America has its first Afro-American president. But does that mean racism is a thing of the past? Not for still far too many in our land, and the regrettable incident in Cambridge earlier this month, and all the furor that has issued from it, is clear evidence.
As for President Obama’s declaration at his press conference last week that the officer involved in the July 16 arrest of distinguished Afro-American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., acted “stupidly,” by all evidence he spoke frankly and truthfully with a carefully-selected non-incendiary choice of words.
Subsequent attempts to smooth over the whole matter have only fueled the flames among those who want to keep the matter at the center of public attention, inciting even more overt racist attacks against the president.
There was no justification for an arrest to be made in the Cambridge incident, whatsoever. The officer was provided conclusive evidence that the 911 caller was mistaken in reporting an apparent break-in. Professor Gates established that he owned and lived in the home. End of story.
But it was not the end of the story for the officer. He then ordered Gates to step outside his own home, which undoubtedly caused Gates to fear the officer might then enter and search the home without either a warrant or cause.
It is safe to say that had the officer encountered a white male in the case, the incident would have ended with the showing of proper identification, followed by a tip of the cap, a turn on the heels, and a brisk walk back onto the beat.
This is the part that so many people just don’t get. The officer’s sense of entitlement to bark an order to Gates while on the porch of Gates’ own home derived from a nascent sense that by his being Afro-American, Gates was his inferior.
To the officer’s mind, what he did was not racist, and he undoubtedly believes that. However, that’s just the problem. It has to do with this matter of entitlement, of whites over blacks and other minorities, and of men over women, which ranges from being barely conscious to being explicitly conscious, which is at the heart of why there is still too little true “equal justice under the law” in America.
All President Obama did in his “stupidly” remark was to indicate that he gets this, as do so many minorities and women.
Still, things are far better than they were, remembering that in the 1960s, cruel segregation of the races had to be ended by the force of law, and not of free will. Well into the 1970s, it was still illegal for persons of different races to marry. That was outlawed about the same time that women were first allowed to enroll in many prestigious universities or gain access to many professional ranks in society.
Hope lies not so much in the efforts at consciousness raising among those over 30 anymore, as it does in the Obama generation, those under 30 whose energy and indestructible optimism swept him into office last November. This is the first truly colorblind generation.
Today, those hateful voices that gain so much air time on major TV networks, those who barely disguise their racism with charges of reverse-racism in the choice of Supreme Court nominees, or the outrageous questioning of the citizenship of Obama, or ranting over the “stupidly” comment, are, with the exception of cartoonish potty-mouth Anne Coulter, all aging white males. Your Rush Limbaughs, your Lou Dobbs’, your Pat Buchanans, your Bill O’Reillys, your Sean Hannitys, your Glen Becks: notice what they all have in common? Anger issues, to be sure. But beyond that, they’re all old white men.
The war they’re trying to incite would not be against racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities and women, however. It would be against the entire upcoming Obama generation.
These old white men are declaring war on their own children and grandchildren, but they’re forgetting something. They’re dying off, and the commander-in-chief of all of America’s firepower is not one of them. They’re feeble and have few weapons of their own except their bellicose rants, commonly oversized in inverse relation to other endowments, and microphones.
Nicholas Benton may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.