Shall We Overcome? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Shall We Overcome?

I find it hard to trust someone who claims we should never talk about race. And I find it impossible to fathom someone who says it's "racist" to call out racism.

Race was the four-letter word of the last week. First, the NAACP rightly called out the "tea party" for harboring racists and not making them unwelcome in their party. In return, conservative hit-blogger Andrew Breitbart decided to concoct a strategy to try to make the NAACP look "racist."

Clearly, Mr. Breitbart thinks the world, and particularly conservatives, are as stupid as he seems to be. He took video of a Civil Rights Movement veteran, Shirley Sherrod, speaking to an NAACP banquet and chopped and edited it up to make her look like she hated white people. Of course, the fool could not have chosen a better example of the exact opposite.

After a day of ridiculous over-reaction by members of the Obama administration (note to White House: racists gain power if you let them call the shots), it emerged that the unedited tape showed that Ms. Sherrod was actually giving a touching, overcoming-her-own-bigotry speech about white farmers who had needed her help. (And who jumped to her defense after Breitbart's trash-tape went viral.) She was actually relating the story of her own evolution: about how she had to meet her own fear and hate of white people head-on.

Her story shows why it's vital to face race issues, and the legacy of white supremacy in our country. And, yes, part of that legacy is a pool of African Americans who dislike and distrust the white people who discriminated and conspired against them and their forebears. Or, who maimed or killed them.

(Have I mentioned that a white man killed Ms. Sherrod's father over a cow in 1965? And that the white man wasn't indicted?)

The best part: She overcame. But she didn't get there by pretending that a racist legacy doesn't exist. She faced her own demons head on, regardless of where they came from.

Of course, too many Americans do not want us to face down and learn from our collective past. It has become vogue in certain circles to accuse anyone who tries to talk about race, deal with lingering racism or try to reverse the tough effects of it of being "racist."

That, somehow, is how people like Breitbart and the yo-yos FOX News parades in front of the cameras have come up with the idea that the NAACP is "racist."

Freeze frame.

It is a really good idea to know what racism is, and isn't, before throwing the label around. Words, and their meanings, matter.

Case in point: Racism v. bigotry. Both are bad and sad, but they are different.

Even if Breitbart actually had a video that showed Ms. Sherrod hates all white people, that would not automatically mean that she is a "racist." A bigot, no doubt. But, racism is about much more than personal bigotry. It's about supporting, directly or inadvertently, policies that suppress a race of people. It's systemic; that's why it has "ism" on the end of it.

In the U.S. today, anyone can be a bigot, and many people are. I've felt the ire of some black people who are bigots against white people. It's sad, but it is not an "ism."

In order for someone to be racist, they have to be part of a group with the power and privilege to institute or at least support a system and policies that suppress a race of people. This country was built on a platform of white supremacy, and that system still lingers, although a good chunk of it has been shattered, thankfully. But we have not arrived at a place yet where the power has shifted enough that "minorities" yet have the ability to return the racism they have long suffered. And, no, a black president has not put us there, just as it does not mean we are "post-racial."

Racism is about power. The NAACP does not have the power to create the kind of "racist" system it was set up to counter. And by the grace of God, and the work of good people of all races, we can hope that future non-white majorities will not want to return the favor (especially after seeing how being the "privileged" race can be its own paranoid, fearful hell).

Breitbart's little video scheme was not only misleading; it was illogical. The NAACP is not a racist organization. It does not exist to hurt non-blacks, nor it is about black supremacy. Sure, it may have some bigots among its ranks; so do most organizations. But the NAACP pushes equal access to opportunity, and that scares some people who slept through the loaves-and-fishes Sunday school lesson.

As race debates heat up, we have to be careful about equating good and evil. There's a huge difference between being part of a group that wants civil-rights laws rolled back and profiling of all immigrants, and an organization formed to demand equality for all.

