Sherrod’s “Teachable Moment”

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On the heels of the Justice Department’s controversial dropping a case of voter intimidation against the New Black Panthers and, as Marc Ambinder notes, the Skip Gates beer summit, the Administration – indeed, the entire Executive Branch – seems sensitive to any accusations that the first black president might in an way favor black people. This idea has been a favorite one amongst conservatives (hello, Steve King) for many months.

If anything Shirley Sherrod’s abrupt firing has shown that the Administration tends to overreact and might even be tougher on blacks than previous Administrations. Would this situation – starting with the conservative blog posting the edited video and ending with her firing – have ever happened under George W. Bush? Bill Clinton?

The Obama Administration’s sensitivity to race seems to be exacerbated by the conservative media. Sherrod says that when she was fired she was told it was partly because the agency feared blowback from conservatives like Glenn Beck. When asked if this was the case, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs brushed off the question in today’s briefing, which 90% focused on Sherrod despite the fact that the President had signed financial regulatory reform into law just hours beforehand.

Anyone who’s been following Congress can tell you, Obama has hardly played favorites with African Americans. The Congressional Black Caucus has been lamenting for years that Obama’s election seems to have given Democrats leave to ignore the CBC. Remember last December when CBC members nearly brought down House passage of the financial regulatory reform bill? They did so to protest what they called the White House’s lack of focus on minority joblessness. Promises were made but when the $17 billion jobs bill came around in the Spring the CBC was severely disappointed. Likewise, folks weren’t exactly psyched when Obama skipped the annual Naacp conference this year, sending his wife in his stead. From a Kansas City editorial earlier this month asking the president to reconsider:

Black people haven’t demanded much from Obama, and they have been incredibly forgiving of his neglect. But they aren’t blind.

The evidence continues to mount. Under Obama, African Americans’ concerns have gone begging, including stifling unemployment; poor housing; unsafe neighborhoods; gun violence; a widening wealth gap; poor, segregated underperforming schools; a high dropout rate; health care disparities; low pay; racial profiling; high incarceration rates; and a high infant mortality.

Obama has said his directive was to benefit all Americans and watch the rising tide lift all boats. That sounds good. But racism and discrimination anchor black communities under a deep sludge, where opportunity dies. Everyone else’s rising tide only leaves blacks more frustrated and under water.

Obama spoke a lot about “teachable moments” during the Skip Gates fiasco. He’s been noticeably silent about what lessons might be drawn from this incident. The CBC has proposed a summit on race. That’s not a bad idea. Perhaps one lesson here might be to pay more attention, both to his constituents and their full stories?

Update:
After delivering a statement on Sherrod Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will meet with the CBC.

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