Friday, July 24, 2009

President Obama's 'Stupidly' missed a chance to foster race relations

President Obama said during his nationally televised press conference that “I think it’s fair to say number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately and that’s just a fact.” Okay Mr. President let’s look at the facts.

First, a neighbor called in to Cambridge Police that two men were breaking in to her neighbor’s house.

Second, an officer of Cambridge Police department responded to house of the alleged break in.

Third, the owner of the home was arrested after becoming disruptive and verbally abusive.

Since the story broke, it has become difficult for people to divorce emotion and the facts of the situation that took place at Harvard. No one argues the facts, historically speaking, that racial profile has been more extensive of black than white people. Does that really apply in this situation? Had Mr. Gates not been a scholar at Harvard would anyone really cared?

The fact is that Mr. Gates has a lot of prominent friends, including President Obama, and feels privileged to the point that allows him to verbally assault, according to the police report, an officer of the law. On Morning Joe this morning Mika Brzezinski brought up the question, “Who made it about race first?” The answer may never be known. Mr. Gates has spent his life’s work discussing race relations and Sgt. Crowley teaches fellow officers on how to avoid racial profiling; a perfect storm.

The perfect storm was made more volatile with President Obama calling the actions by Sgt. Crowley “stupidly” when Sgt. Crowley’s training, absence of color, led him to arrest Mr. Gates. After the President Obama’s press conference he admitted that he didn’t have all the facts in the case prior to make the statements he did during the press conference. This raises a lot of questions in regards to other matters with the President but that is a different blog entry. Why then, Mr. President, would you respond in the manner you did if you did not know all the facts?

A takeaway from the fallout of Mr. Gates arrest is that America is not ready for a robust, honest, and respectful conversation of race relations. Emotions, on all sides, run too deep for Americans to hold court on race relations. Regardless, the nature of conversation, education, and potential legislation (although we can all agree that you cannot legislate away racism) takes place going forward lacks sustainability due to a lack of exchange at the grass roots level.

Rev. Jesse Jackson did hit upon it, on Morning Meeting, when saying the “bigger question of racial profiling… is structural inequality”. By structural inequality, Rev. Jackson was eluding to the uneven playing field that exists within the job, housing, and community level. Rev. Jackson went onto suggest that Americans “use this as a teachable movement and go beyond the Gates/Crowley case.” I agree with Rev. Jackson on this point.

To achieve a sustainable teachable movement, Americans need to be on a level playing field. To achieve the level playing field it is time to repeal affirmative action. With affirmative action in place, America re-affirms the concept of second class citizens. In order for America to move forward on race relations, we need to bury the hatchet and embrace our similarities and differences. All of this starts at the grass root level. Politicians, actors, athletes or scholars can debate it but it will have no basis if average citizens do not embrace the notion. As I said a few days back in my blog, had Mr. Gates been more known with his neighbors the entire embarrassing situation could have been avoided. Get out of the house and meet your neighbors.

As one walks, rides, or travels around town, take a moment to say “Hi, how are things?” to your neighbors. For all those that live in my hamlet, and further away, I extend an open invitation to stop by. Nearly every Friday during the warmer months we have a bon fire, weather permitting, where several neighbors come to discuss the week. Swing on by, even if it’s for two minutes, to say “Hi” and enjoy the conversation. Bottom line, no matter where one lives, is to get out and meet your neighbors. The approach will assist in breaking down perceived notions of race, gender, religious, and sexual orientations.