A GOLDEN LESSON
By: Wayne Brown
Each week the news seems to just shift to the next disaster in the making. News people should not be at a loss for something to report considering the number of chaotic situations that are currently on the books for the good ol’ USA. The only thing that seems to remain constant is the reaction that I have to the information.
Shirley Sherrod was fired from the Department of Agriculture this week because a portion of a speech she made to an NAACP meeting last year surfaced in the media. The tape appeared to be such a smoking gun that Agriculture Dept. officials refused to let Ms. Sherrod arrive back at her home before demanding her resignation. She literally had to pull over on the side of the road and resign. Now that’s what one can really call a “zero tolerance” policy.
As it works out, Ms. Sherrod was absolved of her wrongdoings and appears to now be headed for a cushy job at headquarters in DC teaching others within the Agricultural Department how to conduct themselves in terms of race, gender, etc. I was relieved that she was not given the assignment to teach others how to make a speech which is really what caused all of this mess in the first place.
As we find out from the media follow ups, Ms. Sherrod was simply trying to share her transformation from a racist to one of servant of all of poor humanity. Of course, she waited until the end of her speech to point out that fact. So with NAACP people around her in the audience offering their affirmation, she related how she took steps to avoid helping a rather uppity white farmer get his comeuppance. Had these folks been aware that she were discussing the “error of her former ways” they might not have been so quick to offer encouraging remarks along the way.
But all of that is history now and likely Ms. Sherrod will have another opportunity to deliver this same story to others over the years. I can only hope that she will take the opportunity to preface it upfront so those listening will understand that there is a lesson contained in the description of her actions as opposed to just listening to someone relate a racist experience. She would be well served by this step in my opinion.
This incident left me wondering where the limits actually are in these situations. No doubt, because it occurred across two racial lines, it was a racial incident. What if it had not been racial? What if the farmer had also been black and still took a position in which he wanted to show Ms. Sherrod that he was ‘superior’ to her. What do you suppose her reaction might have been in that situation? How would she have sorted it out? Would she have given the man all the help he deserved? No one really knows but on the basis of human nature, I would venture a guess that he might have received a very similar treatment that the white farmer received in the incident. But in this scenario, he would have been treated that way not for racial purposes but for the real reason…he was rude!
This is the real story here and it is a rather boring one. Ms. Sherrod came in contact with a rude farmer who happened to be white. It happens to people working in the public sector every day and they don’t like it either. We all want to feel that we are treated fairly and decently. Rude comes in all colors and on a regular basis.
Even though the color may change, we all recognize ‘rude’ when we see it and we all probably have a similar reaction…we are not prone to be abundantly helpful to someone who is treating us in this manner. I dare say that such a reaction will not get you on the nightly news and maybe will never even be noticed by those around you or the person who is dealing out the rudeness. But add the “racist card” and the media will come running to see whose goose gets cooked.
I wrote this piece not as a condemnation of Ms. Sherrod’s actions nor am I implying that a certain aspect of race may not have entered the picture. Only Ms. Sherrod would know that if she could indeed answer such a question objectively. I wrote it to say that we need to frame what we say to others properly and with the timing that prepares the receiver to understand the journey that you are taking them on. Otherwise, someone might just construe your tale to be one of “racism”.
We are all human beings regardless of our skin color or background. We all have our traits, talents, and flaws. For some of us, our flaws seem to overshadow all that is good about us and hide it from those with whom we interact. For some, flaws work to their advantage in that they have been rewarded at times for being pushy and intimidating thus they continue to employ that skill proudly.
In the end, the truth of the matter is that we all have to live with and among each other. It works far better when we can be appreciative and respectful of one another in going about the business of our daily lives. The old Golden Rule still holds truth, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We need to remember that, use it, and put the race card in a drawer somewhere to collect dust.
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