Home Health News Shirley Sherrod, The NAACP, The USDA & Our Black Farmers

Shirley Sherrod, The NAACP, The USDA & Our Black Farmers

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I promise there’s a food tie-in, here.

Anyone who’s been around for a while, knows that I’m a skeptic when it comes to the government and their involvement in food farming and manufacturing (ugh, that word makes me nauseous… “food manufacturing”) in the United States. Why? Because they couldn’t get “it” “right” if “it” was RIGHT… right in front of them.

I want to share with you a little story that kind of blew out of nowhere over the past few days surrounding the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Very short recap.

Shirley Sherrod, the (former) GA State Director of the USDA, gave a speech on March 27th, 2010 at a Georgia NAACP chapter function, that consisted of the following:

It isn’t necessary to watch the entire thing, but the important part is at approximately 14:00 minutes.

A very reputable outlet snipped, chopped and screwed her speech so that all you saw… was this:

As you can see, “very reputable” was sarcasm. That’s not journalism. It’s sensationalism for the sake of getting hits to your little website.

Everything else that happens… all happens in a blur. Apparently, the USDA gets wind of this clip, and immediately asks for her resignation (read: fires her.) The NAACP gets wind of the situation, and issues a press release agreeing with the USDA firing Sherrod.

Then… Sherrod starts doing interviews explaining how her comments were taken so far out of context than it sounds like a completely different speech. The white farming family, of whom she speaks in her video, even gave interviews informing the media that Sherrod saved their farm (and livelihood), and that the recent press was malicious. All of a sudden, the NAACP decides it might be time to review the actual video (of their event) and before you know it? Backpedal city. (Well, everyone except Roland Martin, apparently.)

Then, we get this:

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous issued the following statement today after a careful investigation into the presentation of former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod.”The NAACP has a zero tolerance policy against racial discrimination, whether practiced by blacks, whites, or any other group.

The NAACP also has long championed and embraced transformation by people who have moved beyond racial bias. Most notably, we have done so for late Alabama Governor George Wallace and late US Senator Robert Byrd — each a man who had associated with and supported white supremacists and their cause before embracing civil rights for all.

With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA Official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias. – [source: NAACP Statement On The Resignation Of Shirley Sherrod]

And literally.. as I write this, Savannah Guthrie just said the White House is pressuring the USDA to offer Sherrod her job back.

I have lots of questions. For starters, the question has to be… this was about a woman’s livelihood. Her JOB. Why didn’t the USDA bother to investigate? They were too busy rushing to get her out before her little edited clip wound up “on Glenn Beck.” Good grief.

Why didn’t the NAACP bother to investigate a clip from their own event? Don’t they have enough faith in their membership to know that they wouldn’t host an affair where that kind of sentiment – the same racist sentiment that the NAACP fought against for a century – would be so well received?

The video was “discovered” by a man who affiliates with the Tea Party. The NAACP issued a resolution condemning the racism in the party. Before you know it… a Tea Party affiliate discovers this video? Why would the White House (or anyone, for that matter) so quickly back the USDA’s decision to fire Sherrod, trusting the reporting of an individual who’s clearly got a reason to shed a negative light on the NAACP and Black governmental officials?

My last question is the reason why I felt like my thoughts on this topic belonged on this blog.

If you know anything about the treatment of Black farmers – actually, if you know nothing about the treatment of Black farmers in the United States… you should know this:

Thousands of black farmers who were discriminated against by the U.S. Agriculture Department will be eligible to receive $1.25 billion in a settlement, the government said on Thursday.

The settlement of the case, known as Pigford II, is contingent on Congress approving $1.15 billion for the farmers, in addition to $100 million already provided in the Farm Bill.

For decades, black farmers said they were unjustly being denied farm loans or subjected to longer waits for loan approval because of racism, and accused the USDA of not responding to their complaints.

The original Pigford lawsuit, named after North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, was filed against the USDA in 1997, and settled two years later when the government compensated black farmers left out of USDA loan and assistance programs.

More than 13,000 farmers able to provide proof of their claims of discrimination were awarded $50,000 each and given debt relief in a package worth more than $1 billion. – [source: Black Farmers Win $1.25 Billion In Discrimination Lawsuit]

So, Blacks – fresh out of the civil rights movement – get land and start contributing to the sustainable food movement (before it was a sustainable food movement.) They apply to receive the same benefits and arrangements that every other farmer receives… and for “some reason” are denied.

This practice is carried on for, apparently, decades, and no one is fired. I mean, Black people feeling like someone is being racist toward them. What else is new?

A Tea Party blogger chops and screws a video clip of a Black woman’s alleged racism against a white farming family.. and she’s fired before an investigation can take place?

This can’t be life.

Sherrod’s overall message is one that I’ve learned over the course of learning about food politics in the United States – that there are demographics that affect one’s ability to prosper and flourish in this nation that extend beyond race. Wealth and class being two of them. It just so happens that many of us haven’t had the ability to overcome them. It also just so happens that many of the indivduals in power are so far removed from the rest of the population, that they still believe it’s about race. Antiquated thinking… that keeps us having to deal with antiquated issues.

In a perfect world, both Ben Jealous and Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture, responsible for the USDA) would be on their knees begging for the forgiveness of the woman they slandered. The NAACP would have a quiet seat in a very well lit room looking for its dignity (it might be next to where they “buried the ‘n-word'”.) And people would start to wonder why the USDA is so choosy in when it addresses its racism.

But for now, I’ll settle for her being offered her job back and a little more focus on Congress handing those Black farmers their darn money.

I just needed to get that off my chest. Now… on to Q&A Wednesday.

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Lisa July 21, 2010 - 9:58 AM

Yesterday morning I was greeted on FB with the chopped up video by a Republican co-worker. He ranted and raved about how bigots will never help this country and how she was a prime example of how unfair things are in America. I watched it, knowing that there had to be more to the story. I was so glad that CNN came back and gave the whole story, even interviewing the white gentleman that she was talking about. I hope that something is done to compensate this woman for her trouble and loss.

Erika July 21, 2010 - 9:08 PM

I’m glad too, because I thought her comments were wildly inappropriate out of context.. but then it becomes evident that the video was edited and I was like “Naw, wait a minute,” LOL. Shoutout to CNN for getting it right. Jeez.

Laura July 21, 2010 - 10:42 AM

I would like to say that I’m surprised, but I’m not. Glenn Beck and those of his ilk are notorious for doing this kind of “journalism”. They dangle something in America’s face to get the attention off of them and the dastardly things that their party/kind/Tea Party are doing. Unfortunately, so many in our country fall for it and spend the next 3 months talking about. Meanwhile true shenanigans are taking place, but we’re too caught up in the latest foolishness to even take notice. It saddens me to see this kind of reporting. My mom’s major was journalism, so she drilled in me the idea that journalists are to be unbiased and that they’re to do proper investigations before they report. In this day and age it seems journalists just want to publish a hot story as soon as possible and worry about checking the facts later.

The NAACP saddens me the most, though, because of how quickly they sided with this Tea Party-er. They should know that we are in the day of the chopped & screwed, sound bite reporting. How dare you just take the word of someone and not check the facts for yourself?

As for Ms. Sherrod, I’m glad that she is being offered her job, but if I were her, I may be inclined to tell the USDA to kiss my grits! And even though I am not a litigious person, I would definitely be calling attorneys to see if there were a way to make the starter of this story pay for what they did. Not for the money, but for principle. People who do that type of “reporting” need to know that there are consequences for fabricating and disseminating stories such as this.

Erika July 22, 2010 - 7:55 AM

The awesome thing, was watching her work the media today, and basically honestly admit that she’s inclined to turn down any offer she received from the USDA. And how TYPICAL of the USDA to offer her a job in dealing with “discrimination and civil rights?” How insulting! LOL!

Savannah July 21, 2010 - 11:08 AM

I heard all about this on CNN yesterday and I was totally shocked that the NAACP was so quick jump on the anti-Shirley Sherrod bandwagon. Why didn’t they do some more research? Even I was knew that there had to be more to the video then what was shown originally. I read that Ms. Sherrod will be offered her job back but I believe that she expressed that she wasn’t so sure that she would go back.

I agree with Ericka that it’s very peculiar that racial discrimination towards African American farmers for YEARS but as soon as some video from a quarter of a century ago pops up showing that there may have been discrimination against White farmers, someone loses their job.


Erika July 22, 2010 - 7:57 AM

Peculiar, indeed. It’s amazing to me how the USDA chooses which issues are worthy of one’s dismissal. Hmph.

JoAnna July 21, 2010 - 11:41 AM

She deserves her job, AND a promotion, AND a raise, and a public on-his-hands-and-knees apology from Tom Vilsack, AND an apology from Fox News… Well maybe that’s asking too much with their history of showing edited clips of non-events. This goes back to your blog of having to be wealthy to eat healthy in this country.

Small farmers tend to practice sustainable farming. They grow what sells best, grows the best, and in season. Farming allowed many a black family leaving the South to establish new roots up “South”, and to provide for that family. The USDA was wrong then when it denied many black farmers loans, and wrong now when it (Tom Vilsack) demanded a resignation from Shirley Sherrod without verying the facts, both knee-jerk responses to perceived threats. The former, that Black farmers would do as well or better than White farmers. The latter that Mrs Sherrod stated (out of context)at a NAACP dinner held in 1986, that years ago she considered not helping a White farmer.

It’s scary that in this country, supposedly protected by the 1st Ammendment-Freedom of Speech, that your words can be taken out of context, and you can lose your job on what is basically a lie.

Is perception more important than truth these days?

Therese July 21, 2010 - 1:57 PM

Yeah, this story was pretty ridiculous. The first time I heard of it was when I sat down last night to watch The Rachel Maddow Show. She covered it really well. Both the Obama Administration AND the NAACP should have been much smarter than this. I blame the White House Communications Director. Dealing with this kind of stuff is his or her job. But in the meantime, a woman has lost her job and the nation has lost a dedicated public servant.

Cy July 23, 2010 - 11:09 AM

Well said…It’s safe to say that I’m fuming over this whole incident. She is handling this whole event like a true lady. I admire her. I think she could probably work as a speaker and make GOBS of moulah! I’m thinking that is what I would do. I wouldn’t want to work for the USDA ever again. Whatever she decides, I wish her luck!

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