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Shirley Sherrod, Black Farmers and the 2010 Racial World Cup

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Perhaps one of the more eloquent and official retrospectives resulting from the Shirley Sherrod incident was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibb's reflection:

" ... I think we live in a culture that things whip around, where people want fast responses, we give fast responses. I think everybody has to go back . . . and ask themselves how did we get into this? How did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions?"

Gibbs can't state anything on record formally implicating the White House. Blind leads the blind: we are quickly growing accustomed to powerful government institutions driven by political considerations and polling bite knee-jerks. There is nothing unusual about that nor should we act "OMG" by any indication that the White House, through some indirect channel to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, did want Sherrod promptly thrown under a bus. This is how the game is played. They just got caught.

This is what we - meaning the collective, constantly plugged 'we' - Tweet/Facebook status/Ning/Link/Ping/Tag/Text/blog and Google our way for. The incessant, insatiable appetite for now. Instant gratification without pause. Information at fingertips absent critical analysis or, even, scientific method. We all stepped in it, victimizing Sherrod with tabloid ferocity, editing one moment out of forty-five minutes into a national smear campaign.

Conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart's habit of looping videos out of context was a well known political past time. The new play was to score vendetta goal for the clowning of Tea Party Express Leader Mark Williams in the wake of his "Letter to Lincoln" controversy and the resulting NAACP 101st Convention resolution condemning "racist elements" within the Tea Party. Hence, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous should have been the first to push the pause button before jumping to "snookered" conclusion - the former Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a longtime consortium of African American newspapers, should have exercised journalistic restraint and investigated further. And while not a journalist, the fast-talking TV One pundit and CNN analyst Roland Martin should have taken cue from the title of that classic Brand Nubian hit "Slow Down" before rushing to curry favor with mainstream media execs and newfound mainstream audience.

Breitbart's "reverse racism" tirade is consistent with a larger plan to scare White voters into racial frenzy against Democrats this November. For an ideological wing that swings madly on trees and bangs floors with hairy fists every time race is mentioned, they use it rather liberally when the mood suits the campaign or as a last resort nuclear option. As you watch national political narratives take shape this summer, watch closely for people of color sandwiched between and the hard turn right to put it all on us. Going into this November cycle, we're actually pressed to find the usual focus on classic social issues such as abortion or gay rights. The new madness is New Black Panther Party takeovers and NASA conspiracies, a twist of Thurgood Marshall's indelible legal legacy, the sun tan tax and illegal immigration paranoia for good measure. Even though folks have good reason to show concern over immigration (maybe not the way Arizona shows it), and can nod a suspicious side glance at the DOJ's dismissal of the NBBP case, there is easy worry over where these consolidated narratives are headed. The common theme linking all stories is a certain fear of certain "colored" protagonists. In the case of the tan tax, Washington Post reporter N.C. Aizenman reported how the ridiculous blossomed into serious political movement:

The complaint surfaced on reader comment boards to blogs and news Web sites back in December, when it became clear that the levy -- a 10 percent surcharge on the use of ultraviolet tanning beds -- was likely to be included in the new health-care overhaul bill. Since then, it's been repeated by conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Doc Thompson, a fill-in host for Glenn Beck who intoned in March, "I now know the pain of racism."

These days, White conservatives find an unusual degree of comfort talking - rather explicitly - about race. While they argue the need to insert alternative perspective on America's original sin, Republicans privately whisper "White victimization" is the move for 2010. Paint the perception that "Blacks" - with their Black President, Black Attorney General and pro-Muslim Black NASA head (following the "activist" philosophies of their late great Black Supreme Court justice) - have "taken over," and that scared Republican base voters and equally nervous White Independents should vote GOP as a collective defense mechanism. The perceived quirkiness of the "tan tax" flap gives it away: "we're surrounded." It's a delirious run-for-the-hills strategy that could pay dividends for Republicans come November.

Now, Breitbart cleverly refocuses the Sherrod incident away from his misdeed and places onus on White House. Like snarky, spit-ball throwing kid at the back of the classroom, Guy Benson blogs on Breitbart's Biggovernment.com:

As the mainstream media trips over itself to analyze and re-analyze the Shirley Sherrod controversy, Andrew Breitbart is under fire for ostensibly unethical behavior. Andrew is more than capable of defending himself, but I wanted to offer a few quick thoughts on this imbroglio:

(1) This President often decries the 24-hour, hyper-reactionary media cycle, yet his administration responded with warp-speed to toss Sherrod overboard. Can it now safely be asserted that the Obama administration "acted stupidly"?