I have seen a Clarion-Ledger reporter "balance" quotes from an old Klansman with quotes from an NAACP representative. This was horrifying: There is nothing "objective" about "balancing" a terrorist group with an organization set up to overcome the terrorism. It is terrible journalism, and it's dangerous.

But that is what we see happening out in the media world now, spurred on by attention-seekers like Breitbart. They are playing to people's fears, and assuming that many Americans cannot think or see a logical fallacy when it walks up and kicks them in the knee. Trying to make people believe that facing and discussing racial problems is the same as racism is very, very dangerous. It is sowing hate, and it makes the airwaves sound like a Citizens Council rally (those idiots didn't think they were "racist," either, just "realistic").

And just as this kind of rhetoric did in the past, it can motivate wounded people--perhaps someone who has lost his job, and read on a blog that it's a black or Latino person's fault--to commit violence like we suffered here in Jackson not many years ago.

This is irresponsible, and it is up to good people to stand up and say, "Enough."

The good news is that Breitbart's ploy can be an opportunity if we seize it. I encourage everyone to watch the full, unedited video of Ms. Sherrod's remarks with an open mind. Regardless of your race, put yourself in her shoes. Imagine your daddy was killed, and no one in power cared due to his race--and how much that could make you hate the "other."

Then consider the kind of faith in the human race it takes to forgive and really move forward--not by closing your eyes to the past, but by opening them to the future.

Previous Comments

ID
158876
Comment

You have written some wonderful probing editorials in the past that I have read that have illuminated issues for me, but this one is so clear and alive and open and it rings with such a timely Truth. Thank you.

Author
J.T.
Date
2010-07-28T11:16:15-06:00
ID
158877
Comment

Great piece, Donna! Very clearly put.

Author
Izzy
Date
2010-07-28T11:23:59-06:00
ID
158880
Comment

Not trying to puff smoke up Ladd's you know what? But in regards to race, she definately "gets it" I have white friends and associates that I have the discussed the topic of race relations with and not too many, if any at all - ever came from or had the perspective Ladd has of the matter.

Author
Duan C.
Date
2010-07-28T12:03:33-06:00
ID
158883
Comment

Thank you for this editorial, Donna Ladd. Truly wonderful, and I wish everyone would read it.

Author
ellen
Date
2010-07-28T13:50:29-06:00
ID
158892
Comment

I didn't call Ms. Sherrod any of those things, king. Read closer. As far as overcoming bigoted kinds of feelings, I will go out on a limb and say we all have to do that in one way or another during our lifetimes, regardless of race. The question is: Will we? Are we willing to face our own bigotries? There is no shame in having those feelings, especially if they come from horrible situations such as Ms. Sherrod's, but there is real redemption in overcoming them. If it wasn't clear from this column, I think Shirley Sherrod is amazing, and has been thrust upon the national stage at just the right moment. Breitbart and his ilk have met their match. As for your last point, I think it baits and switches a little. I would certainly call Jews who hate all Germans because of what happened "bigoted"--even as I could understand it to a point. (I have Jewish friends who will not step foot in Germany.) There is a difference between being a German and being a Nazi, though, just as there is a difference between being a white person and being a Klansman. And note that the point of the column, or one of them, is the difference between bigotry and racism. We may disagree on the use of the words, but it sounds like we're in complete agreement on the reasons she was angry at white people in general. I would have been, too. In fact, I often can be. I've watched too many family members of men killed by the Klan cry tears the size of quarters because no white person gave a damn about their loss because they were black. And I get really disgusted with people who rave on and on about violence in the African American community while refusing to understand the causes of it. BTW, the quick research on her father I did for the column did not confirm that his killer was a Klansman, but that he was white and never indicted. He may or may not have been a Klansman in fact, although I can understand why some would consider him a Klansman in spirit. But I try to be as accurate as possible with the facts. And they are bad enough, whether or not he was actually in the Klan.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-07-28T19:00:45-06:00
ID
158897
Comment

