Another question raised by this incident was why the rush to judgment? Was it really an irrational fear of an adverse media cycle at the White House, or are there other latent civil rights problems at USDA?
I offer this explanation. The rush to judgment and Secretary Vilsack's initial refusal to reconsider, is emblematic of a larger unreported problem at USDA, which is the disparate treatment of cases alleging "reverse discrimination" versus traditional "minority discrimination" cases.
It has been my experience that USDA forces minority EEO claimants through long arduous and faulty administrative processes. But USDA managers treat cases alleging reverse discrimination differently. They are much more willing to settle, negotiate in good faith, and quickly resolve these cases.
The resolution of cases alleging reverse discrimination appears to be quick and efficient. For example, the immediate termination of Shirley Sherrod without an actual complaint, hearing or discussion; while traditional cases of discrimination linger on for years if not decades at USDA.
I believe that Shirley Sherrod case was handled so clumsily and ineptly because the Secretary/Administration thought they had a Black Women admitting to discriminating against White Farmers, caught on tape ... a Sister Soldier moment.
What's worse, even when the "alleged aggrieved" farmers themselves declared that Shirley Sherrod treated them fairly and actually saved their farm and so did not actually discriminate against them; Secretary Vilsack initially refused to relent or change his position.
Had Secretary Vilsack maintained that position, it could easily have been interpreted in the African American community that a Black person better not even think of discriminating against White people at USDA. The mere thought of reverse discrimination alone was actionable.
In fact, I've raised this very issue at the Agriculture Department. I filed an EEO class action complaint against USDA alleging disparate treatment of minority EEO claimants earlier this year (Case No. RD-2010-00074).