Saturday, July 24, 2010

Surely This Isn't Black Racism. And Don’t Call Me Shirley.

“Shirley Sherrod did something that few people have the courage to: she faced her own racial demons, conquered them, and had the audacity to share that experience with others.”
-- Tommy Christopher at Mediaite

"I think it is race. You think we have come a long way in terms of race relations in this country, but we keep going backwards," she said. "We have become more racist. This was their doing, Breitbart put that together misrepresenting what I was saying and Fox carried it."

"[Fox News] intended exactly what they did. They were looking for the result they got yesterday. . . I am just a pawn. I was just here. They are after a bigger thing, they would love to take us back to where we were many years ago. Back to where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person." --
Shirley Sherrod, Pioneer of Post-Racial America

Oh, Shirley. If this is you after your post-racial redemption, you must have really been something beforehand.

original point, lost in the wall-to-wall coverage of all this the past five days, is that Ms. Sherrod’s anecdote about using her office to discriminate against a white farmer was received by the NAACP audience with mild, but unmistakeable evangelical fervor.

(In case you were unaware, the one place where there are never, ever, ever any concerns raised about the mixing of church and state, or the conflation of religion and politics, it is in the black community, especially in its relationship with liberal politics. To paraphrase a well-known Bible passage, wherever two or three black clergymen gather, there is the Democratic Party in the midst of them. My favorite moment in the video (around 1:36 in the Breitbart clip) is when Shirley, who talks freely about praying for guidance in her life, pantomimes being showered with divine wisdom about the whole race/class conflict model that God wants to show her: “That’s when it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those who have, and not so much white -- it IS about white and black . . .”). A timely revelation, as the Sermon on the Mount is long overdue for revision.)

Here is Breitbart’s original point, exactly, taken from his post on Monday:

Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.
After the rest of the video came to light Frank Ross posted this Wednesday at Big Journalism:
Regardless of what else is in Sherrod’s speech, the first video released on features Sherrod telling a tale of racism that is received by the NAACP audience with laughter and cheers. They weren’t cheering redemption; they were cheering discrimination. Upon hearing the cheers, Sherrod fails to offer any immediate clarification and even smiles right along with them.

Since then, America’s talkers have divided into three factions: (1) those whites who think Sherrod is an inspirational example of someone who overcame her own prejudices to help one of “them” (2) those whites who think Sherrod is a race-obsessed government careerist, and (3) those blacks who think the white people in groups (1) and (2) are incorrigible racists no matter what they think, do, or say about Shirley Sherrod, no matter who they voted for, and no matter how guilty they feel about being white.

I don’t think Breitbart’s decision to go with this on Monday was a brilliant move. But he couldn’t have been clearer that his barbs weren’t aimed at Sherrod, but at the hypocrisy of the NAACP attacking the Tea Party movement as racists.

The reality of racism in black America is one of the most serious unreported stories of our time.

During the 2008 election, when Fox News had highlights of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s sermons on their patented B-roll video-loop machine (e.g., 10 seconds of scene A, 3 seconds of scene B, 4 seconds of scene C: repeat 3 times every hour for 10 days), it wasn’t Wright’s agitprop heresies I found most depressing. What hurt watching those loops was the Pentecostal joy manifested by his flock at the idea that America and the Ku Klux Klan were coextensive, and that 9/11 was divine judgment by means of “America’s chickens. . . comin’ home to roost.”

Wright is only one man. He and his pop-eyed preaching and his made-up religion don’t scare me. What scares me is how many of thousands of enthusiastic followers, and the tens of thousands of their family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, probably think the same. Wright’s Trinity UCC Church isn’t some obscure storefront. So prominent is his congregation, that a politically ambitious and calculating young political creature like Barack Obama selected Wright’s church out of all Chicago to arrange his introduction to Jesus.

St. James wrote once that a spring can’t pour forth sweet water and brackish at the same time. But the Apostle didn’t live to see the fluidity with which racial hate and holy ghost unction harmonize at Rev. Wright’s church, and at thousands of churches like it. I absolutely agree with Breitbart that the key historical datum to be taken from the Sherrod video is the reception by her NAACP audience of her tale of discrimination as something utterly unremarkable, if not commonplace. Of course we do that if we get a chance. We’re getting even. That’s what “justice” means, isn’t it?

It is one of the dreariest realities of this historic moment that the cancer of racism is indeed eating away at a significant portion of America -- it’s just not eating the portion we always hear about. The racial biopsies on Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Fox newscasters and the Tea Party movement -- no matter how many times we have to endure them -- always come back negative.

But the invidiousness of racism in America’s black communities grows untreated exactly because no biopsies are ever allowed. In fact, it’s been prejudged a grave act of moral malpractice even to hazard a clinical diagnosis. Black racism isn’t a worse cancer than white racism -- it’s the identical cancer, with the same pathology, and the same deadly effects on the soul. It’s not the difference between prostate and brain cancer. It’s the difference between cancer that’s being treated and cancer that’s being allowed to take its course. The most dangerous cancer is the one you don’t even know you have.

