Shirley Sherrod’s Victory: A Teachable Moment on Talking Race

23 Jul

Family, here’s the follow-up to Wednesday’s piece Shirley Sherrod’s War.

Shirley Sherrod should retire from the USDA, get her book deal, and tell her story. I certainly would not want to work for a group of people that were so quick to hang me out to dry. But seriously, Ms. Sherrod should pick the options that are best for her, because one of the many victories in this whole sordid situation is that she is now a Black woman with options.

Since the news of Andrew Breitbart’s sloppy and opportunistic editorial hatchet job on Sherrod’s career became apparent three days ago, everyone’s been tossing around the term, “teachable moment.” I’ve heard it repeatedly throughout this ordeal: “this is a teachable moment on race, on media, on government.” While many see the “teachable moments” here as being about taking more care and time when handling sensitive information, and about the willingness of the most extreme members of the right to jettison integrity and basic truthfulness for political capital, there is something much more fundamental at stake. That is, we need to stop trying to be anti-racial and focus on being anti-racist. There is a critical difference between the two.

In Shirley Sherrod’s speech, she talked about the emergence of white supremacist ideology as a way to divide and conquer similarly positioned poor black and white indentured servants. That information speaks to a more fundamental truth, namely the ways in which the ideology of racism and white supremacy is built into the fundamental fabric of these United States. We will not get beyond “race” then until we deal with racism itself.

Folks however keep putting the cart before the horse. Dealing with racism is a much more difficult proposition than dealing with race. Confronting racism means confronting privilege. It means confronting the reality of power, and the possibility of a redistribution of resources. In a society in which white privilege grants most white folks the right to believe wholeheartedly in the myth of meritocracy, the idea that they have everything they have solely based on their own merit and hardwork, rather than having a huge help from centuries of racial privilege, dealing with racism is a veritable nightmare. So rather than do that, we keep talking about “race.”

To read the rest of this piece, please visit our good friends over at Race-Talk.

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One Response to “Shirley Sherrod’s Victory: A Teachable Moment on Talking Race”

  1. Heather July 23, 2010 at 10:42 AM #

    “Dealing with racism is a much more difficult proposition than dealing with race. Confronting racism means confronting privilege. It means confronting the reality of power, and the possibility of a redistribution of resources. In a society in which white privilege grants most white folks the right to believe wholeheartedly in the myth of meritocracy…”

    Thank you. This is beautifully put and so smart.

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