by Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
In the wake of the Sherrod Affair, “one is obliged to ask: Does this administration have a moral center?” The Obama administration has a hair-trigger instinct to fire – to relegate to the “Sacrifice Zone” – anyone targeted by the Right. But the truly bad actors are part of his team. “If the president was really interested in ferreting out the bad actors in the federal government, with proven, jury verdict-certified records of discrimination, retaliation, and maintenance of a hostile work environment, he would have to look no further than his own hand-picked energy czar, Carol Browner.”
Shirley Sherrod's Bizarre Week in the Sacrifice Zone
by Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“The Obama administration sacrificed a decent woman to out right wing the right wing.”
While as of 4:30 PM Monday there were 4660 stories about Shirley Sherrod, there were considerably fewer themes to these. Most express outrage at the sliming of a good woman on bogus claims of her being a racist by Andrew Breitbart—who seems certifiably one. Most express some level of shock and anger that gets evenly apportioned between the Obama White House, Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack (whose department has a long and deplorable history of racism both towards Black Farmers as well as black employees), the NAACP and the media for their cluster rush to judgment in vilifying this good woman without sufficient vetting of the facts. On whole, the stories find redemption not only in the untrammeled story Shirley Sherrod told during her speech at a March 2010 NAACP meeting, but also in the way that those who served Breitbart's madness have apologized to Ms. Sherrod, confident that however this plays out it will have a happy ending—affording us yet another teachable moment.
President Obama, his senior advisors and the various media that have washed their hands of any involvement in the sliming would have us believe this time was an anomaly of one innocent victim who was targeted by the far right. Further, they argue, the need to get out in front of the new, relentless, 24/7 news cycle improperly influenced the decision to offer up Sherrod as oblation to the gods of—what exactly? That's the part that escapes their explanations centered on redemption, omnivorous news cycles and the regrettable lack of due diligence.
“Only 2% of those determined enough to file complaints will prevail in court.”
But there are inside the federal bureaucracy tens of thousands of discrimination complaints filed annually against discriminating managers by countless whistleblowers—decent people just like Shirley Sherrod—who are discriminated against and suffer retaliation in absolute anonymity. Visit any federal government website and click on the No FEAR icon on its front page and view the data on discrimination and retaliation—albeit the statistics are generated by the discriminating agencies themselves. These are not bogus charges brought frivolously against managers in angelic hierarchies. These are honest individuals who face the crushing boots of the federal government's discriminating and retaliating managers who are astute at using a playbook of tactics designed to silence and destroy them. Their ordeal does not end with the next news cycle. This is not a one-week phenomenon.
These invisible victims, are dragged through a federal and judicial sacrifice zone and endure reprisals for five, ten (or as many as it takes to break them) years. Only 2% of those determined enough to file complaints will prevail in court. The losing 98% simply could not withstand the onslaught their managers brought by virtue of unlimited financial and legal resources via the US Department of Justice. Their careers, families, health, and lives are often ruined. That was the story the Obama Administration hoped no one would learn about. By getting out front with profuse apologies, the Shirley Sherrod story could remain an isolated case. The face of institutional racism and retaliation inside the federal government remaining the sacred cow the news media refuses to cover.
It is disheartening to know that without the benefit of a foaming-at-the-mouth racist misrepresenting their story, the plight of thousands of federal workers has no appeal for the mainstream media. No, they are more interested in stories of redemption and happy endings than they are in looking at the fact that the Obama administration sacrificed a decent woman to out right wing the right wing. But since Mr. Obama has repeatedly been compared to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one is obliged to ask: Does this administration have a moral center?
“There are inside the federal bureaucracy tens of thousands of discrimination complaints filed annually against discriminating managers by countless whistleblowers—decent people just like Shirley Sherrod—who are discriminated against and suffer retaliation in absolute anonymity.”
Now, when Americans of every color and race have that dreaded day arrive and we hear the inquisitive voice of our children asking: "What is a racist?" we can happily turn to the full 43 minute video of Sherrod's speech as a morality play on the human heart's triumph over its own worst inner workings. And to Shirley Sherrod's eternal credit, it is.
