Thursday, July 22, 2010

In Reply: Shirley Sherrod, and the "Discrimination" of Helping Your Own Community

In reply to Breitbart & Co. trash the truth: USDA official Shirley Sherrod was just the most recent casualty, and in particular, to a guy named Anton1, who said:
Shirley Sherrod is a self-proclaimed reformed racist. That is undeniable. Her actions, feelings, and thoughts during her employment were admittedly racist. That is undeniable. Albeit later, she realized the error in her bigotry, and all is forgiven, UNLESS, you happen to be a white farmer under her self-proclaimed bigotry BEFORE she realized her errors. When did she realize that her bigotry and hate for white people was wrong? How many instances of racial bias, had been purpotrated by her, BEFORE her self-proclaimed epiphany? Why are these qustions not being asked? Is it possible that with this prior self-proclaimed hatred for whites, she has opened the door for multitudes of lawsuits from white farmers that feel as if she didn't "give the full force" of what she could do? Does anyone think her self-proclaimed "opened eyes", at some unknown point in her life, will protect her, and her employer, in a court of law? The TRUTH stands, as is.

(The comment system at the Daily News is really shitty, so I can't say whether what he wrote had paragraph breaks before he hit send, but it definitely came out without 'em... just like my comment did.)

@Anton1: With respect, I'm not sure how much of a racist Sherrod ever was, though I do think she had some bigoted ideas and attitudes... She seemed to be more of a "separate and equal (and eventually, better) kinda gal, who put all her efforts into helping her own, and just paid as little attention to white folks as possible. While that kinda thing isn't always "kumbaya, we are the world," it generally isn't illegal or immoral, either. (In fact, many groups/segments of the general population do that - women's groups, jewish groups, alcoholics, cancer survivors, professional/union organizations...) People choose to do things to help and advance themselves and their own, both in their spare time and in their professions--and even when it means not helping folks who ain't in their group--all the time.

There likely were no "other/previous white farmers," because she had always worked for co-ops whose whole mission was to help black farmers. (And don't forget, the whole story begins with the words "The first time I was confronted with helping a white farmer...") That the Spooners were even sent to the black co-op was a fluke, and she really was under no obligation, legally (or otherwise, depending on your morals) to help them at all--it wasn't in her or her co-op's job description.

But she did help them, even initially, doing the minimum required--literally, the least she could do for them. And it was through helping them that she realized they were no different from any of the other (black) farmers she'd helped, and that it wasn't about skin color, but about need and ability.

While there can be, and often is, some overlap and grey area between 'em, there's a difference between being racial and racist, to traffic in special interest/identity politics and to be a bigot. It's good to be proud of your own race, religion, gender, etc (all those individual attributes that you were born with and that you've chosen for yourself, that make you you); and it's good to want to help your own community (those who share one or more of those attributes that make you you), as well. But at the same time, it means that you're discriminating against those who aren't in your community, by not doing as much for the outsiders as you do for the insiders--and even by looking at them as outsiders and insiders. It can be a fine line.

Personally, I think it's ok (if not outright good and even necessary) to "discriminate" in that way; to have an in group and an out group, and even to do for some and not for others. (Contrary to the rumors, I'm not actually a commie Marxist socialist, at all.) It doesn't all have to be equal for everyone, in effort or in outcome.

In fact, it's a lot like a literal community... say, your own neighborhood. If you and your neighbors decide to take it upon yourselves to pick up trash or turn an empty lot into a playground or a ball field, that doesn't mean you have to go into the next neighborhood and do the same for them. You don't owe anyone outside your neighborhood your spare money or your free time, just because you got together and did for yourselves, donating one or both to your goals. (You can even set restrictions on folks from outside the neighborhood using your new playground or ball field.)

It gets a little trickier, ethically, when it's not a community of proximity like your neighborhood, but a community based on those things that so often divide us, like race, religion, gender, etc., but I think similar rules apply. In my opinion, that's what Shirley Sherrod was involved with, a group of like-minded black farmers helping themselves and each other to save and improve their own "neighborhood" of farms. The Spooners were just from another "neighborhood," and Ms Sherrod wasn't sure she should be giving her time to them, when her own "neighbors" still needed so much help, and she had pledged herself to them. In the end, Shirley Sherrod decided to spend more of her time working and playing in a bigger, more inclusive neighborhood.

When it comes to these trickier communities--the ones that so often divide us--it really depends on one's own heart, and the real and true motives contained in it, which may not be obvious to others... ...and on always drawing the lines between "us" and "them" in disappearing ink. That's where Shirley Sherrod went wrong, initially... She spent her earlier years using a big ol' permanent marker, until she realized how much better a solid pencil with a really big and often-used eraser would be for everyone...

Comment revised and extended from original

1 comment:

ex DLB said...

Reppy, your post puts it all in perspective very nicely. Nice analogies.

BTW, I'm surprised the search at AmPow turned up much on you since DD usually has some clever variation of your name. Anyway, proud to be one of your henchmen.

Nerd Score (Do nerds score?)