The TV was on when President Obama walked into the White House briefing room today. He was ‘walking back’ his comment on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Agreed. Here’s my takeaway on this whole thing.
1) President Obama did what our recent president(s) wouldn’t. He was conciliatory. He attempted to dial down the rhetoric. He admitted he’d been wrong in what he had said and characterizations he’d made. He was a mensch!
2) Here is a problem which cuts and separates our society.
There continues to be a racial divide in America. I am not proud to say I have been frightened by young, black men solely because they were young, black men. I am not alone.
Any time I hear a news story about some perp arrested during a ‘routine traffic stop,’ I think: DWB–Driving While Black. There is no doubt there is some… maybe more than some… racial targeting. It is an institutionalized manifestation of the fear I’ve experienced.
A significant portion of black America originally thought O.J. Simpson was framed because he was black and because… well because that’s what happens.
There’s an old joke: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t following you. Similarly, just because there is profiling didn’t mean O.J. was innocent. It is too easy and patently unfair to dismiss any incident as being wholly racial just because some are. It’s the other side of the racial paranoia coin.
There is too much distrust and too much fear. Neither black nor white America have a corner on this market. It is bad for all of us.
More than likely Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley (the Cambridge, MA police officer involved) came into this confrontation already primed. Tensions and tempers flared. Neither could find the easy way to get out with their dignity intact.
If this incident opens up a national dialogue it will have been worth whatever discomfort these two men have endured. We need that dialog.