Let’s All Have A Beer In Post-Racial America


danielleShall we all hold hands? Should we sing “Kumbya?”

“If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying. Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which ‘equal justice before law’ is a lived reality.” (Henry Louis Gates, The Root)

On Friday, President Barack Obama surprised the Washington Press Corps with an impromptu jacking of the daily press briefing to “clarify” his comments on the arrest of scholar Henry Louis Gates.

As some of you may recall, Obama told Chicago reporter Lynn Sweet that he was a friend of Gates, therefore biased, didn’t know all the facts, but thought the actions of the Cambridge Police Department in arresting Gates was “stupid.” This comment got a lot of “right ons” in the black blogosphere, including some “damn straights” in our household.

Well, politics-schmolitics. The president “recalibrated” his statements after some caterwauling from … ahem … everywhere. He called the arresting officer a good cop. He wanted to take back the “stupid” comment and reassure everyone that he had no idea his little statement would obscure his health care initiative.

Personally, I think the president was speaking from his gut at the conference. Why anyone would be shocked that a black man who once supported legislation against racial profiling would side with his friend, another black man of stature who’d been arrested at his own home, is beyond me. He was basically standing up for another individual from his particular racial/class/income tax bracket.

(T)here are a class of black people, who like other highly accomplished people, have higher expectations, for how the police treat all people, but specifically for how cops treat them. I think it’s important to remember, when you hear Barack Obama doubling down on this, exactly what world of black people he’s rolling with. It’s worth understanding, specifically, the world of Valarie Jarrett. It’s worth understanding that Harold Ford isn’t just a black guy, he’s the scion of a southern political dynasty. This isn’t Good Times. Or the Coates family. (Though we are on our way up, Negroes. Hide your debutantes, and guard your grill.)

There’s a way of doing this analysis as a criticism–i.e. they only care because it’s Gates. Surely class plays a role, but I think seeing it that way is as reductive as a strict race analysis. (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

The black elite having each others’ back and what not. But Obama’s the president, not Cornel West, so … let the backtracking commence.

“This has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up,” Obama said of the racial controversy. “I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sgt. Crowley specifically. And I could’ve calibrated those words differently.” (AP)

The officer, Sgt. James Crowley spoke with the president for five minutes over the phone and suggested that he and Gates should “have a beer” and in the name of Post-Racial America, Gates agreed.

“It was very kind of the President to phone me today. Vernon Jordan is absolutely correct: my unfortunate experience will only have a larger meaning if we can all use this to diminish racial profiling and to enhance fairness and equity in the criminal justice system for poor people and for people of color.

And to that end, I look forward to studying the history of racial profiling in a new documentary for PBS. I told the President that my principal regret was that all of the attention paid to his deeply supportive remarks during his press conference had distracted attention from his health care initiative. I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience as a teaching moment, and if meeting Sgt. [James] Crowley for a beer with the President will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige.

Is it over? Can I come out now? This has been the most frustrating of boondoogles as the Gates-Crowley affair soon became a racial Rashomon-Rorschach Test for the nation. How you viewed it and who you believed often depended on who you were. If you were Harold Ford Jr., you suddenly wanted to put a foot in someone’s ass. If you were Mike Barnicle you were wondering why all these Richie Rich black folk were so darn angry. I mean, you have money and prestige! Why the long faces? The cop was just doing his job!

Then there were the folks who felt Gates was in the wrong because he got mad. I have a news flash for those folks, people get livid on cops all the time. It doesn’t always lead to immediate arrest, if arrest at all. Again, I repeat, unless he went Hong Kong Fooey on Crowley with his cane, seriously, where was the threat other than the threat of Gates annoying him? Crowley had the badge, the gun and the power to take away someone’s freedom and Gates had … his mouth. That’s not exactly a fair fight.

But not that we’ve entered the shangri-la phase of this saga that will hopefully end with beer photo-ops at the White House, we can put a Rodney King-esque “Can’t We All Just Get Along” tag on the end of this debacle. What have we learned from this, kiddies? Can’t we all just get along? Apparently not yet. We’re not quite at “Kumbya” in so-called Post-Racial America.

Danielle Belton has been writing the popular “The Black Snob” blog since August 2007.  She has contributed to the American Prospect, NPR, the Huffington Post and has been featured on Nightline. This column originally appeared on The Black Snob here. Learn more about Danielle here.

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