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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gates' Arrest. Obama's Comment, and Public's Reaction

OK, so I know I've been kinda of MIA on this Gates arrest affair. After initially reporting on it (really just giving the story link but hey: I WAS pretty early with it!). I've been asleep at the blog, except one cheeky cheer from the sidelines just before the so-called "beer summit" met. Truth is, I was distracted by other matters, as well as confused. I mean, that thing took off in a way I would have never predicted. It was getting a fair amount of press coverage (and, I would assume, water cooler talk) before Obama weighed in, but after his "stupidly" comment, we had a REAL controversy (funny how a prestigious African American scholar at our country's most prestigious university getting arrested in his own home on a break-in call didn't qualify as REAL controversy).

Anyway, I'd be kind of hypocritical if I now spent too much time analyzing the fine points of the encounter, since I've decided that much of the attention it's been given has been overblown and unproductive. After all, is the arrest of a world-renowned scholar and FOB (Friend of Barack) REALLY representative of the plight of the black race? I mean, I know we can extrapolate from that and say, if it happens to a well-dressed, well-spoken (oops, I'm steering dangerously close to Biden's infamous "articulate" comment!), highly educated elite living in a smug intellectual community, just think how bad it is for the average African American! And that's true.

But we can also fall in the trap of making the fight for justice in a matter like this a proxy for the broader fight for racial justice in our society. I mean, Henry Louis Gates is gonna be alright. His life chances wouldn't be affected one iota even if fate would have it that he was convicted of such absurd "disorderly conduct" charges and even spent a week behind bars. He would still have his audience--it has increased his visibility and name-recognition, and that's not a bad thing. I know it sounds like I'm downplaying the righteous anger he expressed and humiliation he suffered. I shouldn't. They were real. But my point is, for the press and public to spend so much time and energy dissecting this ordeal--don't you wonder if the time and energy might be better redeemed working on behalf of victims of racial discrimination, perhaps in our local areas, whose stories never see the light of day? And working to raise public awareness of stubborn structural causes for racial disparities, and trying to dismantle those structures? And helping whites to see the racial log of white privilege in our own eyes instead of trying to pick the speck of Affirmative Action and the so-called "race card" out of others' eyes?

There. I got that off my chest. Maybe being mostly silent for a few weeks was good for a broader perspective. Better to wait until I had something "wise and profound" to say. Or maybe I was just being lazy, and asleep at the blog. Anywho...

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