Friday, July 23, 2010

Life in Post Racial America

So, last week, the NAACP made the measured criticism that there were vocal racist elements in the Tea Party, and that the Tea Party leadership should condemn these elements if they don't want to be judged by them. A reasonable, measured critique, I thought. The leader of a local Tea Party chapter quickly put to rest the notion of racist elements within the Tea Party by posting a satirical letter from "the Colored People" to President Lincoln praising slavery.

It begins:

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

and concludes with


Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Head Colored Person

I'm not going to post the whole thing, but you can find it easily enough. It's the most racist thing I've read in the modern era. It's absurdly, breathtakingly racist.

Anyway, the author was asked to resign, because there's no way to spin that, and he refused and his chapter refused to oust him, so the larger Tea Party removed them from their ranks. In retaliation against the NAACP for the unforgivable sin of pointing out that racists say racist things, Andrew Breitbart posted a heavily doctored video of a minor USDA official apparently saying that she discriminated against a white farmer.

A little background on Breitbart. This isn't the first time he's done this. You might recall Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which was destroyed by a series of videos where a young man apparently dressed in an outlandish pimp costume gets advice from ACORN employees on how to run a prostitution ring.

ACORN, which had done good work for poor people for decades, working to stop predatory lending, pushing for aid for education and assistance for Katrina, collapsed overnight. The former chair of the Maryland chapter said, "That 20-minute video ruined 40 years of good work."

Later, the videos were exposed as almost total fabrications. The audio had been heavily edited and in some cases, entirely redubbed, the kid who was presented as fur coat clad pimp was really dressed as clean cut college kid, and his story he told the ACORN employees was that he was the boyfriend of a prostitute, trying to save her from a pimp who was stalking her.

Well, "exposed" may be overstating it a bit. In defending their stance on not printing a correction, the New York Times said "The story says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time"; Source: Christ. Even Lily knows she wouldn't get away with a dodge like that.

Anyway, it's not like this is an isolated incident for Breitbart.

Afterwards, the full video of her speech came out, and it's revealed that the point she was making was that it was important to get over the barriers of racism and realize that this is a problem of the poor of every color. The farmers who she'd been initially reluctant to help (by now longtime friends) came forward to say that her efforts had saved their farm.

To recap: An African-American woman is accused of racism through use of a doctored video. Fox News takes up the story and flogs it relentlessly. The Obama administration buys wholeheartedly into the narrative, and sacks the poor woman. The next day, after the damage is done, the media gets around to doing some legwork and figures out that the whole thing was taken wildly out of context. (Here's a timeline of the coverage.) Then Fox and Brietbart started bawling, screaming that they are the real victims, and that the NAACP and the White House are at fault for believing what they said.

Honestly, I'm not sure I dispute that very last part, because they should know better. I mean, Jesus, how many times do you have to fall for the same trick before you stop asking Lucy for another crack at that football?

Back to Sherrod. Her early life reads like a super hero origin story. Her father was murdered by another farmer and an all-white grand jury declined to press charges, and Sherrod vowed then that "I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change." How admirable is that? To her credit, when it became clear that the President was going to offer an apology, Sherrod has said that she didn't need an apology, but would rather use the time to discuss the issues facing struggling farmers. It reminds me of a line from a Doctor Who story, "I know that out of their great evil ... some ... great ... good ... must come."

That may be what will happen here. It looks like this has done more to publicize the plight of the people Sherrod was trying to help than anything almost anything anyone could have done. And I'm big on enjoying the misfortune of others, but Breitbart brought this on himself, and tonight for dessert, I'm treating myself to heaping helping of schadenfreude pie.

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