Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shirley Sherrod

A U.S. Agriculture Department official from Georgia said Tuesday that she was forced to resign by the Obama administration after she was caught on tape describing how, 24 years ago, she did not help a white farmer as much as she could have because of his race.

Sherrod said the calls came from Cheryl Cook, USDA deputy undersecretary for rural development. "The administration was not interested in hearing the truth. They didn't want to hear the truth," she said. Sherrod said she and the white farmer she referred to in the video, Roger Spooner, became friends. Spooner's wife, Eloise, confirmed to CNN that she and her husband considered Sherrod friends. "She helped us save our farm by getting in there and doing everything she could do," Eloise Spooner said. "They haven't treated her right." Sherrod said she told the story to make the point that at the time she thought that white farmers had the advantages because of their race but she learned that was not the case.

-------------- Did Obama administration and others overreact to the Sherrod/USDA incident? Sherrod says the Tea Party scares the Obama administration so that's not likely to help her on the next job. She said her civil rights record is better than some of those on the NAACP board.

I watched the CNN interview with Sherrod this morning, in which Eloise Spooner phoned in. She's the white farmer's wife.

Here's my take on the situation. I didn't feel good about Sherrod's body language. I trust my reading of "tells" and body language for information about a person's inner workings. Sherrod's body language felt deceptive, or at least insincere.

And there's the question, if Sherrod knew her heart was innocent of the accusations, why she did not stand up for herself harder and longer to the Obama administration. She's been in bureaucracy long enough to know how to do that. Self-defense is the first thing a bureaucrat learns.

Now, barely a day later she is hitting the airwaves to say it's all a misunderstanding - so I guess she's recalling the how-to of self-defense. Likely too much too late. She is scheduled to appear on Fox any moment. More minutes of the tape make her look less bigoted and racist, and make Breitbart mean and nasty for their editing.

On more of the tape, Sherrod does mention the "haves" and "have nots" which is the usual progressive rhetoric - but that was her audience. More tape does not make her more appealing. She admits she had no interest in agriculture but others encouraged her to get into it because there were not enough blacks in government agricultural jobs, and you know how sweet a government job is... in essence admitting what 99% of our government is: Folks going into the work for money and perks - not because they care and are good at it.

In Mrs. Spooner's call to CNN and from what I could sort out, Sherrod and the Spooners have not talked to one another in many years, and had very little contact, other than Mr. Spooner's (now age 87) original meeting with Sherrod, a few phone calls, and Eloise dropping by Sherrod's Georgia office to give her some tomatoes - that's the extent of the "good friends" relationship. Appears Sherrod sent Spooner to a lawyer twice with the second lawyer helping them save their farm, end of story. Sherrod was unaware that Mr. Spooner was still living. Maybe the definition of "friends" has changed.

But, having been born and raised in the south - let me tell you something about southern folk, black and white.

We tell tales. Big tales and little tales. We embellish mundane events. We exaggerate the commonplace and everyday ordinary events in our lives. Quite frankly, we b.s. A lot. As I'm looked upon as a "worldwide traveler" and "educated" my tales carry a lot of weight and importance, but I try not to capitalize on that.

We southerners do this because we like story telling, we like an audience, we like feeling important and we are almost always the main character in our own stories. We like to entertain any ears that will listen. We will tell these tales our entire life, editing old tales as we go along, and adding news tales at every chance we get. Tales can be half-truths, quarter-truth, or sometimes truth be damned.

Our children will tell our tales, sometimes our grandchildren, prefaced with "my mom told me one time ..." or "my grandpa told me one time ..." Our tales are a form of oral family history. Jumbled memories - as sometimes I hear my brother telling a tale that was mine. Some tale tellers adopt other people's tales as their own and the polite thing is not to call them on it.

In our tale telling we always come out the winner, the good guy, the one-up, the important one. We want our listeners to feel ... "geewhiz I wish that had happened to me..." or "wow, you really had a special moment" or "glad that wasn't me 'cause I couldn't have been as brave, as big, as bad ..." etc. etc. We especially like tales where we appear to have epiphanies, an awakening, enlightenment, our shining moment, and nothing is better than the tale of having been next to, touched, looked at, spoken to, or met anyone deemed an important person or famous person (even if just the local small town VIPs).

I think Shirley and Eloise are both using personal tales, embellishments of an ordinary event, that became a story to tell around the Sunday dinner table or use in a public speech.

But, for this to be a cautionary tale, I would say - white folks probably shouldn't bet the family farm on Shirley.

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