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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Obama's poor lesson on race

I suppose this is another take on the issue of the Beer Summit between the President, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, and the police officer who hauled Dr. Gates to jail last month. I hear sense some disappointment on a lot of sides on this issue, especially since the comments that Obama made during a prime time presser caused Obama to want to invite this officer and Dr. Gates over to his crib, The White House, and have a beer.
Obama is smart to avoid race. He does not know much about it from the perspective of black Americans of nonmixed heritage who are condemned to living with their skin color, other features and their experiences. He certainly does not understand life under Jim Crow.

In The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Obama wrote that "my own upbringing hardly typifies the African-American experience" and that "largely through luck and circumstance, I now occupy a position that insulates me from most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must endure."

The president apparently has not learned anything new about race since that acknowledgement, as shown in his words and actions in the Gates affair.

Having just returned to his Harvard home after a trip to China, Gates, accompanied by his black taxi driver, had trouble with the front door of the house. A passerby saw the two men forcing entry, the police were called, and a white officer from Cambridge responded.

From there, some matters are in dispute. But it is clear that Gates yelled at the officer. The police report says Gates suggested that the officer was a racist, had profiled him and had "no idea who he was messing with." Gates went on to "play the dozens," and according to the report told the officer, "I'll speak with your mama outside." Gates denies referring to the officer's mother.

The good professor was handcuffed, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The charge was later dropped, and, without having all the details, Obama accused the Cambridge police department of acting "stupidly" for arresting his friend.

Perhaps the department did act stupidly, but Gates and Obama also acted stupidly. Obama's lack of personal experience with the black experience caused him to speak ill-advisedly. Gates' outsized celebrity and ego caused him to do so.

Their words and actions teach young black males, who see them as role models, exactly the wrong lessons. Surviving unscathed as an ordinary black male might be the toughest act in the United States. After all, we are permanent outsiders, perpetually viewed with suspicion or contempt.

To survive unscathed, without deep pockets and celebrity, we have to be smart. We must have a lot of common sense. We must learn to give and take at the right times. We must get the lay of the land before acting. We must learn to distinguish earnest principle from self-destructive pride. We must learn to respect legitimate authority.

Our goal is to put ourselves in control of our destiny as much as possible. The easiest way to relinquish control of our destiny is to get arrested and trapped in the judicial netherworld. The last things a young black male wants in our security-obsessed, crime-averse culture are a rap sheet and bad credit.

In some other parts of the country or even in another part of greater Boston, Gates could have gotten himself killed. He is now joking about the incident, saying, for example, that he might get arrested the next time he visits the White House.

Instead of joking, Gates, along with Obama, should be telling young black males this: Without attitude or trash talk, obey when a police officer gives you a lawful order. Officers wear name plates on their shirts. Always memorize the name and rank of the officer you are dealing with for your lawyer if you think you will need one. You do not give up your manhood when you use your brains to survive.
I'm basically late on this story since it took me some time to finally blog about this.

Let me state this because a friend of mine and myself talked a little about this issue. He agreed with Obama's comments, but my response was to say that Obama is not merely a man who is in a racial minority. Obama is now President of the United States. He doesn't just represent a racial minority he represents the whole nation that is made up of people of various backgrounds.

Let me preferace that by saying, Obama is certainly bi-racial with an African (Kenyan) father and a white mother who hailed from Kansas. Obama admitted in a 60 Minutes interview that he is of the "black community" but that he isn't defined by it. But this op/ed wasn't incorrect by saying that he may not have lived the typical "Black experience" hence his background. He certainly hasn't lived thru Jim Crow. Well for that matter neither have I. ;)

That's not to say that he hasn't had some experiences where his ethnicity haven't caused him some trouble in his youth. Especially when he was much younger up thru the time he got into politics. This trouble could have been from anywhere especially Black Americans. But the worst of our history as far as race, I'm sure that President Obama has only had a crash course into that aspect of our nation's history.

Well getting sidetracked, I feel that Obama was in no way to judge how the Cambridge PD acted in arresting Dr. Gates (BTW, Dr. Gates spoke at my graduation from Morehouse). I understand that we're talking about a personal friend here, but Obama isn't a police officer and he may not know all the facts. Obama is a lawyer and he may have responded because Gates was his friend and as a lawyer. I also could believe that Obama spoke for those blacks who have been arrested by police over their years. Many may have some grievances that may be justified or unjustified. In that case that may have been a bad move on Obama's part to go after the police officer.

In the same situation the difficult task for me as say, a Black President, would be to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and say I don't know every detail and I don't think I should express my opinion on this situation until I know more. As President I would have to express my confidence that Police Officers around the country are doing the best job possible in preserving and protecting peace in all jurisdictions. Obama may not have done this for the Cambrigde PD.

Well I said what I had to say. What do you think on this issue?

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