Saturday, July 25, 2009

Acting Stupidly

I’m glad to see that President Obama and the Cambridge Police Department and Professor Gates have agreed to cool it. Nobody came out of this smelling like a rose, and I’m not surprised that my initial assessment — that the president’s “acted stupidly” comment would dominate the news for the rest of the week.

As President Obama noted, this was a teachable moment. So what have we learned? That in spite of all the talk about “post-racial America,” we are still a country that is very aware of the racial divide in this country, and the people who are the most defensive about it are white Republicans who haul out the “some of my best friends” line and then forward “funny” e-mails with the president depicted as an African witch doctor. To complete the trifecta, they claim to be victims themselves of reverse racial profiling.

It makes you wonder if it’s even worth the effort to try to explain to some people that racial profiling and sexual stereotyping happens all the time. It doesn’t have to be a cop stopping black kids driving in a white neighborhood or waiting outside a gay bar in Boulder to check the ID’s of men who are clearly over the age of 21 and making disparaging remarks such as “what would your parents say if they knew you’re here?” — and me biting my tongue to not reply that they’d be happy to see that I’m making new friends. President Obama’s attempt to do that fell flat, and it may never be possible to explain to people who have never been on the receiving end of being treated as an object rather than a person what it’s like. (It doesn’t help when you have the behavior enabled by such people as Juan Williams on NPR who says that having grown up in Brooklyn in the 1960’s, he learned to be obsequious and deferential to the police and that’s how he teaches his children to act.) So why try? Because it’s one more step in the long journey. I suppose that if it takes the distraction of people acting stupidly for a moment to raise the consciousness, then it’s worth it.