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ObamaBeer With a Twist of Skip: The Cure for Race Relations in America?

July 25, 2009

The trump charge against Skip Gates has been dropped.  But that is of little consequence after the President of the United States weighed in on the matter at a press conference a few days ago.  Asked by a reporter about the incident, with noticeable irritation the President told the press and the American people that the police officer in the incident “acted stupidly”, and also remarked that Gates is a friend of his.

Asked again a few days later about his opinion, Obama said that he stood by his comments and that “cooler heads” should have prevailed in the situation…a big ass humble pie wouldn’t have hurt either.  But I digress.

As you can probably imagine, Sergeant Crowley, the white officer who responded to a possible break in at Gates house by 2 Black men- immediately found himself in a league he likely didn’t even know existed.  After all, as far as the cop is concerned, he was just doing his damn job.  Now the most powerful man on the planet is criticising his work.  That’s not the best spot to be in.

Obama’s reaction to the incident with his friend Skip Gates was open, honest and yes, emotional.  He didn’t mince his words.  You could tell he was ticked, and it wasn’t in his role as POTUS, it’s because he’s a Black man- plain and simple.

If you’ve never been discriminated against, I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

I have- too often.  Walk with me…

When something like what happened to Skip happens to you, you first experience disbelief and outrage; Skip has said repeatedly that he is outraged- as is his right.  No one deserves to be treated that way because of their race- and yes, it was because of his race.

But here is something that often gets skipped once outrage sets in.  Sometimes White people don’t know when they are discriminating or being racist- they’re simply doing what they are taught to do.  It doesn’t have to be a consciously malicious act.  We think of racism as something that is intentional. Often though, it is subconscious.  That doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

The officer’s offense is that he is completely ignorant.  He has no idea the true nature of his own actions.  He was doing his job.  He felt that everything he did was justified.  He thought that what he was doing is what he is supposed to do when interacting with a Black man.

How will he learn otherwise?

Usually when something like this goes down, the Black guy cries racism and the White guy denies it.  Since the White guy is a cop and a member of an institution of power, he wins that argument every time.

Every once in a while, when we as minorities are discriminated against, we get the opportunity to explain to the other person why what they did was racist.

This is when we get into social stratification and race, and yes- cultural competency.  Officer Crowley needs cultural competency training, and he is about to get it in a big way.

When White people make racist mistakes, it’s not easy for them to face that.  I’ve taught many a session where White people, yell at people, cry, storm out of the room, and above all, deny, deny, deny.  It’s a process of acceptance which ultimately is perfectly normal.

Obama remarked yesterday:

“[B]ecause of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues,” Obama said. “And even when you’ve got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding. My hope is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called a teachable moment where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.”

Some people are furious that Obama has reached out to the Officer in question and invited him and Skip to have a beer.  They think he is letting the White man off the hook because he said he thinks he is a good person  Neither is true.  Obama’s original reaction to what happened stands.  However, the second time around Obama is working to be less emotional and more responsible.  Sergeant Crowley will never learn why his actions were so wrong if someone doesn’t step in and tell him in a non-threatening manner.  After all, he is a police officer, and to maintain the power structure between law enforcement and the rest of us- police are never wrong.  How many times has a Black man been shot dead by police for doing nothing, only to have it ruled as a “justified shooting” when we know good and hell well it’s not?  Too many.  And the fact is the distance between what is right, wrong, and what is justified is never bridged.

So this offer to have a beer isn’t letting anyone off the hook.  It’s an attempt to have a dialogue the officer might otherwise never have, because when you truly know better, you do better.  This isn’t just about what Skip went through.  This is about what happens the next time Sergeant Crowley comes across a Black man who may not actually be doing anything wrong.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    July 25, 2009 6:14 pm

    It is not the covert white supremacists that are the most dangerous. It is white people, who usually define themselves as liberals, who “teach” about racism and end up acting in racist ways that are the most dangerous. Because we – myself being a liberal who teaches about race issues – don’t understand the experience of decades of oppression leading to what can only be defined as trauma, we “deny, deny, deny” that we would ever act in racist ways. Does this make us racists? I, again, say hell no. What it makes us is conditioned in a racist society and unless we own every ounce of that, we will continue to act in those ways. It’s when we own it that we can change it. Even if our intentions are good, there are times when we act ignorantly. We do not exercise cultural competency. When we don’t own it afterwards, we continue to send the message that what we did was okay. What should happen, is a beer with a friend who can point out our errant ways and educate us. This means dialogue. This means sitting down with someone who loves us enough to tell us the truth, and us being open to hearing it.

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