Saturday, July 25, 2009

No reason to get excited . . .

Among all the feigned outrage and angst from folks both left and right clutching their hankies because Obama said the Cambridge cops acted stupidly, one fellow makes the most sense twice.

Take it away, Ta-Nehisi Coates, first with this:
It's worth watching Obama's statement. I really can't begrudge him--his priority is health-care. Me, on the other hand, I'm pretty exhausted. What follows is the raw. Not much logic. Just some thoughts on how it feels.

I feel pretty stupid for going hard on this, and stupider for defending what Obama won't really defend himself. I should have left it at one post. Evidently Obama, Crowley and Gates are talking about getting a beer together. I hope they have a grand old time.

The rest of us are left with a country where, by all appearances, officers are well within their rights to arrest you for sassing them. Which is where we started. I can't explain why, but this is the sort of thing that makes you reflect on your own precarious citizenship. I mean, the end of all of this scares the hell out of me.

(Emphasis mine)

And then this (the last graf is the money quote):
Chris thinks Gates that by calling the officer a racist, Gates bears some of the responsibility for the incident. He goes a bit further in responding to an e-mail:

In my mind there is no equivalency here, but the reader does raise a good point: there is, and never will be, a white equivalent to the N-word, but "racist" - when unsubstantiated - comes close.
Chris is good dude, and a smart writer. But I think, even in its hedged, qualified form, this is quite wrong. I think we'd all agree that if my spouse gets mad and calls me a sexist, and I fire back by calling her a bitch, I've gone somewhere else. I think we'd agree that if a gay person, without proof, calls me a homophobe, and I fire back by calling him a fag, I've ventured into another league. We are not "close" in terms of the level of our offense. The question then becomes, why is it different for "racist"?

My only answer is that it's because we, again, equate racist with "immoral." Michael Jackson once called Tommy Moottola, a racist. From what I know, it was unsubstantiated. The only way I can close the space between that, and Mottola, say, calling Jackson a nigger, is to think of racist as the equivalent of rapist, or child-molestor.

Again, I think this makes sense, if you believe racism to be the province of societal pariahs, not people who hawk their wares on MSNBC. But if you believe that we live with it every day, that the worst part of racism is how it hides in the hearts of otherwise decent people, than this is rather puzzling. If you've had friends who've looked you in the eye, and said something racist, you may feel differently.

This is say nothing of history, obviously. I think when we have black people driving slaves and perpetrating terrorism, when we have the Nation Of Islam hunting Jeff Sessions, all while yelling "Get the racist!" we will be close. When whole blocks start relocating because they suspect a racist has moved into the neighborhood we will be close.


At this point I think it's pretty clear Crowley arrested Gates because he didn't want to look like a pussy in fron of other cops. If this was exacerbated by Gates being a black man getting in Crowleys' face, we likely can't know. But in the end, Crowley really looked like a pussy at best, or a thug at worst, for arresting an older gentleman who, as Ta-Nehisi points out above, "sassed him".

And Crowley's reaction when asked on camera about Obama's comments:
"Well, I didn't vote for him"
takes on a racial tension all on its own, I think. The way I heard it was:
"Well, I didn't vote for one of them"

Maybe I'm wrong, but the whole thing is really tawdry and sad. Racism not only still exists, but flourishes in this country. To deny it is to deny gravity and air. They exist.