A stumble in the rush to judgment

USDA official was an undeserving casualty in contrived racial spat



There are two teachable moments to be brought away from the flap involving a U.S. Department of Agriculture official's racially tinged comments captured on video.

And people both black and white can learn from them.

It began with the NAACP's despicable resolution at its recent national convention July 13, condemning what they saw as "racist elements" in the Tea Party movement. That raised the hackles of conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, who wanted to counter that sorry slander.

So he managed to get his hands on a video that he said he had known about since April -- showing a March 27 NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in rural Douglas, Ga. In it, Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia director of rural development for the USDA, told an audience that, when a farmer once came to her for aid to save his family's farm, she intentionally did not do everything she could to help him, because she felt he was condescending to her.

The farmer is white. Sherrod is black.

That was all Breitbart needed. He posted the video to his popular website, and the lightning speed of the Internet did the rest -- Sherrod fell under critical fire that forced her to resign.

End of story? Hardly. Under closer scrutiny, Breitbart's "evidence" isn't that damning.

It turns out that the video merely was an edited clip of her entire speech, clocked at 43 minutes. In fuller context, Sherrod actually was telling a story about how she realized her actions against the farmer were wrong. She meant her story to be an instructional tale from her days before she was with the USDA -- in 1986, when she was a Georgia field officer with the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.

"And I went on to work with many more white farmers," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution . "The story helped me realize that race is not the issue; it's about the people who have and the people who don't. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race."

Getting beyond the issue of race is a good place for your head to be at.

Roger and Eloise Spooner seem to feel the same way. They're the farmers in question from 1986. At no point did the Spooners think that Sherrod treated them unfairly. The Spooners even have told the media that she deserves her job back.

We mentioned two teachable moments that can be drawn from all this.

The first is this: Sherrod -- before rightly seeing the true nature of things regarding race -- is on record showing that black-and-white racism unfortunately can run both ways.

The second is this: Breitbart unwittingly put himself up as an ideal, ham-fisted example of someone so eager to swing a mace of justice that the unforeseen momentum of truth can bring the mace crashing onto the head of the wielder.

Shirley Sherrod is owed an apology -- which she already has received from the White House and TV pundit Bill O'Reilly, but she deserves more.

She arguably deserves restitution. She definitely deserves her job back.



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