For all the left's mocking of Andrew Breitbart, in the post-ACORN era the Obama administration seems to have taken a reflexive supine position on any selectively edited "bombshell" stories he happens to produce. In this case, Breitbart responded to the NAACP's request that the Tea Party purge the racist elements of its movement by releasing a selectively edited video (Breitbart claims he didn't edit it himself) of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA's development director of Georgia, telling an audience at an NAACP gathering she discriminated against a white farmer because he was white.
Sherrod was promptly forced out of the USDA, and the NAACP released a statement last night calling her actions "shameful." Some pundits who supported the NAACP's resolution against the Tea Party fell all over themselves trying to issue condemnations of Sherrod to prove they weren't hypocrites. The larger context of the video, and the story, appears to be Sherrod explaining how she realized she was wrong, ultimately becoming friends with the farmer and his wife. The story was really about how Sherrod learned to look past race -- something that's frankly impossible if one is unwilling to admit to ever being motivated by racial animus.
The past few weeks, during which, between the Tea Party's reaction to the NAACP and the right-wing obsession with the New Black Panther case, the national conversation on race has degenerated into a racial farce that could have been concocted by George C. Wolfe, it's hard not to conclude, as Jamelle Bouie does, that Eric Holder was right:
If there's anything that strikes me most about both incidents, it's that they completely vindicate Attorney General Eric Holder's assertion that the United States is a "nation of cowards" when it comes to discussing race. I understand that a lot of Americans feel really uncomfortable talking about race, but that's no excuse for the week we spent debating whether the NAACP is racist against white people, or the fact that the Obama administration punished a dedicated federal employee for the "crime" of speaking honestly about race. Instead of tackling these issues with maturity and candor, we spend our time rebuffing accusations of racism -- because there are no racists in America -- and shouting nonsense complaints about "reverse racism," while provocateurs like Andrew Breitbart and Glenn Beck distort our understanding of racism and prejudice.
Both the conservative reaction to the NAACP and the broad rush to condemn Sherrod reveal one damning detail about our particular cowardice on race: We are more far more worried about being seen as racist than we are about being good human beings. And that is fucking cowardly.
This post has been edited for clarity.