Thursday, July 23, 2009

The real tragedy of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. story

The tragedy of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. story began long before Mr. Gates found his front door inoperable or the subsequent arrival of the local po po's to investigate a reported breaking and entering.

Whether what happened that day is the result of racism will probably depend on your personal perspective. If you are a minority in this country (or any country for that matter) and you have lived your entire life under the weight of the oppressive force of racism that is as intangible but just as real as a fart in the wind (and every bit as offensive) you are likely to see the racism in this episode. If you have the perspective of a street cop and live day to day with the knowledge that your next assignment might be the last thing you do on this earth because some asshole has decided he ain't goin' back to jail you can see the necessity of controlling the situation. On the other hand if you are a non minority who feels like you have done your part to eliminate racism in this country (I'm not racist, hey I voted for Obama) you might wonder what all the fuss is about.

There really ought to be a cost whenever you invoke racism, a licensing fee perhaps. Just like Paul McCartney having to pay Michael Jackson's estate every time he sings Hey Jude. When one hollers racism it is not a personal thing any longer. To cry racism is to summon the pain and fear, the hopes and aspirations of everyone who has ever suffered silently or not so silently under the degradation of a dual system. Calling it racism makes it our business. And business is business, put a nickel in the cup. No matter how disgusting it is, racism is our ugly step baby, and you have awakened it. It needs to be fed and put back to sleep.

There is a certain logic to cops controlling the street. If cops are to control the streets for our mutual benefit, they must, by definition, be invested with a certain amount of ownership of those streets. So when someone fails to comply with a directive from an officer of the law on the streets an assertive response is not unreasonable. There is no such reasonable ownership rights on a man's front porch. My front porch is the one place I ought to be able to act a fool if I have determined that its time to do so.

And if you don't understand what all of the fuss is about, why everyone must get so excited about this then I submit that you are part of the problem (I don't care who you voted for). Because ignorance of and blindness to the problem is what allows it continue to exist.

But I digress, back to the tragedy. The real tragedy occurred when the apparently well intentioned neighbor made the call to law enforcement to report a break in as Mr. Gates attempted to enter his home. The real tragedy is that you can live anywhere in America, but especially in a reasonably safe neighborhood, and not know what your neighbors look like when they live within eye shot of your home.

And unlike racism, that is something each one of us can fix.

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