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Why My Black Girlfriends and I love Shirley Sherrod: “She Wears Big Girl Drawls”

“I was working my butt off . . . I did not get to be 62  without being able to move beyond things . . . I was worried that my grandchildren would read in the history books years from now that their grandmother the First Black Rural Director for Georgia was fired by the first Black President.” [A paraphrasing of Shirley Sherrod from her CNN interview on Wednesday]

I want to join the internet chorus of bloggers praising Shirley Sherrod for her ability to wear what my godmother calls, “big girl drawls.” You see, over the last couple of days much has been written praising her commitment to Civil Rights and to helping all farmers irrespective of race.

But, what I briefly want to talk about is her ability to wear “big girl drawls” in the midst of public scrutiny from the NAACP and the Tea Party and against factions of dissent in the Obama Administration. Early this year, I wrote a post about Michelle Rhee who is the current chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, D.C. where I talked about her being:

“A woman who knows how to dig her heels into the ground and say, “These are my boundaries that you will not cross and if you do I will not cower away and lick my wounds. I will fight you. Do you hear me. I will fight you.” It is her spirit of fight (i.e. big girl drawls) that I marvel at because we as a society do not intentionally cultivate girls’ fighting spirits. We do not teach them how to maintain their position in a street corner brawl where their reputation, occupation, family life, self-esteem, and most importantly their inner voice are on the line. We do not teach them how to stay in a battle . . . how to endure when people “scandalize your good name” because they do not like you . . . how to deal with not having a cadre of friends because you tell it like it is and you don’t hide behind passive aggressive actions and behaviors . . . how to negotiate leading people when they utterly refuse downright protest being lead.”

And, I must render the same words for Shirley Sherrod who refused to sit quietly by and allow people like Roland Martin and USDA Secretary Vilsack to scandalize her good name.

And as my 70 year old grandmother says, “You only get one good name, chile. So, you better protect it by doing what is right.” And, that is what Shirley did. Everywhere you turned Shirley was speaking. She spoke on CNN’s Rick’s List. She spoke on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer’s show. She even spoke on the View after all the apologies were given. Shirley spoke with a non quivering lip unafraid of the looming repercussions because she knew something that her detractors did not know. She knew the truth. She knew who she was. She was use to wearing big girl drawls.

And, you see this when she chastised Roland Martin for his disrespectful words. Shirley said [paraphrasing], “Where did you grow up? Where did you grow up? I grew up in the South . . . I know racism when I see it . . . my father was killed by a Ku Klux Klan member.”

So, for the last couple of days, my black girlfriends and I have watched the nonstop coverage of Shirley Sherrod’s story because she in a way speaks for all the black women who have been thrown under the bus by the government— Lani Guinier, Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and even Michelle Obama when she made her comments doing the campaign about being proud of the US for the first time. She spoke when it was all too easy for her to go quietly into the night to protect the first Black President from yet another public debacle.

And for this, I will forever honor the story of Shirley Sherrod because she wore her “big girl drawls” unabashedly.