Friday, July 24, 2009

Racial Politics, Hot and Cool

In saying a policeman acted "stupidly" in arresting Henry Louis Gates Jr., President Obama has uncharacteristically inflamed a minor incident and revived last year's idiotic debate about whether or not he is "black enough" to suit African-Americans or, on the other hand, too black for those who see the world primarily in racial terms.

Until Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. became a campaign issue, Obama seemed intent on minimizing race and inviting voters to judge him as a "post-racial" candidate, but his cool approach was temporarily derailed by his pastor's inflammatory rhetoric and now again by his friend's histrionic temperament.

On Bill Maher's show and in other TV venues, Gates presents himself as a brilliant scholar who, like Wright and unlike Obama, tends to dramatize racial discussions--and himself-- in ways that can make even those who agree with him uncomfortable.

The escalation of his encounter with a Cambridge policeman has all the earmarks of an incident that could easily been avoided. If race were not involved, Gates' neighbor might have been less zealous in calling police at the sight of two men forcing open a door in broad daylight, and the responding officer more circumspect in confronting unarmed suspects, but Gates' affront at being questioned and his confrontational attitude seem likely to have been part of the "stupidity" the President was quick to condemn without knowing all the facts.

Now that all charges have been dropped and Gates and the policeman, who ironically teaches others about the complexities of racial profiling, have vented in the media, Barack Obama may want to revert to his cool and conciliatory approach to racial tensions--and think twice about elevating a minor incident to a national issue, leaving that work to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and those who work full-time at it.

No comments: