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...And Check Your Facts
Nesshell Rainford

The writers at YCteen spent our summer discussing the idea of “racial healing.” Meanwhile, one of the biggest national news stories of the summer concerned the very issues we were talking and writing about.

Shirley Sherrod, an official with the United States Department of Agriculture in Georgia, was fired from her job in July after the media got hold of a video clip that showed her addressing members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) last March.

In the clip, she told her audience how, about 24 years ago when she was working for a nonprofit organization, a white farmer asked her for help saving his farm. While they were talking, Sherrod felt the farmer had a superior attitude and decided she didn’t want to give him all the help she could. “I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land,” she said.

This is where the video clip ended. A conservative blogger posted it on his website and news organizations picked up on it, replaying and commenting on it. Instead of looking for the source of the video, or talking to Sherrod or to anyone who knew her, everyone assumed that she was racist against whites and admitting it in her speech.

From ‘Racist’ to Role Model

Sherrod became the center of dreadful attention. Commentators attacked her, the NAACP condemned her remarks, and her boss, a member of the Obama administration, fired her.

image by Steve Castillo

These people’s assumptions were soon contradicted when the full video was found and people could hear Sherrod finish what she was actually saying. It turned out that after she’d taken the white farmer to a white lawyer, she learned that the lawyer was doing nothing to help the farmer keep his farm. She felt that sending the farmer to the lawyer had been a mistake.

“That’s when I spent time there in my office calling everybody I could think of” to help the farmer, Sherrod said. Eventually she succeeded in helping him save his farm. Through the experience, she came to realize that “it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t … they could be black; they could be white; they could be Hispanic.”

Not Getting the Message

After the full video was found, some reporters tracked down the farmer involved and he said that Sherrod did a wonderful thing for his family and wasn’t racist at all. The secretary of agriculture offered to rehire Sherrod, and the White House and some news organizations apologized for not getting the full story.

I agree with Sherrod that money, not race, should be our main issue. If people who are less privileged stood together without being concerned about racial differences, we might actually succeed in making society more fair and equal.

But as long as people are so quick to tear the world apart along racial lines—even when someone is spreading a message of unity, like Shirley Sherrod was trying to do in her speech—the brick wall of race will remain high and mighty.

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