The Shirley Sherrod episode got a lot of journalists and politicians thinking this last week about how too many people far too quickly and easily toss around charges of racism without knowing the facts or the context.
I found Pres. Obama's comment on ABC to be an excellent quote to offer back to the next pro-amnesty blogger, religious figure or politician who charges racism against our immigration-reduction movement or individuals within it.
In case you missed the story, this is the way I'm understanding it:
- Short clips of Sherrod's speech to the NAACP recently popped up on the internet and appeared to show her bragging about being a Black American using her work position to discriminate against a White American.
- Amid public and media (especially conservative media) charges of racism against her, she found herself summarily fired from her federal job by the Obama Administration, which at first seemed to be trying to show America that it would not tolerate racism of any sort from any quarter.
- But it turned out that the context of the video clips had been totally lost. Instead of bragging about her discrimination, Sherrod was confessing how she learned the wrongness of her racism after the incident of many years ago.
In apologizing for his Administration's knee-jerk reaction to the out-of-context video clips (and after offering to hire Sherrod back), Pres. Obama taped this comment on Thursday for ABC's "Good Morning America" show:
"If there's a lesson to be drawn from this episode, it's that rather than us jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers at each other, we should all look inward and try to examine what's in our own hearts and, as a consequence, I think we will continue to make progress."
-- Pres. Obama, quoted in the Washington Post, July 23, 2010
The pro-amnesty internet is absolutely jammed with quotes from officials and bloggers "jumping to conclusions" and "pointing fingers" while charging racism, nativism, hate and xenophobia at fellow Americans who desire a public policy of less immigration that would allow for sustainability and the ability of local communities to have some control over their quality of life and standard of living.
This promiscuous labeling occurs not just on little-read fringe websites but regularly on giant websites such as the Huffington Post and those of mainstream organizations such as the wealthy Center for American Progress, headed up by Pres. Clinton's Chief of Staff John Podesta.
It almost seems that a blog is more likely to be picked up on a lot of the big blogger websites if it includes a labeling of an individual or group as racist or white supremacist based on a sentence fragment or even a whole paragraph that nonetheless is just as misleading as the clip that first brought down Shirley Sherrod because of its removal from full context.
As Pres. Obama has said many times over the years, issues of race are complex. All of us do well not to try to get too simple when dealing with race.
My sense of the spirit of the President's comments to ABC would be that those of us who feel unfairly smeared by epithets related to hate or racism should be careful about responding by, in essence, making the same charges back at the smearers. A new response can be, "As Pres. Obama has said, you need to avoid jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers when you don't know the full context because that leads to bad errors in judgment like what happened to Shirley Sherrod."
Yes, we have people on our side of the issue who make racist, bigoted and hateful statements. I found one this morning in the comments section under my blog in tribute to the great Black American radio host Terry Anderson. That comment is now gone. (Click here to read the tribute.)
But most of the individuals whom I've seen smeared by name as racists because of some snippet of information about them or some fragment of a quote are clear victims of somebody jumping to a conclusion. The smearers prefer to avoid arguing the merits of their pro-amnesty proposition and, instead, try to assassinate the reputation of one of their opponents.
Certainly some of the people on our side who are most maligned with racism charges are -- if one studies the context of their quotes and the fullness of their lives -- just as unfairly maligned as was Shirley Sherrod. For example, one of the smearers' favorite techniques is to take a question that has been posed by somebody on our side and then portray it as the stated belief of that person. Can you imagine if every journalist or professor or preacher had to be held accountable for a belief that seemed to be implied by a rhetorical question?
A thoughtful article in the Washington Post this week carried this quote about the excessive and careless charges of racism that abound in our society:
"They have devalued what racism means -- which is a terrible shame if you actually care about stopping real racism or remembering it in our history."
-- Erick Ericson, quoted in "A place for race on Obama's agenda," by Karen Tumulty, Washington Post, July 23, 2010
Actually, I think the pro-amnesty forces have realized that "racist" doesn't carry as much weight as it once did and that is the reason that people on our side are now much more likely to be called "white supremacist." And the term seems to be used just as easily against the Black Americans and Hispanic Americans among our ranks.
I'm pretty sure that Pres. Obama's admonition about caution in throwing around pejorative labels would apply to "white supremacist."
In fact, I would venture to say that today, almost any time we see the labels of "racism" or "white supremacist" show up in a discussion about immigration, we can be sure that the speaker/writer is volating Pres. Obama's admonition for civility and a slow-rush-to-judgment this past week.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA