07/23/2010 11:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thank You Shirley Sherrod

Our nation owes a great debt to Ms. Shirley Sherrod of the United States Dept of Agriculture. Her professional and personal reputation has been under massive scurrilous multimedia attack. Her grace and dignity "under fire" provide us with a unique opportunity to reset our national moral compass on the issue of race in America.

In previous blogs here, almost a year ago, after the President Obama became involved in the incident between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge, Mass police officer Sergeant James Crowley, I suggested a national conference or dialogue on race relations might be necessary, sooner rather than later.

Race relations remain the "800 pound gorilla" in the national living rooms of every household in America. Some of us seek to engage it; most of us ignore or pretend it is not there. An incident, like that of Ms. Shirley Sherrod, forces us, once again, to acknowledge the gorilla's presence.

The Obama administration appears to have been intimidated by Fox News and Glenn Beck on issues of race in America. Right-wing activists have had some degree of success in its attacks which resulted in the resignation of Van Jones and the closing down of ACORN.

This recent event involving Shirley Sherrod reinforces two historical phenomena extant in our country:

  1. We are a nation deeply afflicted with amnesia and hypocrisy on the issue of race; and,
  2. Obama, with all of his individual personal and professional accomplishments, is no exception to the historic irony attached to every African-American, especially male: no matter the level or quality of individual achievement or stature, he still must be twice as good, or perform at a level, twice as better, in order to be equally "accepted" and regarded, on the same basis as a white person.

That there could even be a serious dispute or discussion as to whether the Tea Party had persons at several of its meetings or part of it membership who carried signs evidencing racism is really turning reality on its head. What do those signs and placards shown on television at Tea Party meetings with caricatures of Obama and some of their slogans mean? Are people with common sense being asked to suspend their capacity to think and reason? Did the NAACP make up or characterize the signs that they and the nation see at Tea Party meetings? Are such messages and slogans an expression of their inclusive brotherly love?

Have Obama and his advisors become so timid that they either run away or only belatedly respond to obvious issues of race like they are a live grenade, too dangerous or too hot to handle?

A presidential telephone call to Ms. Sherrod was appropriate and befitting her grace and dignity. However, an invitation to the White House to her and the white farmer's family who thanked her for helping them retain their farm would be public affirmation of the power and endurance of racial reconciliation and redemption. Clearly they were not afraid to confront the "gorilla" in their living room.