Thursday, July 22, 2010

The question nobody is asking

Shirley Sherrod is feeling a little vindictive. That's not surprising. She's been on quite a roller-coaster lately. She wants to sue Andrew Breitbart for releasing that out-of-context videotape of her. Again, that's understandable, although he didn't make the tape, and didn't know it was out-of-context.

She says, "[H]e came at me. He didn’t go after the NAACP; he came at me." Now that's not true. He released the tape in response to the NAACP's accusations of racism among the Tea Party ranks, to show that the NAACP has their own problem with racism. And it did. Sherrod doesn't know it, but she wasn't being held up as a racist, she was the one pointing out that the NAACP has a problem with racists in their ranks. She was Breitbart's ally in this.

The fact that the tape was edited to make her sound more racist than she is, is just a little bit of delicious payback in kind. It doesn't change the real point being made, which is the answer to the question no one is asking: Why was she giving this talk?

Well, she was trying to promote enlightened views on race, of course. (I should probably put "enlightened" in quotes, since her message was that it's "not so much" about black vs. white, but about class warfare instead.) It's admirable to want to promote enlightened views about race reconciliation. To whom would you want to promote such views? To those who already have them? Or to those who seem to identify more with the bad example? I don't think NAACP meetings are like AA meetings, where you get up and talk about how bad you were and everybody sympathizes because they're all recovering racists, too, and that support helps keep you on the wagon.

I think Shirley gave that talk because she believes that the NAACP has a problem with racism in their midst, and she would like to see it improve. Much like Andrew Breitbart.


Roy said...
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Luigi said...

It is, of course, difficult to verify certain things in this case:

1. Did Mr. Breitbart know or did he have a duty to know that the edited clip was out of context and contradicted the message of the original speech? I believe it's no defense to say you publish true statements if the effect of editing is to convey a falsehood. This is true for the original publisher, and typically for any re-publishers. This is especially important if Ms. Sherrod is not found to be a "public figure."

2. Does Mr. Breitbart reasonably believe that the NAACP can be influenced from the outside? Assuming for the sake of argument that it has a problem with racism, is it reasonable to believe that change can come from external influence? Has that been effective historically, for organizations or for countries (think human rights campaigns, embargoes, etc.)? Are there no organizations with which Mr. Breitbart is associated which could benefit from his insider's zeal for exposing racism?

3. Why was Ms. Sherrod giving this talk at an NAACP meeting? I can't find an event description for that particular speech (I've seen it described as "a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet"); it would be useful to have that. We as non-participants can speculate, but I think this is something outside our expertise to say.

It seems to me that if you want to expose racism in an organization, you should be careful to publish examples of actual racist behavior. It's hard to make a compelling argument without that kind of evidence, and it seems clear that neither this video nor Ms. Sherrod's speech are sufficient to make or buttress the case that the NAACP is a racist organization.

Roy said...

"It seems to me that if you want to expose racism in an organization, you should be careful to publish examples of actual racist behavior."

Of course, the NAACP, who started the accusations, have not done any such thing. Sauce/goose/gander.