Wednesday, July 21, 2010


It's truly amazing how quickly the sliming of Shirley Sherrod morphed into a story not about the wrong inflicted upon a good and decent person and those who perpetrated and perpetuated the lie behind it, but rather about whether the "Tea Party" – whatever that is – has supposedly been wronged by the NAACP.  Witness the Times-Herald's op-ed page of July 21 – two columns, an editorial, a scurrilous cartoon…and nary a mention of Ms. Sherrod, Andrew Breitbart who peddled the doctored video of her March 27 remarks in Georgia, or Fox News which spread the calumny on our public airwaves.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous has apologized for being "snookered" by the Fox noise machine, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has apologized for his knee-jerk firing of Ms. Sherrod, and White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs has apologized for the White House's undefined role (Might I suggest cowardice?) in all this.
Meanwhile, the firebugs at Fox contentedly, silently, watch the conflagration they've sparked spread across the land.  They offer no apologies and, indeed, they smilingly, shamelessly continue to sprinkle fuel on the fire, as their right wing regulars – Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck – egg on the burgeoning brawl between the NAACP and the "Tea Party" and a steady-stream of new black faces is trotted out to trash icons of the civil rights movement like John Lewis and hijack the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Americans – black, white…brown, red, and yellow – who love this imperfect country and seek its perfection find themselves sick at heart close to tears, as others – those who over and over again use the tools of division to gain and maintain power – very consciously, very deliberately sow racial strife.
This time, however, they've gone too far!  This cannot stand!
It's time for those care to stand up, to fight back, and - in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer (T-H, July 21) – to stop denying racism and start confronting it.  It's time to speak the truth.
What is the truth?  In the matter at hand – this whole sordid Shirley Sherrod affair – the truth is that it is not an isolated, stand-alone story, but rather part and parcel of a concerted, rather transparent effort by the right wing noise machine to inject the  extraneous issue of race, into this year's congressional elections. 
How else to interpret Fox's obsessive year-long drumbeat about perceived black racism?  How else to explain Sean Hannity's repetitive replaying of very old videos of Rev. Jeremiah Wright giving voice to sometimes uncomfortable truths?  Of Glenn Beck's persecution of that "communist" Van Jones?  Of their stories that resulted in the shutting down of ACORN…stories based on undercover videos shot by since-indicted faux "reporter" Dennis O'Keefe?  Of their dredging up of a minor two-year old story on the inconsequential New Black Panther Party…a story based on the "he said, she said" charges of a Republican operative who once worked for the Justice Department.  Of their denigration of the long and deeply respected NAACP?  There's a pattern here and it's a dangerous game, this picking at our national scab.
What is the truth?  The raw material, the muck of this campaign is regularly concocted and served up by extremist bloggers like Breitbart.  It is mud that would sink of its own weight into their paranoid swamp were it not picked up and injected into the national discourse by Fox.  Theirs is a symbiotic, self-serving relationship, now laid bare by their over-reaching.  Here they have engaged in a smear too far.
What is the truth?   For years, the foot soldiers and front groups of this operation have been financed in the shadows by a coterie of billionaires intent on preserving their personal fortunes at any cost.  To hell with ethics!  To hell with the national interest!  Theirs are not household names, but their fingerprints are everywhere.  They're not hard to find.  Just google names like Charles G. and David H. Koch, Robert J. Perry, T. Boone Pickens, Richard Mellon Scaife, Harold Simmons…and, yes, Rupert Murdoch.
What is the truth?  The very sad, profound truth in all this, Deroy Murdock (TH, July 21) aside, is that "screaming 'racism'" in 2010 is not at all "delusional."  For racism is alive and well in twenty-first-century America and, I fear, getting worse.    
What is the truth?  The "Tea Party," conceived and birthed last year by billionaire lobbyists and nurtured by ideologues like those at Fox as a vehicle to bring down health care legislation and, ultimately, the Obama Administration, has become a seedbed for such racism, hijacking the legitimate concerns of its many well-meaning followers.  For me, that racism is manifest in the movement's call to "take back our country."  One has to ask "Who are we and from whom are we taking back our country?" 
And, like Langston Hughes, I have to ask whether that America was ever mine?  For, like Hughes, the America I seek has yet to be.  It is the America of his majestic Let America Be America Again and, I have to believe, of Ronald Reagan's vision of that "shining city on a hill."  As Hughes wrote from the pain and sorrow of the pre-Civil Rights era:     
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
Despite all the laws and all the progress and all the delusions of the Murdocks of the world who weren't there and don't remember, we are still struggling to reclaim that America that has yet to be.
Please, Mr. President, lead us in that struggle.  Give that speech we now need.  Open the dialogue we now yearn for.  Speak our shared truth from our painfully shared history.  Call us to our better selves.
Yes, we can!  Can you?

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