Friday, July 24, 2009

Race relations -- why so hot?

Race relations. Now we’re talking.

The policeman, the professor and the president are each playing to type. Each is playing his role in the American narrative.

I think the president reacted to his own past experiences with the humiliation of profiling. The professor certainly reacted to the historical sting. The cop responded to his experiences with black crime in the streets.

Was the confrontation inevitable?

Control. That’s part of the police DNA. Get control of the situation. That’s what the Cambridge cop was trying to do. Subdue the subject if necessary.

It didn’t help that the professor has a mouth on him. Loud, high-toned, angry—all markers for uppity. But it is not against the law to be angry with a policeman. Nor is it against the law to be loud in your own living room.

But the professor forgot “the code” that comes into play when black men deal with white cops: be deferential, speak with a soft voice, say “sir” a lot, don’t look the policeman in the eye. Black men have been taught this since they were children. Have little white boys? I wasn’t.

Most people say the president should have danced around the issue. At least, he should not have used “stupid” to describe the police.

Certainly, President Obama could have been political and ducked – but I like him better when he is human.

OK. As it has been for hundreds of years, race relations are back on the table. Complicated stuff but, please, let’s not retreat into fearful defenses.

Are we smart enough to find solutions? Or are we too stupid?

5 comments:

sph said...

Once again, well said, Journalist...

Max Fischer said...

it is an entirely reasonable request to ask somebody for their i.d. (or any other proof) that they actually live in a home that they just physically entered by breaking and entering. Police were called to a break-in and responded. Eyewitness accounts are consistent with police acccounts that Gates was being uncooperative. Call me a pragmatist, but this doesn't stink of profiling in the least bit. In fact, for Gates to play the victim in all of this completely waters down the many legtimate racial profiling complaints that minorities register every day in this country that go without media attention. Shame on Gates. As an academic, he should know better.

There, that's my take from the left.

The South Plainsman said...

Good for you Max. A white guy would have been busted as well.

Maybe in hindsight the cop should have just turned and walked away, but from all the evidence I have seen, it was "good bust."

That guy Gates should have been thanking the cop and the neighbor for looking out for his house.

The only racism there was by Gates himself.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful the way you find just the right slant on things. I cringed when Obama said "stupid" during his news conference...but I also thought police could communicate with each other about identity? You know when they stop your car and call in for stuff? B.

Ken Martin said...

Recalling, dimly no doubt, some of what I learned in taking experimental psychology courses at the University of Texas in the early '80s (I was a student much, much older than average), scientists took a monkey out of its communal cage, shaved off its hair, put it back in the cage, and the other monkeys would attack it because it was different.

While I remain a bleeding-heart liberal and hope one day that the United States will leave racism behind (after all, we are now 144 years past the civil war over slavery), I'm not expecting it in (the rest of) my lifetime.

In Austin, surely one of the liberal oases in the country and an island of goodwill and get-along-ness in a mostly redneck state, we nevertheless have a long history of racism:

Environmental racism by putting all the dirty nasty dangerous facilities on the eastside (Holly Power Plant, fuel storage facilities, garbage truck parking) where the 1929 city plan required minorities to live in return for city services.

Police department's decades-long history of killing minority suspects.

Less damaging, but still offensive broadcasters, the latest being Paul Pryor, who spout off with racist talk in the most politically uncorrect way on the air (using the word "wetback" 43 times in one morning show).

All we can do is keep working on the problem of racism and stomp on the fires when they flare up. KLBJ-AM 590 is sure learning that, after the wetback episode. And the station's advertisers are suffering right along with the station.

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