by Pa Rock
Tonight the President of the United States, a distinguished Harvard professor, and an experienced police sergeant will settle in at a picnic table on the White House lawn and discuss racism, racial profiling, and the importance of maintaining public order in twenty-first century America. To take the edge off of what could be a tense conversation, the men will also be engaging in the great American pastime of drinking beer.
The press, of course, is all over this story – like flies on Roy Blunt – and has even reported the brands of brews that that participants will be drinking. The professor will be sipping Red Stripe, the policeman will be drinking Blue Moon, and the President, ever mindful of the need to connect with the common man, will be tossing back Bud Light – America’s most requested beer.
Most of us know the story by now, or at least some version of it. Generally we tend to believe the rendering that leaves us feeling the most comfortable – the account that aligns best with our lives and our values.
To a black American who has grown up dealing with both subtle and overt racism, this is a no-brainer: a power obsessed white cop who has trouble accepting the fact that a black man can be a successful professional living in a nice neighborhood, bullies his way into the black man’s home on a flimsy pretense and then, when the black man questions his authority to do so, promptly carts this uppity nigger off to jail. Black Americans have seen it all before – for generations. They know that the severity of the police reaction is a direct result of the race of the suspect – and the suspect in this case was an innocent homeowner who happened to be black and living in a nice neighborhood.
To a white American who has grown up in a blue-collar neighborhood and has had to work hard for every dollar, this case is also a no-brainer. An honest cop who puts his life on the line every day answers a call about a possible house break-in. He does his job and investigates, only to be screamed at and demeaned by the angry black homeowner. Clearly it’s a class issue, with the professor thinking that he is better than the cop and above the law. Of course he deserved to go to jail. Why, if it hadn’t been for Affirmative Action and quotas, he would probably be washing dishes or shining shoes and living around his own kind.
And to a mixed-race President of the United States, this is a teachable moment – whatever the hell that means.
Professor Henry Louis Gates, an eminent historian, is righteously appalled that the police can enter his house, Gestapo style, and arrest him for not stammering “yass suh” to the cop’s every interrogatory. He would probably admit to responding by being rude and obnoxious. He was in his own home, after all, and it’s not against the law to be rude and obnoxious, especially when you are behaving that way in your own home.
Sgt. James Crowley, a veteran police officer who taught racial profiling at the police academy, feels that he acted appropriately in dealing with an angry individual who was interfering with a legal process. He was disrespected by the professor who refused to quietly submit to his authority, and he was publicly insulted by the President who told a news conference, and thus the nation, that he had acted stupidly. He is angry at being rebuked for doing his job.
President Barack Obama, a man with a black African father and a white American mother, has grown up with a foot in each camp. He has seen firsthand the way some people devalue others on the basis of race alone. Indeed, a substantial segment of the American populace is vocally uncomfortable with having an African American family in the White House and is unlikely to ever be reconciled to the fact of Obama’s presidency. But the President also grew up with, and idolized, his white grandmother who had a fear of black men. Fortunately for him, and for America, she was able to open her heart to her mixed-race grandson.
It will be an interesting gathering tonight on the White House lawn, one that could portend the beginning of a new American era on race relations. Whether they will admit it or not, each of the three participants have embarrassed themselves to some extent in this affair, and depending on the way tonight’s Suds Summit unfolds, each could redeem himself and, in the process, make life better for all of us.
May the beer be icy cold and flow freely – and may humanity prevail.