Does the Shirley Sherrod Firing Mean We Still Can't Talk About Race?

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In some ways, I am a broken record. I keep asking why we can't talk about race in a healthy, constructive way. And the question comes up again in relation to the resignation of Shirley Sherrod from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In short, here's what happened: she spoke at a NAACP banquet in March about how she overcame her own racial prejudice to help a white farmer in Georgia [hear and read her interview on The Takeaway]. She says her experience with vicious racism against blacks in the South, and the murder of her father by a white farmer, made her hesitant to help the whites who applied to her at the USDA. Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart posted a highly edited portion of the video on the website,

The part that Breitbart used, and which was replayed on Fox News, only showed the first part of Sherrod's story in which she talked about hesitating to help a white farmer, and left out the part in which she talked about realizing that white farmers were suffering many of the same indignities that African-Americans had endured, and why she ended up fighting for all farmers with the same conviction, regardless of color.

Lester Spence of Johns Hopkins University says this is a case of race baiting for political purposes and that may well be true. But isn't the NAACP and the White House supposed to know better?  Did they have to give a knee-jerk reaction? Sherrod says the USDA told her to pull off the road and send in her resignation via Blackberry. And the NAACP calls for her ouster without speaking with her, and without watching the entire video? They had the unedited version in their archives, because Shirley Sherrod made the comments at an NAACP banquet in March.

I understand that, far from living in a post-racial society now, we are actually in a racially charged country. This hoopla over Sherrod makes me feel that the NAACP is so afraid of charges of racism that they rush to inoculate themselves. Secretary Vilsack is so scared that the administration will be accused of prejudice, despite the fact that Ronald Reagan was the president when this incident happened, that he demand the resignation of a woman who has served the country diligently and passionately for decades.

What is going on? If the mere accusation of racism is enough to scare the White House and the NAACP, it makes it more likely that pundits will use race baiting as a tactic for political gain. Come on, guys, get a spine. The racial hatred we see in headlines, the vast gulf of misunderstanding between whites, blacks and brown people, these things come as a surprise to people who thought we had gotten beyond prejudice. We haven't, and we never will if we can't talk about these issues in mature and safe way.

Quit punishing people for their honesty. Let's talk about what we're thinking, let's have a conversation about the racial tensions that are crippling this nation, and please, let's stop making decisions based on heavily edited video tape.