In defending his decision to fire Shirley Sherrod, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained multiple times that his department has a "sordid" and "checkered" history of both overt and institutionalized racism. But with the term "racism" being tossed around rather a lot recently, it is important to understand both what he meant -- and what role that acknowledged racism played in Shirley Sherrod's life.
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It's also important to understand that Andrew Breitbart's timing of the release of the grossly distorted video of Sherrod, which he admits having had for weeks, may not be entirely random. Congress will soon vote on whether to fund part of a settlement between the USDA and African-American farmers who faced acknowledged discrimination -- farmers like Sherrod and her husband used to be. It's a tiny piece of the upcoming war supplemental bill.
The USDA settlements with African-American farmers are a longtime bÃªte noire of the right, which they deem a giveaway to a core Democratic constituency. It's not clear whether Brietbart's release of the video was specifically intended to hurt the chances of other African-America farmers to receive recompense from decades of discrimination that caused them to lose their farms, but conservatives immediately used the video to attack the settlement. The discrimination claims, known globally as the Pigford settlement, is the elephant in the room, so here's the background.