This is a great column and very good commentary in response to it. I can't understand why Breitbart isn't vilified and thrown under a bus for committing such an eggregious act against Mrs. Sherrod, who I may have met years ago since her hushand worked with an organization years ago that had a branch of or similar type of it in Mississippi. I worked for a group called the Emergency Land Fund that was associated with a group called the Federation of Southern Cooperative or something like that. It was my first job after college. Recently I also read a book called the Great Pool Jump by Peter Deloussey (sic) about some Civil Rights workers trying to integrate Southeast Georgia or Albany and the surrounding areas. Ms. Sherrod's husband was prominently featured in the book. Actually I do know why Breitbart isn't chastized or punished, and that is because nothing is really counted as wrong or too over the top for the GOP, Tea Party or the likes which consider themselves to be in a imaginary war against the so-called liberals, minorities, progressives, radicals and the poor. Morality doesn't matter. Neither does wrong or right. I'm one of those persons who will talk about race at the drop of a hat, and I don't do it timidly or in an attempt to win over my enemies - those interested in perpetuating white supremacy, racism, superiority or mere advantage. They have called me racist more times than I can count. I usually ask them to point to or set forth one racist thing i've done or said, and I hear the dumbest bullcrap that I've ever heard. Most of them just shut up upon realizing that I merely said something they didn't like. I'm not trying to be liked. I'm on a search for the truth, and no color of any type is going to blind me from that.

Author
Walt
Date
2010-07-28T22:18:35-06:00
ID
158902
Comment

You kinda hit it, Walt. People who are fans of False Noise will believe anything they say, even if the person has been found to be wrong in the past. As long as what they say fits the viewers' personal beliefs. Which is sad because if Breitbart/Fixed News have been caught with their pants down like this, think how many times they have deceived their viewers before.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-28T23:50:35-06:00
ID
158905
Comment

Ladd - good point when you said this, "And I get really disgusted with people who rave on and on about violence in the African American community while refusing to understand the causes of it." That's what I mean by an "Ignorant State of Bliss" - too lazy in the brain to try and understand the problem and then solve the problem! Just point a finger and keep it moving!

Author
Duan C.
Date
2010-07-29T08:06:32-06:00
ID
158912
Comment

Duan, too many people still believe the lies told to whites to justify slavery, Jim Crow, lynching and segregation. All you have to do is go read the old Citizens Council newspapers or "Race and Reason" by that "scientific" racist Carlton Putnam to see that the rhetoric is essentially the same now as then. And it's coming out of the mouths of many tea-partiers with no one calling them out. I'm not trying to be liked. I'm on a search for the truth, and no color of any type is going to blind me from that. Ditto, Walt. I feel the same way, friend.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-07-29T10:34:17-06:00
ID
158916
Comment

The Republicans are now starting to use Muslims as a wedge issue. Oklahomapassed a law banning judges from using Sharia law when making decisions and Newt Gingrich is also raising the specter of a nonexistent Sharia law threat.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-29T21:10:27-06:00
ID
158917
Comment

Given that a New Jersey judge has already attempted to rule on a case in accordance with Sharia law, I'd hardly say it's a nonexistent threat. Unless, of course, you have no problem with judges ruling that a Muslim husband has the legal right (in accordance with Sharia law) to rape his own wife. Now, the NJ judge's ruling was thrown out by an appellate court, so perhaps a state law shouldn't really be required...but now that we have a judicial system that wants to legislate, it kind of makes (twisted) sense that our legislative system wants to be involved in the judiciary. The larger issue, Muslim hysteria aside, is curbing the increasing tendency to rely on international precedents which ought to have no standing in our judicial system.

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-07-30T14:22:09-06:00
ID
158921
Comment

Unless, of course, you have no problem with judges ruling that a Muslim husband has the legal right (in accordance with Sharia law) to rape his own wife. A straw man. No man, regardless of his religion, has the legal right to rape his wife.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-30T15:58:57-06:00
ID
158922
Comment

I agree with you. Unfortunately, there's at least one Muslim and one judge in New Jersey that don't agree with you.

