Sunday, July 26, 2009


It reared it's ugly head once again to the unsuspecting.

Mr. Gates returned from China to find his key wouldn't work. He and his driver broke into the house. The driver left. A neighbor observed them and called the police. Officer Crowley arrived with another officer. They went into the house, I guess by Gates invitation, and tried to assess was Gates trying to rob the place. Gate showed the officer his driver's license and his Harvard Professor ID card. The policeman called someone to verify that Gates' card was real, at which point Gates became angry. He felt he was being racially profiled. Here he was in his own house, with ID to prove it, and the policeman wouldn't let it go. So Gates told him to leave, I would guess in a rage, but Gates doesn't have a raging reputation, so I don't know. But I am sure he was loud and direct. The policeman asked him to step outside, and Gates told him something to do with his (the policeman's) mother. Since Gates was loud it drew more attention I would guess from neighbors since by now they are on the porch, so the police officer considers him disrespected, which in some police circles is worse than braking the law, thus he arrests Gates, handcuffing him and takes him away.

Up until now I can image this escalated as it did. Gate having just returned from China he was probably exhausted. I've taken that trip back from China. I have never been as tired before or since. Had he been rested he would have probably said, "Thank you officer for protecting my home." But he picked up something else that a lot of white people put off, even if they don't mean too. Or he was tired and thought he did.

Anyway, they get to the station and Gates is formally arrested, and kept in a cell for four hours. This is where I am amazed. Where was management in all of this? Where do policemen go for cooler heads to make sure an arrest is warranted? Why didn't someone at the station say, "Whoa, this guy wasn't robbing his own house?" By then Gates had been yelling, "Racial profiling," loud and long enough that the policeman certainly to save face couldn't back down. But where were his partners?

The President was asked at the end of a health care press briefing, what he thought of the above. He said that Skip Gates was his friend. He said he didn't really know the details, but it sounds to him like the police acted stupidly.

Oops! Or some say. I don't. I felt, Oh my how refreshing. A politician who says what he thinks and feels. As a man of color he is very aware of racial profiling. He responded honestly. But the right wing of our country goes mad. The conversation escalates.

Michelle, and probably Jarrett, talk with Obama. He appears again a day or so later. He called Crowley and apologized for the word "stupidly." It only hurt the situation. He invites Crowley to come to the White House for a beer, with Gates. He invites Gates in a later call. Will they both go at the same time? I hope so.

I wrote in Comments of the NYT, as soon as I heard about this, and again in Twitter, that this is a Teachable Moment. Being a mother of two brown sons I fear "driving while being brown," every day for my sons. People who hate do some pretty awful things. I have been at the end of some of them in my life. People have died because of overt racism. Because of our history of slavery, and the centuries it has taken us to finally have a President of color, most of us have in us some form of prejudice about the other. Most of us have come a long way. My granny took my mother out of a cooking class because her class mate was "Negro," as said then. Granny's great grandchildren have African, Indian (American), Scottish, English, Irish, Russian and Portuguese blood running through their veins. Times change.

I do not think Crowley went into that house to be a racist. I do not think Gates intended once the policeman entered his house to get loud on the man and disrespect him, and end up arrested. Both men are teachers. Teachers sometimes end up in ego battles with their students. It's not professional, but being human, it happens. I believe that is what happened here. But as the rest of us learned the story, the surface was scratched, and out came the worst racial conversation I have heard in a while.

I think its great. The police organizations of Cambridge lined up in front of the cameras professed undying support to Crowley and stated over and over there is no racism in the Cambridge police department. At first I was on their side, listening with an open mind. But after a few of the white males spoke I realized these people are being ridiculous. If there was no bigotry in their department why did they hire Crowley to teach how not to racial profile when policing? Why did they feel compelled to be so defensive? Why are all the heads of their organizations white males? Why were the people of color and women in the back ground?

My hope is Crowley and Gates meet one another in a cooler atmosphere. If they put their egos aside and put the country first, all they have to do is look at the reaction of people taking sides, to know we have a lot to address in the area of race. We've taken so many steps. Having President Obama in the White House is a step in the right direction. We have many steps to go to fix what we have allowed to exist in this country for hundreds of years. That people still have such hurt in them, like Charles Blow wrote about in the NYT's today, means we need more sensitivity toward one another. It's not simple. A lot of today's racism is hidden. We work together, then go home to segregated neighborhoods in many places and mostly segregated churches. Since I was a child I thought if people lived in integrated neighborhoods they would have had the same experience I had, some good people and some bad people in the world, and color has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes fear is the scratch that brings to the surface racism one doesn't even know is there. Again, that is what I think is part of what happened here. Okay, the situation happened. Now what?

Many say this is a distraction to the President. I don't. I believe having him as President is one of the most wonderful things that has happened to my country in a long time. His response is one a white person couldn't begin to have given. His understanding of why Gates became so upset, and yet, Obama has an instinct that most people in power haven't shown us, one of a mediator. He is a person that had to embrace diversity from inside out. His instinct is usually to rise above, see both sides, and then work for common ground. Who else is better to jump into this conversation and move us along? Congress is doing fine messing up the health bills as they should. They'd better get it right or they will be gone this next election. We the people meant our votes for change. So the President doesn't have to babysit them. Looking at the mental health of his country is also our President's work. Racism acted out isn't healthy and anything he can do to put light on the subject is great in my opinion.

Bruce announced to me that he thinks someone in the White House read my posts on NYT or Twitter, since the language they are using is what I used: Gates and Crowley meeting, teachable moment. I smiled at his compliment, which is what he was trying to do, say something nice because he loves me. I enjoyed it for that. But I think woman like Michelle Obama and Miss Jarrett have the same instincts I do, which is part of why I voted for Obama. He had women I admire around him, like his mother in law. Family oriented women with big brains, who would come up with this kind of idea: teachable moment. And what better way to de-escalate than invite people to your table. So I do not take credit. I take pleasure in thinking others are having the same reaction, and maybe great good will come from this whole incident. That is my hope.

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