District of Corruption

The Righteous Martyrdom of Shirley Sherrod

When I first came across Rich Lowry’s column “Shirley Sherrod and American Progress,” I wondered whether I might have stumbled upon a parody of NR thinking written by Paul Gottfried in one of his lighter moods. Or perhaps Lowry had written it as part of an elaborate plan to induce severe indigestion in poor Paul, putting the tireless right-wing critic of conservative movement out of commission.

Regardless, even Lowry found it difficult to depict this well paid, well fed, and pampered federal bureaucrat as oppressed by angry white mobs. He thus chose to retell a sob story he’d read in one Taylor Branch’s turgid biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. about a black man who was attacked by mean, illiterate rednecks after he flirted with one of their white mistresses. Lowry then concludes,

It’s why the story Shirley Sherrod told at the NAACP conference was a heartening one, contrary to the distorted impression created after conservative activist Andrew Breitbart released a videotape without crucial context. Working at a rural nonprofit, Sherrod initially turned away a desperate white farmer on racial grounds before realizing that was wrong.

It was a tiny morality tale that could stand for an epoch of racial progress in the South.

Shirely Sherrod doesn’t seem to have a been a good bureaucrat -- she didn’t help the “superior”-talkin’ white farmer, even if she later felt that this was “wrong” -- and she has dedicated her life to something, one would think, Lowry opposes -- securing for blacks federal goodies, suing companies and the federal government on behalf of blacks, and securing for herself life-time employment as a black advocate. But it seems that by dent of her being black and Southern, she is connected to a to a long, storied history of righteous martyrdom, and as a good conservative of the reigning civic religion, Lowry is tasked with writing about her in hushed-tones.

Ilana Mercer reveals that, in many ways, the media’s lionization of Sherrod is a case of diminished expectations.

Expectations tend to be self-fulfilling," said an anonymous wag. Expect nothing and you'll get nothing. Except very little and that's all you'll get. In modern-day USA, a kid so much as dials 911 in an emergency, and he is decorated for bravery. And if an African-American rejects her birthright and demonstrates less prejudice toward whites -- she is up for beatification.

Repudiate this elevated ethical standard, and a deranged, fulminating Keith Olbermann will pelt you with a panegyric on the imagined martyrdom of one Shirley Sherrod, now the most celebrated public servant in the United States, and perhaps the world.

Ms. Sherrod's road to sainthood is not that unusual. In this woman we have, indubitably, one among an army of fairly typical black state employees. In this case, working for the rural development division of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Sherrod got into trouble over an address delivered at the 20th annual freedom banquet of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (whose raison d'être is racial) on March 27. (Standards of journalism are not as "big" as Andrew Breitbart's "big this; big that" websites: The reports don't say in what year the speech was given.)

Olbermann is a crude pamphleteer who imagines himself a modern-day Emile Zola. Most recently, the anchor has sunk to the level of fraud and falsehood in comparing Ms. Sherrod -- a contemporary black woman who has, hitherto, enjoyed safe and secure sinecure in liberal, post-Civil-Rights-Act America -- to Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a 19th-century Jew living in illiberal France, falsely accused of the worst military breach possible.


She was fired by an administration that mistook her for a worse racist than she actually was. The Obama posse overestimated the extent of Sherrod's animus for whites. She turned out to be merely a mezzanine-level racist.

Neither is Sherrod's story one of "redemption and cross-racial friendship," as Newsweek put it slightly less hyperbolically than did MSNBC's frontman. Shirley Sherrod's is a tale of the triumph of low expectations and black racial exculpation in contemporary America.

Here is a USDA worker, whose pay and perks are provided by wealthier Americans – given that this country has the steepest, most progressive tax system among all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Yet she disdains the very "haves" who've funded her existence and facilitated her "life's work." By her own admission, Sherrod arrived each day at work eager to toil for the betterment of nobody but blacks.


A nice enough lady, Ms. Sherrod then divulged how she performed the tasks (the rich had paid her to do) even when it came to this dejected white farmer.

The acme of ethics in American: a black woman who has graduated from hard-core to soft bigotry.

From the howling wilderness that is his moral universe, Brother Olbermann has demanded that we, first, flagellate and, next, accept Shirley Sherrod as the embodiment of "the kind of true greatness the rest of us can only hope we might express for one moment in the whole of our lives."

I don't think so.

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