Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gates, Crowley, and President Obama's comment















I am not going to commit to a position on the Henry Louis Gates incident this week. My feelings on it are complicated and complex.

When I first heard about the incident, I knew it would be a big issue...at least in the [predominantly Black and Hispanic] communities and circles I'm in. As it started getting more press, I knew it would arouse irritations from the [predominantly White] communities and circles I connect with as well.

I nodded in agreement as I listened to Black friends talk about the issue. Though not to the extent they do, I have gained an understanding of the frustrations and skepticism of the police and White people who assert power.

Though I realize to many of my African-American friends (and possibly some of my White friends as well), it is absolutely ludicrous to say that a White person does not realize they are asserting their power and domineering over someone because of race. It seems ignorant that a White officer who has been commended for training people about racial profiling would then engage in a word battle and arrest someone who had obviously been racial profiled.

The issues are complex. Should the blame be placed on the neighbor who called? The police officer who arrested a man for being upset that he was being suspected of being a thief in his own home? The Black officers who stood by and watched? Should the blame be placed on Professor Gates for asserting his highly acclaimed socioeconomic status over the police officer?

But what about all of those episodes on Jay Leno where they take cameras around to show the absurdity of people standing by doing nothing while houses are robbed, people "kidnap" children, boyfriends are abusive, etc. So what is one to do?? Quite honestly, all of the lawn mowers that have been stolen from my house (about 3) have all been done in broad daylight while I was at work or on vacation. I wish someone would've seen them and done something!

So although it may not be a popular stance, I am in the middle on this.

However, I don't have a problem with what President Obama said. Nor do I have a problem with the frustrated conversations that are taking place...and here's why...

As I talked to a bi-racial friend of mine, she recounted an incident that impacts the way she sees this issue.

When she was 5 years old, a white police officer pulled her dad over. Her dad has very dark skin. She has very light skin and, as a child, had blonde, curly hair. After pulling her dad over, the officer immediately walked over to her side of the car and began talking to her (not her dad) and asking her, "Who is this man?" and challenging the assumption that it would be his daughter. She recalled the look of pain, shame, and hurt on her dad's face as he sat silent and she looked to him for answers. She recalled the anger and tension she felt from her dad as they drove off. She was five. She is forty now, yet she still remembers the incident very vividly.

My friend is usually much more conciliatory than I am. I can't imagine anyone ever saying she is an angry Black woman or a woman with a chip on her shoulder. However, the Gates/Crowley incident brought up very vivid memories for her. What she experienced as a five-year old child shaped her. I cannot expect that to go away. And when it happens, even though we (White people) may think it was an innocent mistake, it doesn't feel so innocent when on the receiving end.

I think the conversations need to continue. We need to talk about and listen to each other. I hope Profeesor Gates, Officer Crowley, and President Obama follow through and actually have that beer together in the White House. President Obama could potentially facilitate and encourage open race relations dialogue that would help us move forward.

Having those conversations...listening to each other...putting ourselves in someone else's shoes...thinking about perspectives from a several different viewpoints... I believe, could begin to change the way we view and make decisions about our nation and our world.
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