The Saga of Shirley Sherrod and America

July 22, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Much has been written and there’s been much said about the Shirley Sherrod incident.  I’m on my way into the studio to produce this week’s Basic Black (yes, Shirley Sherrod will be one of the topics…) so unfortunately I don’t have the time to write a piece.  In the meantime, I’m more interested in your opinion on the whole affair.  For your convenience, I’m providing the timeline of events (created by Carrie English, our production assistant extraordinaire) and the video of Sherrod’s full speech.

Valerie Linson
Series Producer, Basic Black

Shirley Sherrod Controversy Timeline

March 27, 2010

  • Shirley Sherrod, a black woman appointed last July as the USDA’s Georgia state director of rural development, made a speech at an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet. In her speech, Sherrod described an episode in which, while working at a nonprofit organization 24 years ago, a white farmer had come to her for help saving his farm, but he had acted “superior” and so she “didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.” To prove she had done her job, she said, she took him to a white lawyer. “I figured that if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him,” she said. But that lawyer failed to help, she said. She was able to find an attorney to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy to help the family stay on the farm, she said. She went on to say that an examination of her own prejudice taught her that those who are struggling have much in common, regardless of race. “The only difference is the folks with money want to stay in power. It’s always about money, y’all,” she said. “God helped me to see that it’s not just about black people. It’s about poor people. I’ve come a long way.”

April 2010

  • Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart (best known for posting videos of two young activists posing as a pimp and prostitute seeking help from ACORN offices) says he received a DVD of the speech from a source he would not name, but the DVD would not work. He says he then forgot about it.

July 2010

  • Andrew Breitbart, angry at the NAACP for denouncing the Tea Party’s racism and wanted to prove that the NAACP was itself racist, contacted the source again asking for copies of the speech.

Thursday, July 15

  • Breitbart referred to the speech in a radio interview. Sherrod learned of this and tried to contact Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan through e-mail accounts the department had created for employee feedback. But they are checked infrequently, according to a spokesman, so her messages were not received until after the scandal.

Saturday, July 17 and Sunday, July 18

  • Breitbart says that over the weekend he obtained two already edited clips of Sherrod’s speech.

Monday, July 19

  • Andrew Breitbart released the edited clips on his blog, and the story went viral.
  • Shirley Sherrod was asked for her resignation. Sherrod said she got four calls Monday from Cheryl Cook, the USDA rural development undersecretary. In the first, she said, she was told she was being put on administrative leave. In the second, she said, she was told she needed to resign. She says that she was told that the White House wanted her to step down. “They asked me to resign, and in fact they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday,” she said. The last call “asked me to pull to the side of the road and do it [resign],” she said. She claims she was told to “do it, because you’re going to be on ‘Glenn Beck’ tonight.” Asked if she felt she had an opportunity to explain, Sherrod said, “No, I didn’t. The administration, they were not interested in hearing the truth. No one wanted to hear the truth.”
  • Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack issued a statement Monday announcing he had accepted Sherrod’s resignation, noting a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination at the USDA, adding, “I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person.”
  • The NAACP condemned her comments as “shameful” and supported Vilsack’s decision. “Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race,” Benjamin Jealous said. “We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.”
  • Ironically, Beck defended Sherrod on Tuesday, saying that “context matters” and he would have objected if someone had shown a video of him at an AA meeting saying he used to pass out from drinking but omitting the part where he says he found Jesus and gave up alcohol.
  • Bill O’Reilly said Ms. Sherrod “must resign immediately.” (His show was recorded before her resignation was announced).

Tuesday, July 20

  • Tom Vilsack said that the controversy, regardless of the context of her comments, “compromises the director’s ability to do her job. This isn’t a situation where we are necessarily judgmental about the content of the statement, that’s not the issue here. I don’t believe this woman is a racist at all,” he said. “She’s a political appointee, and her job is basically to focus on job growth in Georgia, and I have deep concern about her ability to do her job without her judgments being second-guessed.”
  • While Sherrod was being grilled in an interview on CNN, Eloise Spooner, wife of the farmer in Sherrod’s story, called in to say: “She’s a good friend. She helped us save our farm. She’s the one I give credit for helping us save our farm.”
  • Later Breitbart asked CNN’s John King how they knew that the incident happened 24 years ago and that the call was really from Mrs. Spooner. He emphasized repeatedly that his target was the NAACP and not Sherrod. “This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party, and this is showing racism at an NAACP event,” he said. “I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired.”
  • In the evening the NAACP said they were “snookered” by the video and retracted their original statement.
  • Both Roger and Eloise Spooner appeared on CNN’s Rick’s List to defend Sherrod. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I was never treated no better, no nicer, and looked after, than Shirley. She done a magnificent job. I don’t have words to explain it,” Roger Spooner told Rick Sanchez. “I don’t know what brought up the racist mess. They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me if you want to know my opinion… There wasn’t no racist nowhere around it. We were shocked. We couldn’t believe it… If it hadn’t been for her, we would’ve never known who to see or what to do,” he said. “She led us right to our success.” Eloise Spooner said that when she saw the story of the tape and Sherrod’s resignation on television, “I said, ‘That ain’t right. They have not treated her right.’

