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Senate hosts tea party: Black Farmers, Native Americans, Shirley Sherrod Not Invited

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Jul 28, 2010

Even  as Shirley Sherrod captured the attention of the nation last week, Senate Republicans torpedoed appropriations due tens of thousands of Black farmers and Native Americans after years of litigation aimed at rectifying  federal discrimination and mismanagement.  Stripping the appropriations from a bill to fund the war—with the final bill passing by unanimous consent—the Senate tea party marked a new low in the chamber that fails consistently to address the persistent legacy of racism in America.

As a result, some sixty thousand Black farmers were denied $1.2 billion in settlement funds emerging from litigation with the Department of Agriculture; Native Americans were denied $3.4 billion appropriated to settle litigation with the Department of Interior, which long ago deemed them incompetent to own land and then took their money and squandered it in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Decades of discrimination and racism met head-on in the courts and redressed to some degree were, in minutes, rekindled by an all-white Senate concerned about deficit spending only when it applies to our neighbors of color, to our families and friends who are unemployed, or to those among us who are most destitute.

This, in short, is the agenda of tea partiers, who thread racial anxiety into the fabric of political discourse and whose primary aim is reduced government and maintenance of the dominant culture.  Senators seem to be in love with them.

That the Senate took this action in the thick of the debacle unleashed against Shirley Sherrod is telling.  With finger-pointing in every direction, the fact that the entire affair was precipitated by an utterly unscrupulous race-baiter was quickly subsumed by the explosion of media coverage.  What better time for Senators to throw Black farmers and Native Americans into the ditch once again.

The irony, of course, is that Shirley Sherrod has for years fought for Black, white, Native American, and other farmers whose lives, livelihoods, families, and communities were torn apart for generations by the racism of federal employees and agencies.  On the very day when her own story came to light,  the very peoples she has served and supported were once again denied a portion of the justice she and they fought for by Senators concerned only about November 2, a single day in their own lives.

Shirley Sherrod will come out of this story strong because she is the very essence of integrity, faithfulness, and courage, and because she knows full-well the costs inherent in a life given to the struggle for justice.  She and Charles and their entire family have been in the trenches for a lifetime, in partnership with countless others in the civil and human rights journey that knows full-well both victory and defeat.  Surrounded by friends and colleagues from the venerable Federation for Southern Cooperatives, and by countless others across the nation and globe, she will prevail.

And then she will return to join the battle to secure the justice denied last week by Senators who know nothing of the trenches or the struggle, or of her or  the people.  And the tea party and the Senators who love it will be but a footnote in the ever-emerging narrative of justice.

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