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-07-30T16:27:29-06:00
ID
158923
Comment

And there are more than that who don't agree in the state of MIssissippi, and it has nothing to do with being Muslim. Thus, the right assessment of straw-man argument.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-07-30T16:47:59-06:00
ID
158924
Comment

What does Mississippi have to do with an OK state law? If the citizens of OK want to write it into the books that their state judges are not allowed to use Shariah law (as the NJ judge attempted to do, whether he was accurate in his assessment or not) or any other international law, why is that a problem?

Author
Mark Geoffriau
Date
2010-07-30T16:52:29-06:00
ID
158925
Comment

I agree with you. Unfortunately, there's at least one Muslim and one judge in New Jersey that don't agree with you. It used to be legal to rape your wife in Mississippi and this is far from being a Muslim state.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-30T18:45:38-06:00
ID
158926
Comment

Sorry, pressed the submit button before I was ready. Anyhow, the real point is that Republicans are drudging up yet another bogeyman for people to fear, another chasm to create an "us vs. them" society. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the GOP likes to go down this road. Not only does this not do anything productive for our country, but it also tends to bring out the worse in people. We have so many issues in this country that need to be addressed, like the economy, unemployment, the oil spill, etc. All this is is just pandering to rally a base for cheap political points.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-30T18:55:35-06:00
ID
158927
Comment

Uh oh! Drummin's commentin on race again! What's gonna happen?! Duan said: "Not trying to puff smoke up Ladd's you know what? But in regards to race, she definately 'gets it'" So is she one of the "good ones?" Does she get a hood pass? Walt said: "I can't understand why Breitbart isn't vilified and thrown under a bus for committing such an eggregious act against Mrs. Sherrod, who I may have met years ago since her hushand worked with an organization years ago that had a branch of or similar type of it in Mississippi." Actually, he was villified on the right somewhat. Fox News (O'Reilly and Goldberg I think) said he was wrong and should apologize. Mark Williams was excommunicated from the Tea Party. I happen to come across Glenn Beck Monday night and thought hell had frozen over as he encouraged his followers to calm down and refrain from violence, as he riled up a whack job follower into suiting up in body armor and try to go on a murder spree against the Leftists. He ended up shooting two cops I believe. The whack jobs at Fox surprisingly display a tiny amount of accountability, or pseudo-accountability.

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-07-30T20:13:23-06:00
ID
158929
Comment

This is a powerful piece, Donna. Mark, your response to this column is baffling. The first thing that springs to your mind is the decision of a family-court judge in New Jersey? A decision that was overturned on appeal? What are you talking about?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-07-31T02:00:53-06:00
ID
158931
Comment

POWERFUL.. great point to drive home the difference between racism & bigotry... We need more voices that can drown out the dangerous rhetoric & instead take time to engage in responsible conversations about the real issues facing us all.

Author
lanier77
Date
2010-08-01T10:59:31-06:00
ID
158932
Comment

The tea party movement had planned to protest the construction of a new mosque in California bybringing dogs. The protest was to be held on July 30, but the Los Angeles Times reported that the protest was canceled. Regardless of whether the protest was canceled or would've carried on, the idea that opponents of the mosque would show up with dogs is as distasteful as when the Klan and other supporters of segregation in the South did it against black people in the civil rights movement. Here's a quote within the L.A. Times article: Serafin said she has no problems with people of other races, religions or creeds, but feels that Muslims are amassing a "political movement" that would destroy the fabric of American ideals and values. I'd like to know what values are the Muslims planning on destroying.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-08-01T21:59:04-06:00
ID
158933
Comment

BTW, if Ms. Serafin has no problems with people of other religions, she contradicts herself with the quote about amassing a political movement.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-08-01T22:02:20-06:00

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