However this may seem as though it's about Shirley Sherrod, until a few days ago, the National Director for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and how she happened to be fired from that post, this is actually about us, and the way we use facts and how we respond to stories that include them. The watchword is "beware."
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First, the background. Shirley Sherrod is a black woman. As a consequence of her elevated status with the Department of Agriculture, and as a black woman who had reached that elevated position of authority, Ms. Sherrod was invited to speak March 27, 2010, at the N.A.A.C.P. 20th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. In her speech, Sherrod told of her actions while with the State of Georgia, how, because of a poor farmer's race, she didn't do all she could have to help him avoid losing his farm.
All these are facts that are now in wide circulation exactly as facts. She is a black woman. She did indeed hold a position of authority with the State of Georgia. She did say that, because the farmer was white, she did not do all she could have for the farmer, to help him to not lose his farm. End of story? Let's see.
The "story" actually became one when Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart, in his blog, circulated that segment of Ms, Sherrod's Freedom Fund speech. It was sent viral by Sean Hannity, of Fox News. After he'd seen it he decided to use it to skewer the Obama administration by highlighting it on his program, as evidence that the administration, exactly as several Fox personalities want to paint it, is in fact racist; that it discriminates against whites. Factual? Honest reporting? Let's see.
Tom Vilsack, Obama's Secretary of Agriculture, and Sherrod's boss, upon viewing the "speech" called for her to resign her post with the department. Vilsack's statement included, "There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA . . ."
Even the N.A.A.C.P. got into the fray. It's president, Benjamin Jealous said of the matter, "Racism is about the abuse of power. Ms. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer . . . because of his race. We are appalled."
As I said at the outset, my intentions here are not to hoist a blathering, foaming-at-the-mouth right-wing organization on its own petard. There's something else, something that's just as important going on here, and it involves each and all of us. To repeat, the watchword is "beware."
I'm going to introduce a true story, as parable, to see whether any of us might "get it." The story takes place some 20 or so years ago in a residential neighborhood of San Jose. A neighbor looked out her window and saw this adult male straddling a screaming not-quite-kindergarten age girl. The fellow was slapping the little girl's face and her body, and the screams just got louder and louder. The woman summoned the city first responders who, arriving within minutes, pulled the man from atop the girl. The girl was put in the EMT vehicle and rushed to a nearby hospital, and the fellow was placed into the back seat of a police cruiser, then escorted from the scene.
Every syllable of the above is 100% factual. The question I have for everyone, based exclusively on the facts, what should the authorities do with the fellow?
Take your time. As thoughtful Americans, you want justice served. You don't want it excessively harsh, no knee-jerk reaction.
Ready to give your answers?
Let's take a few more seconds.
Okay, here goes. The young girl had somehow spilled burning grease from the kitchen onto herself, then ran into the front yard. The "fellow" was a passing motorist who, when he saw what was going on, raced from his car, to try to put out the flames. In the process, he suffered severe burns to his hands and face. But medical authorities say the man saved not only the girl's life, he saved her from a life of facial scars. In a ceremony at city hall, the valor of the man earned him the highest award the city could bestow.
Now let's return to the question I asked, "what (do you think) the authorities (should do) with the fellow?"
Wanna know my bet? My bet is that, just like Tom Vilsack and Benjamin Jealous, you fell for the "just the facts" without pausing to ask yourself whether you had them all. Now, with that in mind, it is morally imperative of you to view the entirety of the video, and then to decide whether you also had the truth. Ya know, in school, in the classroom, we try to teach our kids to think critically, but we so often do so little of it ourselves.
Click here for full video of the speech