President Obama — through White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs — suggested that the past week of conversation about race, notably the case of Shirley Sherrod, was a "teachable moment." Granted, there is a lot for many folks to learn through that fiasco. However, those who could most gain from these lessons are the Tea Party leadership and the NAACP.
Both were burned by these issues as they played out in the national spotlight. For the NAACP and its youthful president, Ben Jealous, overreaching statements about its initial Tea Party resolution and his early approval of Sherrod's ouster only invited criticism from those who consider the historic organization outdated and irrelevant.
The Tea Party movement took a major public relations hit of its own for the racist and repugnant remarks by Tea Party Express spokesperson Mark Williams, an act of social detachment only outdone by the Tea Party Express' willingness to stand by Williams even after his multiple heinous comments caused his organization to be ousted from the Tea Party Federation.
Despite the embarrassments to both groups, there is actually a lesson that will allow both sides to rebuild their images and, perhaps, help move America past the hurt caused by decades of racial divide and misunderstandings.
Primarily, the conversations on race triggered by these two groups can be worthwhile if the principal actors involved — as well as the rest of us — come to grips with the notion that contemporary racism has a different dynamic from what America faced (and generally overcame) decades ago. For the NAACP and Jealous, this means that the mode and focus of addressing 21st-century discrimination must follow the contemporary models found in examples around us today, including that lesson given by Sherrod in her infamous NAACP speech. Namely, it is not so much about black and white anymore as it is about "haves" and "have-nots."
In essence, Jealous, Williams and their respective groups must understand that applying old definitions and approaches to American racism only leads to ineffectiveness and, perhaps, embarrassment in the public arena. Surprisingly, for both to be successful, they will need to embrace a common path of re-evaluating the racial landscape, repackaging their messaging for today's issues and re-engaging with contemporary America to handle the challenges confronting us. If they move in this direction, perhaps they will see that the NAACP and the Tea Party — rivals at the beginning of this news cycle on race — have more in common than they think. If so, America can advance toward more peace in the realm of race relations and racial politics than we have so far.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). He is featured regularly on outlets including CNN, Fox News and XM Radio. Follow him on Twitter.