his regret and try to patch over the mess. But the mess has not been patched over. 

Sherrod's story is regularly invoked -- by civil right groups, academics and members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- as proof of the challenge of discussing race honestly in the Obama era. "Is she a gadfly to the Obama administration? I don't know her motivations, but the reality of it is that they screwed up," said Andra Gillespie, an Emory University professor who studies politics and race. 

"They apologized, but the decision to fire her is the kind of knee-jerk reaction that people get concerned about with de-racialized candidates, such as Obama. The administration overacted in the Shirley Sherrod case to prove that they don't always side with the minorities, but they were wrong." 

USDA officials now say they are hoping Sherrod will come back as a consultant to help them address inequities facing black farmers. But the administration has once again upset her, offering a $35,000 consulting contract. The figure, she said, is a "slap in the face," given the amount of work the job would require.

I think, given how the Civil Rights movement is viewed, and given that love and forgiveness were its hallmarks, it's really, really, really easy to paper over the real anger stewing among a great many black folks of that generation. I don't mean bitterness. I don't mean unjustified pique. I mean natural human anger at injustice both personal and collective. 

I mean growing up under a systemic and literal white supremacy, whose endorsement by virtually every sector of society (government, private enterprise, church etc.) was near total. I mean having your father murdered by white racists, and watching the killer going unpunished. I mean watching the Klan harass your now widowed mother. 

I mean growing up with all of that, learning to forgive, and doing the painful work of not becoming a racist yourself. I mean taking that message of forgiveness and humanism so much to heart, that you come be known for your fundamental fairness. I mean preaching that gospel of love, introspection and broad toleration, to other wounded black people. I mean being fired for preaching that gospel by the agents of the first black president of the United States who, were it not for your individual efforts, and the efforts of your compatriots would enjoy no such power.

Sherrod's firing didn't have much to do with policy. Still I don't think the Obama administration was ever more wrong, more weak, and more ungracious, then when it ordered Shirley Sherrod off the highway to tender her resignation by blackberry. The symbolism of that moment, a year later, is stunning. 

Actual people died for Barack Obama to be president. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but he owed more to his elders than that. Let me not speak for Sherrod. I can only say that, having went through all of that,  I would be nursing some serious, serious anger. 
Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In