In late July 2010, Ben Jealous, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, denounced Shirley Sherrod, a black woman whom Jealous said “in her position at USDA [the Department of Agriculture]… mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race.” Jealous knew this because a right-wing website told him so.
Ben Jealous committed two mistakes, and one crime. First, Ms. Sherrod was not working for the USDA at the time of the incident, but for an organization specifically dedicated to black farmers; and in fact, according to the white farmer, Sherrod saved his farm. But what if Sherrod had said what the Right Wing claimed she said? What if Sherrod really had not used “the full force” of her office to help the white farmer?
That’s not “mistreatment,” even if Ben Jealous pretends it is. It was even argued in the Supreme Court that “a police officer who came upon four people beating someone could stand by without intervening”.
Still Jealous was not done. “Her actions were shameful,” he said of Sherrod, and, channeling Senator Joe McCarthy, Jealous promised, “We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event [where Sherrod told her story] and take any appropriate action.”
Interesting. According to Jealous’s own definition, I was “mistreated”―by the NAACP. Specifically, by Ben Jealous.
On November 20, 2002, when I was a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, I wrote in the city newspaper that a relatively new, local, taxpayer-funded statue honoring the founder of the Ku Klux Klan should be torn down. The death threats commenced.
Both the head of my university, Gordon Gee, and the university spokesman, Michael Schoenfeld, defended the Klan founder―Gee called the Klan founder’s supporters “old friends,” and denounced me for having criticized the Confederacy. Obama White House Fellow Samar Ali, then a student at Vanderbilt, even said that, in criticizing the Confederacy, I had engaged in “hate speech,” that criticism of the Confederacy was “racist.” Math Department chairman Mike Mihalik said any hostile letters he received about me from Klan supporters would be put in my file and forwarded to the dean, but not shown to me, and Dean Richard McCarty subsequently threatened my job.
As a Life Member, I went to the NAACP for help.
The head of the NAACP in the southeast, Reverend Charles White, was apprised of the situation but said the NAACP could only take action after considering the matter at its next board meeting―in three months. The president of the Nashville chapter of the NAACP, Reverend Sonnye Dixon, even said it could be good for Vanderbilt to have a building called “Confederate Memorial Hall” on its campus.
Ben Jealous’s wife, Lia Epperson-Jealous, worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and at my request informed a colleague of hers, attorney John R. Harper; but when I asked Harper for help, he did nothing. Ben Jealous later blamed me for having “asked for” the attack.
The Nashville NAACP did, however, give Gordon Gee an award in 2003. Which he declined to pick up.
Overall, no one in the NAACP or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund gave me “the full force of what they could do.”
Will Ben Jealous call the actions of Ben Jealous “shameful”? Will Ben Jealous call for an investigation into the actions of the Nashville NAACP?
No, because you have the right not to do everything you can for someone.
Jealous’s second mistake is that the NAACP is not the National Association for the Abolition of Color Prejudice. It is not the NAACP’s mission to protect the civil rights of white farmers, just as it is not the mission of the American Poultry Association to investigate whether cell phones cause gingivitis. In theory, if there were such creatures as black supremacists, the NAACP would represent them, too, over, say, Barack Obama’s mother or Ben Jealous’s father.
But that wasn’t Jealous’s crime. His normally sluggish organization, which took three months even to discuss what to do, if anything, when a Life Member was receiving death threats from Klan supporters, reacted in one day when racist liars, who wanted a black woman’s head, ordered the heir of W. E. B. Du Bois to step and fetch it.
NAACP president Ben Jealous should resign for slavishly serving right-wing racists, and the now embarrassingly useless NAACP should disband.
Jonathan David Farley is a Teaching and Research Fellow at the Institut für Algebra of Johannes Kepler Universität Linz in Linz, Österreich.