Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama wades into race row over Harvard professor's arrest.



This comment by Obama is causing such a fuss because America has taken the election of Obama to be the ultimate proof that the country is now "post-racial".

But all Obama was doing was stating the facts as far as we know them. A middle aged man with a cane, having forgotten his keys, was seen breaking into his own house. When the police turned up, he showed them proof that this was his house, demanded the officers name and badge number, and was arrested for disorderly conduct.

The president, responding to a question at a press conference about the arrest, said Gates was a friend and that he was uncertain what role race played in the dispute. But Obama condemned the police and said the incident is "a sign of how race remains a factor in this society".

"The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home," he said. "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."

Obama had earlier lightened the mood by wondering what would happen if he were trying to break in to his own home.

"Here, I'd get shot," he said of the White House.

But Obama's comment was also taken as an observation about the assumptions white police officers make about black men in responding to reports of criminal behaviour.

Gates said he was pleased with the president's support.

"I think it was brilliant," he said in an interview with the broadcaster Tavis Smiley. "It is a great speech about race, and race relations, particularly between black people and white people at the beginning of the 21st century."

Gates said the arrest made him aware of how minorities are vulnerable "to capricious forces like a rogue policeman".
The ABC journalist appears to be outraged that Obama could have called the police action "stupid", but what else should one call the arresting of a middle aged black man who has already shown proof that he is in his own home? And isn't the fact that no charges have been brought proof that the police overreacted?

As Obama says, "everybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed, that is my suspicion".

But what's really interesting here is that people are reacting to the fact that Obama has spoken out against the police and for the black man. That's not the way these things usually play out. The president usually has an almost knee jerk reaction which says that "the police have a difficult job; blah, blah, blah."

John McWhorter describes what lies beneath this controversy:
And meanwhile, the idea that he should have exhibited "deference to the police" ignores the totemic status that black men's encounters with the police have in the way countless people process being black and what it means. There's a reason Gates told the Washington Post Tuesday that what happened to him was part of a "racial narrative," and that awareness surely informed his angry conduct.

The relationship between black men and police forces is, in fact, the main thing keeping America from becoming "post-racial" in any sense.

Here is where many will object with statistics about residential segregation, disparities in car loans and health care, and most recently, the dumping of subprime mortgages in black communities.

These, however, are more news stories than things felt on a visceral level among ordinary people as evidence that racism is still virulent in this country, a defining experience of being black.
Many white Americans, in a post Obama election world, simply don't want to hear this. They certainly don't want to hear their president tell them that racism is still an issue.

That's what's underneath all the disbelief that Obama could have said what he said. His election was supposed to be the proof that racism is dead. And he's saying it's not.
“He can’t break character now,” said Michael Fauntroy, a public policy professor at George Mason University. “The character that America bought was a race-neutral guy who wasn’t going to mention race in any meaningful way.”
A black president talking about race? How dare he! That wasn't supposed to be the gig at all.

Click title for full article.

4 comments:

Kelli said...

It is refreshing to read your take on this subject, while all that is in the news right now is how the President shouldn't have said what he said. Thanks for your insight!!

Kel said...

Of course he should have said what he said. I know he's the entire nation's president, but he's also the country's most prominent black man.

And they were interviewing Cosby on the subject today; granted simply to say that Obama shouldn't have spoken about this; but, if Cosby's view is relevant, then so is Obama's.

ddadmin said...

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http://markthispage.blogspot.com/2009/07/all-about-cambridge-police-unit-demands.html

Kel said...

Thanks for the link!