Defying conventional wisdom once again, President Obama turned the backyard of the White House into a “man sanctuary,” as he knocked back a cold one with Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts police department and wing-man Vice President Joe Biden. Gates and Crowley are forever linked due to the officer’s arrest of the professor at the scholar’s residence after fielding a call about a possible break-in. The President stepped into the controversy when he initially suggested the officer had acted stupidly in arresting Dr. Gates, but then retreated when the local police union took exception. Sensing that he might have elevated the temperature of a racially divided public on this issue, Mr. Obama invited the two principals to the White House for a lawn side chat to determine if there could be a meeting of the minds.
The gesture alone has meaning for the two individuals – Gates and Crowley – directly involved and serves as political theater for the rest of us. In a very real way, the events of the last week have once again exposed America’s fault line and given pause to anyone who thought the nation had magically gotten rid of its racial baggage now that a Black man occupies the Oval Office. What the Cambridge calamity truly demonstrates is how intractable racial stigma is and why it is most likely a permanent feature of American culture. For those who claim the President stoked this fire, think again. What is being lost in the rhetoric is that the disorderly conduct charge against Professor Gates was dropped by the police; suggesting there was no real basis to the arrest in the first place. This fact obviously eluded the young political aide in New York City who referred to the President as “O-dumb-a” on her Facebook page and resigned under pressure and the Boston police officer who compared Mr. Obama to a “banana eating jungle monkey” and was suspended for that crude remark. Not to mention the flood of racist e-mail that hit TheRoot.com website, with which Gates is affiliated, or the hate-tinged messages that were posted on newspaper websites across the country.
Can there be any doubt in anyone’s mind after the events of the last week that racism is a terminal illness and that this nation is dying a slow death. Yes, there are visible signs of progress but you also have to be truthful that the baseline was so low that upward mobility in the case of Black Americans must always be qualified by the phrase “relative to.” As the messy events in Cambridge unfolded a new study was released by the Pew Charitable Trusts that revealed children of Black middle class households in poor neighborhoods were less upwardly mobile relative to their parents and were burdened with the same deficits as children in poor households. The impact of racial bias is real in America and anyone who doubts it or casually dismisses episodes such as that which unfolded in the shadow of Harvard as an “isolated incident” is simply in denial.
Yesterday’s White House soiree will have limited impact on the larger institutional issues at play that drive racism in our nation so long as we fixate on what happened between a famous Black Harvard professor and a white police officer. It will take the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice to begin exploring real ways how to improve policing that reach far beyond the limits of current “diversity” initiatives. Attorney General Eric Holder, who has acknowledged his own experience being racially profiled, must find a way to use the power of the federal purse strings and the law to send a message to local law enforcement that discriminatory practices will not be tolerated. President Obama must also stay engaged on this issue and not feel compelled to be apologetic when speaking truth to power. Recent polls suggest that while many white Americans celebrate the presence of the first Black President, his support dwindles when he speaks from the perspective of an African-American. The hypocrisy is evident.
We hope the four men enjoyed their beer but many Blacks, particularly Black males, are still thirsty for some semblance of justice and fairness from local police.