But how do we mitigate what seems on its face to be a rabid appetite to address issues of racism and retaliation in American political culture—as evidenced by the Obama administration's and the media's piling on Shirley Sherrod—when this first offering in years is faux racism? Have an incendiary video charging an African American of racism posted by the same hatchet man for the far right who had been thoroughly repudiated by his laughable ACORN story? No problem. Send it to Fox News, kick back and enjoy the show.
Salon's Joan Walsh offers a tantalizing 50-state "Southern strategy" argument, saying:
"The most important point is this: Fox News has, sadly, become the purveyor of a 50-state ‘Southern strategy,’ the plan perfected by Richard Nixon to use race to scare Southern Democrats into becoming Republicans by insisting the other party wasn't merely trying to fight racism, but give blacks advantages over whites (Fox News boss Roger Ailes, of course, famously worked for Nixon). Now Fox is using the election of our first black president to scare (mainly older) white people in all 50 states that, again, the Democratic Party is run by corrupt black people trying to give blacks advantages over whites (MSNBC's Rachel Maddow laid out this history last week)."
Yet even if we turn to another victim of the same smear machine, former Special Advisor to the president for Green Jobs, Van Jones, we find his recent analysis of the Sherrod affair with the Nation's Ari Melber in Los Vegas curiously bland in its assessment:
"...the information system has taken a huge leap forward, but the wisdom system has not. And so you can get any data you want about anybody and any time that you want and do anything with it that you want with it. And people are now engineering viruses and pumping them into the body politic but we don't have the antibodies yet. And it will be a long process. Eventually what will happen, big picture, is that 5% of the country will have an experience like mine, lost a job because of something on Facebook, then it will be 10%, and then it will be 15% and then it will stop. Because enough people will have seen it or enough people will have it happen to them or a friend that there will be a completely different level of wisdom in the culture and society."
“In an attempt to placate white voters the Obama administration needed a sacrificial black offering and they thought Breitbart's video provided the perfect lamb.”
But neither Walsh nor Jones go far enough. The "50-state Southern strategy" (50-S3) argument provides a brilliant insight not only into what informs Fox and other propagandist organizations, but into what the Obama administration does not want anyone to believe about Shirley Sherrod's firing—that in an attempt to placate the same white voters targeted by the 50-S3 the Obama administration needed a sacrificial black offering and they thought Breitbart's video provided the perfect lamb.
Perhaps Jones' faith in our country's ability to adapt to technology can be attributed to the leftover hallucinogenic effect of six heady months inside the White House, or its potent Koolaid. Or perhaps it's the Kafka-esque quality of this story that has captured the nation's attention. But for thousands of federal workers engulfed in the unbreathable choke of institutional racism there won't be any apologetic calls from this president. The only calls they are likely to be receiving will be coming from Assistant United States Attorneys who have a summons in one hand and a retaliatory playbook in the other.
As I pointed out in a story about Mr. Obama's other BP (black people) problem two weeks ago, if the president was really interested in ferreting out the bad actors in the federal government, with proven, jury verdict-certified records of discrimination, retaliation, and maintenance of a hostile work environment, he would have to look no further than his own hand-picked energy czar, Carol Browner. But let's just wait and see if any in the mainstream media, the president's staff, or the lunatic right have any interest in addressing that sad-but-true story.
Dr. Coleman-Adebayo is the founder and president of the NO FEAR Institute in Washington, D.C. She served as the Executive Secretary of the Environment Working Group of the EPA’s delegation to the Gore/Mbeki Binational Commission during the Clinton administration. Her victory in the Title VII complaint of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Coleman-Adebayo v Carol Browner inspired the passage of the NO FEAR Act of 2002. (Notification of Federal Employees Antidiscrimination and Retaliation). Her accounting of her experience in the federal government is documented in her first book, No FEAR that will be released later this year.