Mr. Obama’s broadside against local cops sends the wrong message to Americans of every race about how to respond to misunderstandings with police. His comments may also do more to aggravate than alleviate tensions between police officers and the minority communities they serve.Obama’s commentary was out of line. While some, such as Karl DeVries at Reality Checkpoints, attempt to minimize Obama’s statement, it is clear that Obama’s behavior was anything but minimal. His un-presidential behavior raises a couple of pertinent issues.
Firstly, Obama implicitly assumed that racial profiling occurred. Without knowing the facts and admitting a pro-Gates bias (they are friends), Obama slammed the police for an act they did not commit. As argued in the prior post and supported by Officer Crowley’s account of the arrest, there were no racially motivated behaviors on the part of the police. (In fact, Officer Crowley is responsible for teaching fellow police officers about racial profiling.) Gates was the one who brought race into the picture.
This unfair and heinous assumption is quite harmful. While not fair to declare it as a black militant worldview, as some might, it speaks volumes about our President’s perspective. Up until this point, Obama should have been rightfully commended. He handled the race issue with tact and poise. He refused to be sucked into petty racial quarrels or speak the langue of backwards leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Obama’s gaffe shows a first crack in his otherwise perfect veneer. While it is certainly laudable that he apologized (I always respect a man for admitting he is wrong), the slip-up has done damage to the post-racial worldview that Obama could have helped bring to America.
Secondly, this ties in with a much deeper issue; that of a titan struggle between those who accept and reject a post-racial America. Leaders such as Gates, Sharpton, and Jackson willingly or unwittingly need to maintain a worldview where American racism and oppression exist. Sharpton, for one, is adept at creating racial tensions where they didn’t exist before. On the other side stand the likes of Bill Cosby; leaders who recognize a history of racism, but also acknowledge times have changed and there are other factors that contribute to the plight of the black community.
While understanding the history of black oppression is essential and necessary, the past needs to be separated from the present. Gates falls into the common trap of seeing today’s events through a 1950s lens. While racial tensions certainly and unfortunately do still exist in America, they no longer predominate the interactions between whites and blacks. American leaders have a responsibility to ease these tensions and bridge the gap. However, Obama’s “stupid” comment only demonstrates another issue where the supposed uniting, bipartisan President has become a divider. His comment allied himself with the outmoded old guard of black leadership– a political mistake on one hand, but a historic mistake that will handicap his ability to change the racial dialogue in America.