New narrative on right pans camera away from fantasy of Black White House wreaking Mugabe-like havoc on poor White victims, now finds political advantage in painting Obama Administration as frantic and inept.

Another massive subtext missed by mainstream media's sensationalistic coverage of the Shelley Sherrod incident is the plight of the African American farmers waiting on a $1.25 billion settlement from the federal government. Interestingly enough, during an exclusive post-everybody-from-the-Agriculture-Secretary-to-the-White-House-apology interview on MSNBC's morning politics program Morning Joe, Sherrod herself, with help from MSNBC analyst Lawrence O'Donnell (who gets hat tip for triggering the brief exchange), talked up the Black farmers:

"... and they haven't completely dealt with the Black farmers, yet. Because there is the whole issue of $1.25 billion - and it's not costing taxpayers any money. That whole issue of completing that lawsuit, yet you have all of these others now."

Joe Scarborough, eager to move into "teachable moments," casually dismissed her point a few seconds after: "I haven't been in the loop." Translated: let's not get into that now.

Getting into that would mean raising questions about why the Senate, in typically uncaring fashion, failed to approve funds for a settlement already ordered by a federal court and inserted into budget language by the White House. A former Republican Congressman and political rising star from Florida, Scarborough's dismissal of Sherrod's point shields GOP colleagues from typical embarrassment over insensitivity to minorities, the downtrodden, etc. Reports Bridgette Outten in Politic365.com:

CNN reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "blasted Senate Republicans for holding up the process, saying they have 'rejected over and over again any legislation that has had the Pigford settlement in it.'"

House Minority Leader John Boehner said many of the GOP legislators are supportive of settling the claims.

Well then settle it.

While mainstream media are happy to offer conservative activist Andrew Breitbart more play and string out the series of gaffes which led to Sherrod's firing, unreported is the original basis for Vilsack's hasty decision: the $1.25 billion Black farmer settlement. Vilsack expressed fear in those initial moments of viewing the edited Biggovernment.com clip, shaken by the potential of the hoax "... compromis[ing] [the USDA's] capacity to close the chapter on civil rights cases." Rather than take that moment to actually "close the chapter" with a forceful call for immediate approval of funding for the settlement, Vilsack and White House gloss over that detail, failing to bring it up in any public statements about the Sherrod incident. Political hacks in the Administration, like the unemployment benefits extension issue, haven't seen the pre-election attack-mode value in it, yet.

That few outlets, with the exception of many African American media outlets from Politic365.com to Black Enterprise, are completely missing the boat on this major piece speaks to the larger problem of careless or deliberate ignorance in mainstream newsrooms.

Meanwhile, the Senate abruptly stripped funding for the settlement, among other critical domestic initiatives. Originally, the settlement funds were inserted by the Obama Administration as a supplemental in a $60 billion emergency war funding bill. As of Thursday, the Senate passed the war funding bill without the Black farmers settlement, arguing against any unrelated monies that could add to the federal deficit. Reports Andrew Taylor in the Associated Press:

After a take-it-or-leave-it vote by the Senate, House Democrats face little choice but to drop more than $20 billion in domestic spending from a must-pass bill funding President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.

The Senate rejected the House measure, passed earlier this month, by a 46-51 vote that fell short of a majority, much less the 60 votes required to defeat a filibuster.

Instead, the Senate Thursday stripped out the $20 billion in House add-ons and returned to the House an almost $60 billion measure passed by a bipartisan vote in May.

The NAACP lacks similar vigor on the Black farmer issue while mired in spats with the Tea Party and rushing to judgment on a defenseless Black female USDA official, leaving Black farmer lobbyist John Boyd on his own. Perhaps, as a way to save face, NAACP lobbying muscle behind Boyd's lone star effort could help resuscitate the settlement funding issue before Congress rushes into August summer recess. Vilsack and White House, while mad quick to condemn Sherrod into racial martyrdom (for, ironically, the erroneous claim that she discriminated against a White farmer), are slow to simply circumvent Congress and use available funding for frustrated Black farmers waiting on their settlement. Some suffer in a brutal economic climate and are on the verge of foreclosing family farms. Public apologies mixed with plastic "reconciliation" job offers for an enhanced diversity post in the USDA won't do it. There's an old Caribbean saying: "It takes money to go to market."

-- CHARLES D. ELLISON

(some content originally published in Politic365.com)

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