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):

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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.