After Shirley Sherrod, who needs context?
By Alexandra Petri
Until Shirley Sherrod, I didn’t realize you could go back more than twenty years, find a speech, edit it, and force people to leave their jobs! This prospect excites me.
Maybe the Declaration of Independence should lose its job. Especially after it said that “Governments long established should… be changed for light and transient causes.” Or something like that.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? What an anti-democracy screed! “We here highly resolve... that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall… perish from the earth.” How did he stay president for so long?
And just listen to John F. Kennedy in his "New Frontier" speech! “I hope that no American, considering the really critical issues facing this country, will waste his franchise by voting… for me.”
Even more shocking are these quotes I found from Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech. (True, I might have edited them a little bit.)
“Five score years ago… the flames of withering injustice… came as a joyous daybreak….
This is… time to engage in the luxury of cooling off…
The dark and desolate valley of segregation… is… solid!…
Let us… satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred....
I have a dream that one day this nation will… swelter… with the heat of injustice,… with the heat of oppression… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will… be judged by the color of their skin... I have a dream today!”
No time to check what else he said! Glenn Beck might be mentioning it tonight.
I'm not saying that Shirley Sherrod's remarks were on the level of any of these speeches -- or even that her statements about the interplay of race and class were not potentially controversial. But the least anyone should have done before endorsing, condemning, or firing her was to take stock of her remarks in their full context. You'd think.
Now, the White House has apologized. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said:
I think everybody has to go back and look at what has happened over the past 24 to 36 hours, and ask ourselves how we got into this. How did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions? How did other people not ask the right questions?
Who has time for that? We live in a frenzied, 25-hour news cycle. We're tweeting, opining, trying to be the first out the gate with the boldest response, the snappiest reaction. Reflex has replaced reflection. If someone had just taken the 45 minutes necessary to watch Sherrod's speech and respond to it thoughtfully, we might have been spared 24 hours of embarrassment. But no one did.
How does the saying go? "A little knowledge is a... thing." I'd look it up, but I'm on deadline.
| July 21, 2010; 5:50 PM ET
Categories: Petri | Tags: Alexandra Petri
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