Shirley Sherrod Can't End Racism Alone: Opinion

Blame right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart. Blame the Fox News Channel, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. Blame the NAACP, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Obama. Or take this as an opportunity to heal our nation's oldest wound: racism.

After a doctored tape tarnished Shirley Sherrod's life work and credibility and got her fired, even the president reached out to Sherrod. The former Agriculture Department employee was still weighing her options Friday morning.

Shirley-Sherrod
Shirley Sherrod

After several days of drama, the upshot: Racists are delusional psychos who should be institutionalized or at least fired; journalism without fact-checking is just fiction; fat cats look just as awkward eating crow as everyone; and this is the rebirth of the age of the Crucible, ruled by gossip, suspicion and snap judgments.

African-American Shirley Sherrod, whose father was allegedly murdered by white men in a hate crime that was never prosecuted, has devoted the bulk of her career to fighting racism. She initially pledged to help only poor African-American farmers, who have for decades allegedly been denied the same loans and grants offered their "white counterparts." (Mental note: When it comes to racism, "counterpart" is a counterproductive word in the healing process. But I digress.)

Sherrod told her personal growth story at an NAACP lecture, using language she knew would engage the crowd. As an employee of the USDA, Sherrod shared how she shook her racist views and teamed with white farmers Roger and Eloise Spooner to help them fight to keep their land. It was no longer about black and white, said Sherrod. It had become about poor people, regardless of race.

Breitbart posted on his site an edited clip from this lecture that, when taken out of context, made Sherrod appear racist. The story was picked up by Fox, and within days, the NAACP, O'Reilly, liberal and conservative bloggers and media pundits called for her ouster. Vilsack obliged; in a knee-jerk reaction, injustice was swiftly served.

Once the full 35-minute speech was reviewed, the villain became a hero. Sherrod's former boss Vilsack and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offered their apologies. Vilsack, who had received a transcript of only a few minutes of the speech, admitted to making a snap decision and offered "the good woman" a new position at the USDA.

Sherrod so far has not accepted the job offer, a position that calls for her to address racism in the USDA, a daunting task for any one person. Sherrod has said that in order for her to succeed in such a role, she would need both the support of the USDA and the administration.

The uproar diverted major media attention from Obama as he signed the financial reform bill into law Wednesday.

Sherrod can't end racism at the USDA alone. President Obama, who is of mixed race, can't end racism in the White House by himself. Racism is a mental illness that requires deprogramming. Classes and coursework on racism should begin in elementary schools and continue through college, just like history or math. I would love to see that during this administration.

Who's lighter? Who's smarter? Who's the fairest? Racism is crushing America and our global family, and it's bad for business.

We have diagnosed and talked about this illness long enough. We have applied bandages here and there, through affirmative this and anti-profiling that, but this country needs a full-body detox, if we ever are to truly heal.