Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We Judge Too Quickly ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The weekly discussion question I posed to my students in my online course was with which of the vows of Benedict’s Rule would they have the most trouble. The results were interesting to say the least. One of the comments, however, spurred this response from their instructor based partly in an article on the Rachel Maddow show last night.

The comment was:

We judge too quickly with material things and do not take the time to get to know people.

Here’s my response:

A good example of this has just occurred. An administrator of the US Department of Agriculture in Georgia who helps farmers get loans spoke to an NAACP banquet about 20 years ago. The speech was videotaped. In it, the black woman administrator said she had had to come to grips with her own racism as a lending agent. Initially she said she didn’t want to give loans to a white farmer who came in acting superior and condescending. She then went on to say how dealing with real live human beings with real problems had changed her.

Since that time, the woman has been promoted to a fairly high ranking position within USDA stationed in Georgia. Fox News and a Tea Party publicist took that first excerpt of the video and splashed it all over the news with the story that a racist black administrator in USDA was refusing white farmers loans. First Fox and then the USDA demanded the woman’s resignation. Under pressure, she resigned.

The problem is the excerpt was taken completely out of context. In the remainder of the video not shown by Fox, the woman spoke to her realization that her attitude was wrong and that she had come to believe that G-d had placed these people in her path to help her grow. She made the loan possible and the white farmer and his wife interviewed by CNN (but not Fox) said that they would certainly have lost their farm and their home without the loan.

These comments were not made by the woman in her capacity as administrator with USDA today but rather 20 years ago in a private agency. They were the preface to a story of redemption, not the admission of an abuse of power by a racist, the caricature that Fox intentionally created with its story.

So why were so many Americans willing to believe this concocted story which amounted to little more than a lie? Why was the woman not contacted before she was vilified by Fox? Why was the farmer not contacted before the story ran and the decision to fire the woman was made? Why are we so quick to believe the worst about others?

Might this be a good case of projection, seeing in the other that darkness we cannot face in ourselves? This story arises in the wake of the NAACP calling the Tea Party out on its racist (and, truth be told, fascist) fringe. Sadly, the NAACP was itself “snookered” (its own description) by the rouse and demanded the woman’s resignation. It was only after they discovered the deception that they apologized. USDA is said to be considering an apology as well and an offer to reemploy the woman. Rather than take the long hard look at ourselves that charges of racism – here directly on target – require, we find scapegoats.

I suppose that deception has always been a part of politics. And I suppose that all parties and candidates are subject to its allure. But I do find the increasing wholesale fiction cranked out by Fox to be untenable for anyone with a conscience developed beyond the level of a rutabaga. And I find it unsettling that so many Americans are more than willing to let themselves be deceived by such destructive deception. This does not bode well for a people and a world in crisis.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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