Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Controversial Choice? Tom Vilsack is My Respectable Negro of the Week

contrite [kənˈtraɪt ˈkɒntraɪt]
1. full of guilt or regret; remorseful

2. arising from a sense of shame or guilt contrite promises

3. (Christian Religious Writings / Theology) Theol remorseful for past sin and resolved to avoid future sin
[from Latin contrītus worn out, from conterere to bruise, from terere to grind]

contritely adv

contriteness n


This may be a controversial choice on my part. But what the hell, the joy of these Internets is the freedom to speak one's mind--with little (or much) consequence. I have much to offer in the upcoming days on The Saga of Shirley Sherrod--some guest posts, a "big" piece, and some random thoughts that will hopefully be worth your time.

In this moment, Shirley Sherrod is our virtual Rosa Parks. And Lord 'cause it must be said, I hope she sues the hell out of Fox and Breitbart for slander. But, there is another half of the story, one oddly fitting given Mrs. Sherrod's theme of race and racial reconciliation.

Today, upset, grumpy, and fired up on a hot Chicago afternoon without a/c in my den, I watched a breaking news story where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a minor cabinet official whom I have never seen before on television, called a press conference and apologized for preemptively pressuring Shirley Sherrod to resign from her job with his department. I must admit: I watched open mouthed and quite surprised.

He didn't whitewash his misdeeds. Vilsack didn't backtrack. He owned his behavior and the errors he made in firing a good, hard working, public servant.

We extol folks for great deeds. But oftentimes, greatness is not defined by charging a machine gun, fighting off racist cops during Jim Crow, or leading slaves to freedom. Strength and honor can come from doing the right thing when it is profoundly inconvenient. In that spirit, I nominate Tom Vilsack as my respectable negro of the week (because he did the right thing when it would have been easier to have done wrong...and yes it is a given that Shirley Sherrod is in my personal hall of fame). For me, Vilsack's press conference is the very definition of being contrite and professional. Moreover, Tom Vilsack committed a near cousin to seppuku, in an age where cowardice is common and sport, his deeds today were indeed special, unique, and worthy of a pat on the back and a firm, eye locked hand shake between brothers.

Ultimately, in the quasi post-racial age of Obama, for a white man of some decades to get on television and admit that we still have work to do on race (in his own bureau) and to say "my bad" earns a handshake from me. Racial progress does not always come from the loudest, the most vocal, or those who march in the street. Contrary to those seeking the dramatic, often, it is the work of folk of all colors, doing the correct thing quietly (or in this case before millions), with dignity and little acknowledgment that moves mountains sometimes by an inch, and sometimes by miles. These folks do the good and the moral because these deeds are simply the right thing to do. An awkward sentence, but one true to the story of race and progress in this country and the triumphs of the Black Freedom Struggle.

Pray tell. Am I being too forgiving?


macon d said...

Yeah, but what if we find out he was basically told to apologize and offer her a new and better job?

Joanna said...

I am glad she was offered her job back, but to be real, this man is not the one I was angry at....President Obama should have known better than to capitulate to right wing demands before learning the whole story... I am disappointed in him for bending over backwards on so many occasions to "prove" he doesn't "favor" Black people, often throwing them under the bus in so doing!

John Kurman said...

A hero for displaying common decency? I think not.

However, I do think Breitbart should be shoved back up into Matt Drudge's rectum. Obviously, sunlight and fresh air do not work well on him.