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No. 6: Shirley Sherrod

With an African American president in the White House, the United States seemed to enter a new post-racial era. Or did it? Eager to prove that it was color-blind, the Obama administration ended up red-faced after summarily firing Shirley Sherrod, an African American employee of the Department of Agriculture, based on a video clip in which she seemed to describe how she had discriminated against a white farmer.

The firing by BlackBerry — the entire decision-making process took less than five hours — turned out to be overly hasty. The video excerpt, posted by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, had actually been part of a larger anecdote about overcoming bias.

The farmer and his wife, both in their 80s, quickly surfaced to defend Sherrod and all she’d done to help them.

Cue frantic backpedaling. Sherrod racked up apologies from the White House, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Bill O’Reilly, and the NAACP, which had joined the rush to condemn her, even though the speech had been made at one of its own branches. Vilsack, who had earlier dismissed Sherrod’s pleas that he hadn’t heard the whole story, offered her another (better) job, but Sherrod said no thanks.

Perhaps hoping to turn over a new leaf, the USDA hosted a two-day race and diversity conference, which was closed to the press. Sherrod has been keeping a low profile, but she popped up on Fox News in August, when the folks at “On the Record” mistakenly used her photo to identify Representative Maxine Waters, who is also African American. Oops. “We so screwed up on this one and we are sick about it,” blogged Greta Van Susteren, host of the show.

–Cicely Wedgeworth

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