Fired USDA of­fi­cial re­gards tu­mult as teach­able moment

Sher­rod says she’ll sue ac­tivist blog­ger, of­fer Obama les­son

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Lonnae O’Neal Parker and Michael D. Shear

SAN DIEGO — Fired U.S. Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment em­ployee Shirley Sher­rod, speak­ing Thurs­day at a con­ven­tion of black jour­nal­ists, said that she hopes her story will be a cat­a­lyst for racial di­a­logue and that she in­tends to sue the con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist whose blog post of an out-of-con­text video led to her ouster.

“I def­i­nitely will” sue An­drew Bre­it­bart, Sher­rod said at the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Black Jour­nal­ists con­ven­tion in San Diego. “What do I have to be afraid of ?”

In the small por­tion of the video posted on Bre­it­bart’s web­site, Sher­rod, who is black, said she had been re­luc­tant to help a white farmer who sought her aid 24 years ago.

In the com­plete speech, she used the episode to de­scribe how she sub­se­quently rec­og­nized that her prej­u­dice was wrong — a re­al­iza­tion that led her to help the farmer.

Sher­rod was ini­tially forced to re­sign from her agency job, but when the en­tire con­text of the re­marks be­came known, Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack apol­o­gized to her and of­fered her a new po­si­tion at the depart­ment in the out­reach di­vi­sion.

Bre­it­bart could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment on Thurs­day.

Sher­rod’s re­marks to the con­ven­tion came the same day that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama made his most ex­ten­sive com­ments to date on Sher­rod’s fir­ing, call­ing it an over­re­ac­tion to a “bo­gus con­tro­versy” and say­ing that she “de­serves bet­ter than what hap­pened last week.”

In a speech to the Na­tional Ur­ban League in Washington, Obama ac­cepted some blame for the over­re­ac­tion on be­half of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But he crit­i­cized the ini­tial re­lease of the video of Sher­rod’s speech, say­ing it was “based on se­lected and deceiving ex­cerpts.”

The pres­i­dent said the story Sher­rod told in that speech was “ex­actly what we need to hear” in Amer­ica, and he urged the coun­try to have an ex­tended con­ver­sa­tion about the bi­ases that ev­ery­one holds.

“Rather than jump to con­clu­sions,” he said, “we should all look in­ward and try to ex­am­ine what’s in our own hearts.”

In wide-rang­ing re­marks in San Diego, Sher­rod talked about the per­sonal toll her fir­ing last week had taken.

“I felt like a fail­ure af­ter July 19,” she said.

Sher­rod said she was still con­sid­er­ing a job of­fer from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but would take a po­si­tion only if it would al­low a se­ri­ous look at eco­nomic and racial in­equities in ru­ral devel­op­ment.

Sher­rod said she thought her sit­u­a­tion might have played out dif­fer­ently if many of those in­volved, in­clud­ing those in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, “did a bet­ter job un­der­stand­ing the his­tory.”

When asked if she thought Obama needed a his­tory les­son, she said, “Well, yes, I think he does — that’s why I in­vited him to Ge­or­gia.”

She said she wants Obama to see that there’s rea­son for hope, but also that “we don’t get along the way we should. He should come down and see that first­hand.”

Shirley Sher­rod

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