Shirley Sherrod: On the Vilification of Black Women (Updated)

The intense political firestorm around Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA worker, has once again put racism at the center of many of the mainstream news shows.  Few have done a better job in talking about this than political commentator and Princeton University professor of political science, Melissa Harris Lacewell.  Appearing on MSNBC’s Countdown, she notes that the Sherrod case highlights the way that black women have been vilified in American politics (5:00):

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In this short clip, Harris Lacewell points out that the vilification of black women has been a feature of both the left and the right, both Republicans and Democrats (Bill Clinton, Sister Soulja, anyone?) in this country.   My favorite part of her comments come toward the end when she likens the attacks on Sherrod to that film of a few years ago, “Crash.”  Here’s the transcript of this part of her interview:

It reminds me very much of the Academy-award-winning of 2004, “Crash.”  I heard this story breaking, and I thought, this sounds like that film to me. If you remember that film, the first act of really horrifying racism occurs when the white police officer puts his hand up an African American woman’s dress, a sexual assault on her.  But – in a scene right after that – we see a black woman bureaucrat refusing government services to this police officer’s aging father.  The idea in that film, that the movie made …and we embraced it as a country and felt good about awarding the Oscar … is that the police officer and the low-level bureaucrat are the same, all prejudice is equal, this is the thing the NAACP is moved to do, it’s to explain that it is structural racism matters, not just momentary lapses of prejudice.  Even if that tape had been true, it would not have been the equivalency of Jim Crow, to slavery, to institutional racism.

While many of the mainstream news outlets will blame this on Fox News, or a conservative blogger, or the White House’s “race to judgment,”  the fact is that the vilification of Shirley Sherrod is indicative of a larger pattern of systemic racism in the U.S., and the particular way that black women get vilified in this culture.

UPDATED: For further context on the real racism happening at the USDA, check this link about the systematic pattern of racism at the agency, whose own Commission on Small Farms admitted in 1998 that “the history of discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture … is well-documented” — not against white farmers, but African-American, Native American and other minorities who were pushed off their land by decades of racially-biased laws and practices.

Arizona Native Americans Oppose New Nativist Law



I’ll bet Arizona’s mostly white nativists, including right-wing Republicans, did not see this one coming. Native American groups in Arizona have made it clear they will not enforce the new Arizona anti-immigrants law. An Arizona Capitol Times report by Evan Wyloge states:

Native American tribes are charging that the law was written without considering their unique circumstance and that it will violate their sovereignty and their members’ civil rights. Despite a request by Gov. Jan Brewer’s office to comply with the new law, Native American tribes will continue to oppose it and seek ways to avoid its implementation, said John Lewis, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which represents 20 tribes in the state. [and a fifth of the lands]

One reason is that the new law will

lead to disproportionate stops and detentions for tribal members, violate their sovereignty and negatively impact the tribal economy.

Police officers, especially white officers, are likely to target Native Americans, because they often look Latino. I wonder why that is? Could it be because a majority of Mexicans and Mexican Americans have substantial Native American (indigenous) ancestry?

And that raises another point. Aren’t most European Americans in Arizona and elsewhere the descendants of undocumented immigrants who came into a country without the permission (and often against the opposition) of the existing indigenous inhabitants? (We had no general exclusionary immigration laws until 1920-1924, so requiring immigration documents for all is fairly new in this country’s history.)

Hmmm. Does that also mean that a majority of current Mexican immigrants have deeper historical and ancestral roots in North America, and in what used to be northern Mexico (e.g., Arizona), than European Americans?

Navajo Nation Councilmember Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. has commented on the implications of the law:

“What if we had a law that said whenever a white person is traveling through the Navajo Reservation, we have reasonable suspicion that they’re carrying drugs? Where would the outcry on that be? ….We were here before anyone else, before any white people, and now we’re going to be questioned about being here legally?”

What if, indeed!