Sunday, August 02, 2009

Keeping My Head Down

One of the problems with fashioning oneself as a social commentator is there are societal events that one would just as soon not comment on. Take Professor Henry Louis Gates' recent difficulties. I wanted to wait until all the facts revealed themselves, and maybe they have, so here are a few of my own thoughts on the matter:
  • None of us can afford to not know who are neighbors are. Neither can we risk leaving our screen doors unlocked. Who knows who might walk in and ask for proof we live there.
  • Barack Obama has revealed himself to be a black man. Yes, it is rhetorically accurate for him to declare himself bi-racial and that his concerns transcend race but in the end, when faced with Prof. Gates situation, and perhaps having flashbacks to his own time at Harvard, he reacted from his African-American gut.
  • Ms. Whalen, the woman who called the cops about the potential break-in and the one person who acted responsibly as she attempted to give an accurate, non-hysterical, not racist account of what she saw may have been thwarted by the police's inability to grasp nuance. For the cops, generally speaking, everything, in every sense of these terms, is black or white.
  • The focus on racial profiling allows institutions and individuals to avoid addressing historical, systemic racism.
The biggest problem I have had in the last few days is with those white allies here in Boston who call themselves anti-racist. Here is why. Last Thursday a Boston police officer was suspended for sending an email that referred to Prof. Gates as a "banana eating jungle monkey". But the Globe reported on Friday that this is just one of a recent string of racist incidents perpetrated by Boston cops mostly against their African-American "brother and sister" cops. Let me say that I may have missed attempts at public education and community discussion organized by white people for white people, and that's my problem. This was, as Pres. Obama stated, "a teachable moment." Anyone who has lived in Boston knows there is going to be a backlash (who knows how many encouraging responses that racist email received?). It saddens me that I received no announcements of public gatherings, group discussions, or requests for meetings to craft a response to Prof. Gates' difficulties. In this teachable moment I have learned once again that black people have to do all the teaching.

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