I guess he’s looking for a face-saving way out of the muck he got himself into. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why, the day after it came out that a video Andrew Breitbart released had been edited (according to Breitbart, before it was given to him) to make it look like Shirley Sherrod was admitting to racist treatment of white farmers, Vilsack is still only willing to “reconsider” his hasty and ill-advised decision to fire her:
“I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner,” Vilsack said in a statement e-mailed by USDA at 2:07 a.m.
That would be the thorough review and consideration of additional facts that should have taken place before forcing Sherrod to resign from her USDA position as director of rural development in Georgia.
Even if Vilsack does offer to re-hire her, Sherrod isn’t sure she would say yes:
“Because of all the publicity surrounding what happened…how would I be treated once I’m back there? I just don’t know,” she said on “GMA.” “I would have to be reassured on that.”
“I’m a bit disappointed that things happened in the way they happened. It doesn’t take away my support for the administration,” she said. “When I accepted the position at rural development, always in the back of my mind was doing the very best that I could to have that be a good reflection on [Obama] and what he was trying to do.”
Reading between the lines, it sounds to me like she wants an apology — or at least an acknowledgment of how badly and unfairly she was treated. Seems to me that’s the least she has a right to expect.
In that same interview with George Stephanopoulos, Sherrod said something I found quite striking. Referring back to what she had told that NAACP audience in the video, e.g.:
“I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. …”
Sherrod told Stephanopoulos (emphasis is mine):
If she could do it again Sherrod told me she might not tell her story about the white farmer the same way but her message would be the same.
“The message I was getting out there to them is the same message I want everyone to know, anyone I would speak to…I use my life, I grew up in a segregated society, to show how I could move beyond that,” she said.
And this is what I find particularly ironic about this whole mess: I have had many conversations (arguments) over the years with white conservatives about the way African-Americans’ experience of racism — both as individuals in their own lives and in the larger context of family experience, going back for generations — affects how events and experiences in the here and now are perceived — even in situations that may not appear to have any racial content at all to a white person. I cannot count the number of times I have heard, or read, some variant of the following: “That (legal slavery, de facto slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, racial terror, etc.) was over a century ago (or half a century ago, or decades ago, etc.). It’s time for blacks to get over it and stop using past injustices as an excuse for hating white people.”
That is exactly what Shirley Sherrod was doing when she spoke to that audience of NAACP members. She was describing how she freed herself from beliefs and attitudes and emotional responses that were nurtured in her by years — decades, actually — of living every day with the injustices and humiliations of being black at a time and in a place where white supremacy was both the law and the unquestioned practice. That’s a process that can take a lifetime, and that — it should not even need to be pointed out — does not always go smoothly or come to full fruition. Yet Shirley Sherrod received (seemingly) no awareness or understanding of that process and no credit for coming through it — either from the white conservatives who were so quick to distort the context of her words, OR from the administration of the first black President in U.S. history.
If the same people who demand that black Americans do the hard emotional work of moving past the bad old days of Jim Crow, rigid segregation, and the daily injustices and humiliations that black people had to endure, do not find it necessary to also do their own hard emotional work of understanding the impacts that the past has on the present, then cries of “reverse racism” fall pretty flat.
UPDATE: David Frum has an absolutely superb, must-read commentary about the conservative media’s shameful (one might also say shameless) actions and reactions on the subject of Shirley Sherrod. Here is a snip:
By the morning of July 20 the Sherrod-as-racist narrative had collapsed.
What is most fascinating about that second day, however, was the conservative reaction to the collapse. At midday on the 20th, Rush Limbaugh was still praising Breitbart: “I know that Andrew Breitbart’s done great work getting this video of Ms. Sherrod at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her supposed racism and so forth saying she’s not gonna help a white farmer.”
By the evening of the 20th, however, conservatives were backing away, acknowledging that an innocent women had been defamed.
But you’ll never guess who emerged as the villains of the story in this second-day conservative react. Not Andrew Breitbart, the distributor of a falsified tape. No, the villains were President Obama and the NAACP for believing Breitbart’s falsehood.
I have only one bone to pick: Although I certainly agree that the central villain of this story is Andrew Breitbart, and whoever he got that edited tape from. Tom Vilsack and the White House, however, are quite well aware who Andrew Breitbart is, and what he is about. I find it appalling that Vilsack would have fired Sherrod and the White House would have approved that action, without making any effort to find out — at the very least — where Breitbart got the tape from or whether it was complete. Having said that, Frum’s condemnation of the craven dishonesty, lack of ethics, and hypocrisy in this matter is spot-on.
UPDATE 2: Both Robert Gibbs and Tom Vilsack have now apologized to Sherrod. Gibbs apologized to her indirectly at a press conference, but she was watching at the CNN studios, and you can see her listening on a split screen. Sometime after the Gibbs apology, Tom Vilsack reached Sherrod by phone and apologized to her directly. According to TPM, he “asked her for personal forgiveness and she [gave] it to him.” He also “offered her a new position within the USDA” and she is presently considering whether to accept that offer.
There is also an interesting detail in the second TPM link, above, that Sherrod was tipped off about the video before it aired, and tried to let Vilsack know, via email, but apparently the email was not received:
Sherrod had received advance notice of Breitbart’s intention to (mis)use the clip and had attempted to inform her superiors, including Vilsack, by email — but the email did not get through, and thus her superiors’ first contact with her regarding the incident was after Breitbart’s release of the clip.