(Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESSAP)
Almost a year ago, in July of 2010, a United States Department of Agriculture employee named Shirley Sherrod was fired from her job when a doctored tape appeared to depict her making a racist comment. In fact, Sherrod, who is Black, had been talking to an NAACP event about why not to be prejudiced when the video was taken. But the media didn’t know that, and it reported on the tape, which was edited and released by infamous conservative Andrew Breitbart, as if it were fact. Within hours of the tape’s release, Sherrod was fired.
In 24 hours the real, unedited tape was released, and Sherrod was vindicated. Her boss, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with egg on his face, begged her to come back—but she declined.
In the months since leaving Agriculture, Sherrod has made it her business to speak to the importance of diversity in business and farming, and she’s also written about the issue in magazines like The American Prospect. “[M]y abrupt firing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture following a right-wing blogger's outrageous misrepresentation of my views and behavior, together with other events, only further demonstrates that the work is not done,” Sherrod wrote in March of this year. “Racism is still a powerful force. It is more critical now than ever to find ways to discuss racism and defeat it.”
This week, Sherrod has decided to attack racism herself, and she’s going back to the USDA to do it. Following the release of a new report last week that found the USDA continues to be poisoned by an ugly vein of racism and prejudice, Sherrod announced Saturday that she is going to be an Agriculture contract employee tasked with improving the relationship with the USDA and minority farmer and ranchers.
Sherrod will be based in southwest Georgia, where she was formerly the Georgia director of rural development.
In December, President Obama signed into law a multibillion dollar Pigford case settlement, a lawsuit settlement decades in the making that finally gave some satisfaction to Black farmers, who had for years suffered poor treatment at the hands of the USDA. With Sherrod now back at Agriculture, the hope is that a lawsuit like Pigford will never be filed again. It’s hard enough to be a farmer anymore, regardless of what color you are. That Sherrod is well aware of the racism alive and well in this country bodes well for the forgotten farmers under her purview.