I have been thinking about the Henry Louis Gates incident since I learned about it on Wednesday night, during Obama’s press conference. Now, we all know (or should know) that there is a problem with racism in this country. Stephen Colbert’s line that he doesn’t see color parodies this problem perfectly, in my opinion. Or to put it another way, I think that some African Americans have made progress (including, obviously, President Obama) but all experience racism and most are still stuck in poverty.
All that said, though, Obama should have identified what happened in this case immediately. The Jim Croce song said “you don’t tug on Superman’s cape”; it could have said you don’t yell at a cop. It’s true that a black man yelling at a cop even in Pittsburgh or in one of our suburbs like Brentwood might get a beating and a trumped up charge to cover the beating. In Cambridge, Massachusetts it gets you arrested on disorderly conduct (and you consider should yourself lucky). And it doesn’t really matter what color you are in the sense that if you yell at a cop something bad will happen to you. If you are black it will probably be worse than if you are white, but it will happen. So to some extent this was the usual story of a person getting frustrated with a policeman and making the mistake of thinking he can express his frustration.
So fine, let’s use the incident to remind us that African Americans still experience racism, but let’s not hold it up as an example. Unfortunately, for better or worse the stupid person in that particular was professor Gates.