Shirley Sherrod, Hypocrisy and Political Expediency

A friend takes a look at the real Shirley Sherrod.

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Let me say--putting all my cards on the table so to speak--that the Sherrods are my friends. Charles Sherrod, the husband of the now controversial, fired USDA official Shirley Sherrod, was one of the founders and leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). We worked together.

So what are we looking at? Well, the whole video shows Shirley Sherrod using an anecdotal story to describe a prejudicial attitude she had 24 years ago about her reservations with helping white farmers given the plight of black farmers; she used it as an illustration of racial reconciliation. It was important, she said, to get beyond race when it came to helping farmers in need.

Here's the conclusion Sherrod comes to in her remarks on this matter: ''Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't. And they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic--it made me realize that I needed to help poor people.''

In truth, nobody black--at least of a certain age--completely escapes the inclination to mentally mutter: How come the white people get most of the help? That Sherrod was willing to use her own attitude from a quarter century ago seems like a positive thing; especially with a U.S. government department that has been as notoriously racist and discriminatory as the USDA.

As a reporter, I know how easy it is to take an excerpt and project it in such a way as to distort the position of someone, especially if you have a political agenda. After watching the entire video of Sherrod's remarks, NAACP president and chief operating officer Ben Jealous has now retracted his organization's initial renouncement of Shirley Sherrod, declaring that the NAACP had been  ''snookered.'' Jealous even suggested that the controversy was a deliberate deception by the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who ''broke'' this story.

At least the NAACP's Jealous took the time to look at the entire video. Apparently neither the White House nor the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack bothered to do so once they felt the flames of right-wing criticism. But then again, blacks traditionally have been expendable at this level of politics.

Charles Cobb Jr. is senior analyst for All Africa. His latest book is On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail.

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