White America faced up to white racism a half century ago, and whether you are among those who believe it was substantially cured, or among those who think it’s as bad as it ever was (!), no one can deny that the subject of white racism has never left our public consciousness for one blessed second since the 1960s. Back then, the predominately white churches, the TV networks and Hollywood, and the political establishment were all hopping aboard the civil-rights train. No matter what those redneck sheriffs got away with, and thought they could get away with, during the Freedom Rider days, their day was coming to an end, whether they knew it or not. Prominent as Bull Connor’s belly was in news footage from 1963, by 1967 white movie audiences were on Sidney Poitier’s side when his character, Virgil Tibbs, slapped a white patrician in the face onscreen during “In the Heat of the Night.”

And it was the heightened public consciousness, the national moral struggle, that led to the change in white attitudes about race. The change didn’t just take place in voting booths or real estate offices, either, or just thanks to civil rights laws. It took place where it matter ten thousand time more -- in private relations between whites when blacks weren’t even present. It wasn’t only that racist comments were made illegal in schools and job sites and state houses, but on an even more imposing level, racist comments were deemed by the majority society to be, first, impolite, and then, before long, absolutely shocking. The next closest moral crime in white America to racism is smoking, and smoking is still a far distant second. The William Morris Agency wouldn’t have dumped Mel Gibson just because he smoked

Those of us old enough to remember some of how it used to be and sound know there’s been a change from then till now. That’s why no amount of bullshit from the NAACP or John Lewis or other race hustlers about how things are just as bad -- or worse -- than during Jim Crow is so utterly, impossibly ludicrous. They may as well try telling us that today’s 65” plasma TV technology represents no improvement at all over the round 9” Zenith you had to watch the World Series on in 1952.

But there is no sign of such a public consciousness-raising, or moral struggle in the black community over black resentments and unresolved racial bitterness. Stories about racism in the black community garner fewer blips on the national radar than those dubious reports of Sasqatch sightings that make the news two or three times a decade.

Then there are all those college professors and magazine writers and columnists who deny that such a thing as black racism could even exist. Or if it could, what harm it could do, considering that white folks (as we’re told) own and control everything and blacks (as we’re also often told) are still “not free”?

As an outsider and a person of color (white), how could I presume to know directly a lot of what goes on within the black community? I can’t. But we’re allowed to draw inferences from what we see and hear right in front of our faces. For example, we can all see the enthusiastic responses to the race-madness of Rev. Wright by those spirit-filled worshippers at Trinity Church. And we can see the evident approval of Sherrod’s NAACP audience to the pre-conversion portion of her testimony about the white farmer -- the cheering, as Frank Ross said, not for the redemption, but for the discrimination. Both instances allow me to infer that in A.D. 2010, this second year of the post-racial presidency of Barack Obama, racial scorekeeping and using one’s position to exploit an advantage based on race are still perfectly acceptable in polite black society.

And I can conclude from what many (not all) black media figures and celebrities, clergy, and political leaders are saying to their own communities, that they’re taking the exact opposite roles from what their white counterparts took during the civil rights era. Rather than calling their people out of old prejudices, fears, and insularity to the color-blind ideal of Martin Luther King, Jr., the prevailing political-religious message of victimhood, race-centered thinking, and the insistence on political “justice” (retribution) bestows moral legitimacy on blacks harboring resentments, anger, and desires to get even.

Could any clergyman dispense a more self-destructive spiritual lesson to his flock, or substitute a more wicked counterfeit to the Gospel, then one that misapprehends the teaching of Christ as “it IS about black and white. . .it’s all about poor versus those who have”? Could any inner-city schoolteacher do more to insure the failure of her pupils then by endorsing these lessons? How does a black kid, poorly skilled at reading because of lousy schools, surrounded by family elders, neighbors, teachers, church leaders, and media repeating that message to him week in and week out, ever learn that he is a free, moral agent who enjoys more opportunities in America than he would any place else on Earth?

My point isn’t that blacks should be ashamed of themselves for being racist. The race taboo and shame and all that white guilt in white society hasn’t been so good. The restrictions on manners didn’t stop at dictating politeness, but went right past that to dictating our innermost thoughts. The result is an incapacity to deal with the subject at all, (and lots of other subjects, too, including Islam).

I’m not talking about folks being ashamed, just displaying some self-knowledge. I’d just like a little more self-awareness.

Sherrod, when she was comfortable before a friendly audience at the NAACP last March, felt free enough to entertain what she herself considered a “revelation” -- that her earlier decisions as an advocate for poor farmers didn’t have to be steered strictly by her feelings about race. (This is a revelation?!)

But when, through no fault of her own, she found herself the focus of last week’s media ShirleyFest, she instantly reverted to the most extreme racist rhetoric, including heaping up a pile of slanderous charges against Fox News and Breitbart. That wasn’t 24 years ago. That was three days ago. Alas, her 24-hour stature as a born-again post-racialist was over too soon.

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