Wednesday, July 21

  • In the morning Tom Vilsack said he may have been too hasty and would review the firing.
  • Sherrod did back-to-back interviews on the Today show and CNN’s American Morning. She called the possibility of getting her job back “bittersweet.” “I’m just not sure how I would be treated,” if taken back at Agriculture, she said on Today. “I’m not just not sure at this point.” Sherrod laid some of the blame for the controversial chain of events on the civil rights organization that had sponsored her speech. The NAACP, she told CNN, is “the reason this happened. They got into a fight with the tea party, and this all came out as a result of it.”
  • In the afternoon, Tom Vilsack held a press conference on the incident.
    • He revealed that he had spoken on the phone with Sherrod, offered her a sincere apology, and offered her a new job at the USDA that would take advantage of her “unique set of skills” as a result of the prejudice and bias she has experienced. He said she asked for time to think about it.
    • He also denied having gotten any pressure from the White House.
    • He explained his hasty behavior by saying, “for the last 18 months, we have really focused on trying to address the longstanding history of civil rights claims against the Department. They’re outstanding claims brought by black farmers, Hispanic farmers, women farmers, Native American farmers, and these are not just a few incidences or a few isolated claims. These are tens of thousands of claims that have been brought against the Department. I made it as a goal when I took this office that we would try to reverse that history, we would try to close that chapter, that we would be a Department that would not tolerate, in any way, shape, or form, discrimination.”
    • He then met with representatives with the Congressional Black Caucus.
  • At his daily briefing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “On behalf of the administration, I offer our apologies.
  • Bill O’Reilly led his program by criticizing some of Sherrod’s language but acknowledging his own mistake: “I owe Ms. Sherrod an apology for not doing my homework . . . and for not putting her remarks into proper context.”

Thursday, July 22

  • In the morning the Agriculture Department emailed Sherrod a specific job offer.
  • At 12:35pm President Obama phoned Shirley Sherrod. They spoke for almost ten minutes. He had tried to reach her twice the night before, but was unable to leave a message, as her voicemail was full.

Sources for the timeline:

50th Anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird

July 16, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee turns 50 this month.

I read this book and saw the movie in high school.  It’s a beautifully written story and I’ve seen the movie more times than I can count.  But what always struck me about To Kill A Mockingbird wasn’t so much the story as much the context in which the story entered the mainstream arts & culture.  The book was published in 1960 and the film premiered in 1962: after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and before the 1963 March on Washington.  In no way am I implying that Mockingbird was the result or catalyst for either event (the foundation for the civil rights movement was laid by lives and deaths of those on whose shoulders I stand).  It’s just striking to me that this book and movie became popular at a time when the plates of the racial landscape of this country were colliding and no one was certain how the dust would settle.

Do you have any thoughts on To Kill A Mockingbird?

Valerie Linson
Series Producer, Basic Black

Guest Editorial: Boston’s GospelFest 2010 & the LGBTQ Community

July 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Ex-gay” Donnie McClurkin at Boston’s GospelFest
by Rev. Irene Monroe

Every year Mayor Tom Menino’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events puts on its annual Boston GospelFest at City Hall Plaza.

And because the Gospelfest is a public and taxpayer-funded community event, it’s opened to all — even the African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities.

But with Pastor Donnie McClurkin, the poster boy for African American “ex-gay” ministries, who spews anti-gay religion-based vitriol, billed as the main event, many in the African American LGBTQ communities will not be in attendance at this year’s event. And neither will the mayor.

Menino ranks among the most pro-LGBTQ mayors across the country. He refused to participate in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade when organizers barred an LGBTQ group from marching. And he was always an advocate for equal marriage. Menino has thrown his weight around and has used his power on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, and have succeeded in doing so.

However, when it comes to moving Boston’s black ministers on LGBTQ civil rights, Menino’s struggle has been and is like that of other elected officials and queer activists — immovable. Sadly many of Boston’s black ministers are in lock step with black homophobic ministers across the country.

Menino’s absence from this year’s Gospelfest is another sad example of how Boston’s black ministers, an influential and powerful political voting bloc of the mayor’s, would rather compromise its decade-long friendship with City Hall than denounce McClurkin’s appearance.

And while Boston’s black ministers’ support of McClurkin’s appearance put the mayor between a rock and a hard place with its LGBTQ and African American communities, it also puts Menino in a difficult spot with his African American LGBTQ communities.

It is Greater Boston’s African American LGBTQ communities that will feel denounced at this year’s Gospelfest, wishing the mayor’s office had contacted someone from our community in their vetting of McClurkin.

For many in the African American LGBTQ communities, we, too, along with our heterosexual Christian brothers and sisters, excitedly await Boston’s annual Gospelfest.

Gospelfest brings together huge gatherings of black church-going Christians across Greater Boston and across denominational affiliations in fellowship with one another.

While for many African American heterosexual Christians, Gospefest is a second worship service for them for the day because it’s always held on a Sunday, for many African American LGBTQ Christians, Gospelfest is our only worship service for the year.

