One Quick Note On the Shirley Sherrod Fallout
July 24, 2010

The Shirley Sherrod fiasco (background here) is regrettable for a number of reasons, but one consequence that’s stood out in my mind is a particularly disingenuous new meme being promulgated by defenders of the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other conservative factions and figureheads that feed off of racial resentment. Here’s a taste from Michael Moynihan:

But the unfair charge of racism, fascism, and Nazism, correctly denounced when spouted by Glenn Beck, seems something of a regular feature on Journolist.

Or:

But false (or flimsy) accusations of racism abound—they are everywhere one looks—though they rarely provoke the level of outrage seen in the Sherrod affair.

Or:

All of this will soon be forgotten, thankfully, and the charming and efficient pundits of Washington, D.C. will go back to observing the “racist” Tea Party movement and that stupid conservatives aren’t stupid but “neo-fascists.”

And so on and so forth. It’s actually pretty clever: you concede that Sherrod was unfairly maligned, and then say, “See? Both sides have to deal with unfair accusations of race-baiting.” It’s a pretty exemplary model of false equivalence done well.

Of course, the difference comes down not to the accusation itself, but to context. Sherrod’s remarks weren’t just taken out of context—they were deliberately manipulated in the most misleading way possible, and most of what has been said in her defense was all about simply stating the real context. Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example, just provided her full speech with minimal comment.

Moynihan and others, on the other hand, defend folks like Beck and Limbaugh by kvetching disingenuously that their remarks were “taken out of context” without actually explicating the context. And there’s a good reason for that: the context just makes them look even worse.

So a word to my conservative friends: I’d caution you think really hard about what you’re doing here. I’m sympathetic to reasonable conservatives upset with having their entire movement painted as racist; may I suggest that those same reasonable conservatives can do something about this by condemning and ostracizing overtly racist elements on the right. At the very least, refrain from circling the wagons around them. How hard could that be?

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