With too few African American open and welcoming churches in Greater Boston, Gospelfest affords many of us in our black LGBTQ communities a sweet moment — as unabashedly Christians and unapologetically queers — incorporate worship and celebration with our faith communities in an inclusive and public space.

“God did not call you to such perversions. Your only hope is Jesus Christ. Were it not for this Jesus I would be a homosexual today. This God is a deliverer,” is just an example of the continuous flow of McClurkin’s homophobic remarks stated at the Church of God in Christ’s (COGIC) 102nd Holy Convocation International Youth Department Worship Service in November 2009.

Ms. Julie Burns, the Director of Arts, Tourism & Special Events for the Mayor’s Office, came late to knowing about McClurkin’s anti-gay rhetoric.

When Burns called me on June 24 about the McClurkin kerfuffle with Gospelfest just weeks away, she was apologetic.

“I learned yesterday — through the Phoenix article regarding the City of Boston Gospel Fest — of the depth and breath of Donnie McClurkin’s views on the Gay community. I am embarrassed to say that I was not aware of this and we obviously should have vetted him further. Gospel Fest is in its 10th year and is arguably the largest Gospel event in New England. Minister McClurkin was recommended to us by a number of people and we were swayed by his artistic honors. Of course, this does not excuse the situation that we now find ourselves in! Please rest assured that Mayor Menino did not know anything about this and would never condone ’hate speech’ of any kind,” Burns wrote in an e-mail to me.

In asking for my help, I supplied Burns with a list of ten top tier singers of Rev. Donnie McClurkin’s caliber. In an e-mail to Burns I wrote stating “there is no top singing African American gospel singer who’s publicly an ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. While many of the singers are LGBTQ — because black gospel music is the expression of a ’black gay male gospel aesthetic’ — very few are as public about their denunciation of the LGBTQ community as ’ex-gay’ Rev. Donnie McClurkin.”

Although many of us African American LGBTQ will not be in attendance at this year’s Gospelfest, the crowd will be, nonetheless, shouting to a black gay male gospel aesthetic, because McClurkin will be there.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker and theologian.  She has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

Can Hamsters Be Gansta?

July 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments
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The creators of the new commercial for Kia Soul nailed it.  It’s one of the most creative ads I’ve seen in a while.  It features a crew of hamsters in the voices of the hip hop group The Black Sheep singing The Choice is Yours.  It’s also a very smart ad, especially if you understand the inside slang about the toaster, the washing machine, and cardboard (refrigerator) box.  It’s hilarious without being obvious or dumbed-down.  The animation is also killer (check out the hamster in the hoodie at :53 channeling Snoop Dogg)… these hamsters got swagger.

Why am I talking about hamsters in a car commercial on a blog about race?  In reading the YouTube comments, there were some folks who think the commercial is racist – that the car company is equating urban environments and hip hop with “rats.”  I like to think that I’m very attuned to racist sentiments; I don’t have to go looking for racism, too often it finds me.  And actually, the creators’ aim is to sell cars and make money, not make a statement, but I appreciate the attention they paid to the details of swagger and hip hop cool.  But, what do you think: is this commercial smart or racist?

Valerie Linson
Series Producer, Basic Black

On The Subject of LeBron James…

July 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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First, full disclosure:  I don’t follow basketball as a game; I’m more interested in the cultural study of sports.  And more importantly, I am a native of Cleveland.

But I haven’t lived in Cleveland for a very long time, which is why I watched the whole LeBron James thing with a mix of emotions and reactions:

1.  Sadness:  Cleveland’s feelings got hurt…again.  Victory hasn’t shown this city any love since 1964.  Also, gotta admit, scenes of the whole city begging this guy to stay were, um, pathetic; in general, begging someone to stay usually never ends well (and given the vitriol of Cavs fans in the wake of James’ announcement, it’s a great example of how feelings can go from love to hate in less that a minute — 9:27pm to 9:28pm to be exact.)

2.  Resolution:  James is free to decide what’s best for his career and family; you can’t fault him for that.  And let’s face it, Miami is hot in every sense of the word.

3.  Irritation:  James basically said  “*bleep* you” to Cleveland on his way out.  C’mon son, that’s just rude and unnecessary.  A friend of mine has a (very plausible) theory that this is really all about James wanting to beat Kobe Bryant – which makes this whole affair a very small matter indeed.  And the tone and quality of this ESPN announcement should be an embarrassment to anyone involved and an affront to the integrity of great sports writers and journalists.

4.  Bemusement leading to a whole series of questions:  A one-hour television special to make the announcement…seriously?  Why did this announcement involve using children as a backdrop?  I get that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is mad, but why did he write his open letter in crayon, I mean, Comic Sans?  I get that Cleveland fans are angry, but burning jerseys and getting arrested…really?  How quickly will the trolls emerge on Twitter and elsewhere to let loose with the n-word (remember how they went in on Kanye for stepping on Taylor Swift)?  And unfortunately I don’t know how to articulate the question any better than this, but I wonder what this whole episode says to young black boys about their value to society…?

Okay I think we’re done here… now let’s all get back to important stuff.

Towards peace and knowledge,
Valerie Linson
Series Producer, Basic Black

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