Thursday, July 30, 2009

race relations in the news

earlier this month, i wrote for the first time in a while about race and race relations in the u.s. shortly after that, race stories were seemingly all over the news:

the cambridge police arrest of harvard professor henry louis gates
. imo, gates unnecessarily escalated the situation. but was it really necessary to arrest him, especially after it became clear that he was lawfully in his own home? shouldn't the officer walk away in that situation?

president obama stirred the pot with off-the-cuff comments on the subject
. i had mixed feelings on this. i'm glad that he was willing to address directly the issue of race and race relations, but publicly 'taking a side' before investigating the episode seemed an uncharacteristic (and unfortunate) misstep. likewise, the fact that he was surprised by the swift, intense reaction was... well, surprising. he's the president of the united states, and he said that the police acted stupidly - he didn't think anyone would have a reaction to that?

conversely, i was grieved at the tone of some of the critics of gates and obama. is it really possible that we don't understand how a black man could get angry about being confronted by a police demanding proof that he belonged in his own home, or that someone might come to the conclusion that the police also overreacted by arresting a senior citizen whom they had confirmed was the homeowner? should we not hear gates' and obama's responses in the historical-sociological context of how blacks have been treated in this country?

of course, the gates episode was a single (if paradigmatic) incident. but the cnn story citing studies that reveal how a person's race could affect the medical treatment they receive took into account a broader data set. the results are both sobering and provocative. where is our outrage over this as a nation -- or as the people of God?

on a different note, i was pleasantly surprised to learn that california has apologized to its chinese american community for racist laws dating back to the gold rush of the mid-1800s. some of these were in force for nearly 100 years, prohibiting the chinese from owning property (including land), marrying whites, working in the public sector, and testifying against whites in court. the time magazine article on the subject points out that this is only the latest government act of contrition with regard to race relations, as there seems to be an outpouring of official remorse from governments around the globe.

yes, the acts are largely symbolic. but symbols mean things. acknowledging the injustices of the past may not fix everything, but that could be said of any apology. an apology, in and of itself, is not 'doing justice' -- but it is often an important step in restoring a broken relationship. and if recent events reveal anything, it's that even accounting for the progress that's been made in the u.s., the relationship between the races could use some more restoring.

the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
and refined, aged wine.
and on this mountain he will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
he will swallow up death for all time,
and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,
and he will remove the reproach of his people from all the earth;
for the LORD has spoken.
isaiah 25:6-8


Bora said...

One of my reflections is, especially where race and the police are concerned, it's hard to unpush a button once you've pushed it.

I've been thinking about this and hope to post about it soon. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts.

Bevy said...

The police seem LESS willing to put up with abuse than they used to be. Have you watched COPS at all? 'Get on the ground' they command - I mean they WANT the person to do it NOW. And if you won't, REGARDLESS of your race - you will suffer the consequences.
Every person HAS to show PROOF of ownership - that they live/own the house that is being investigated for a POSSIBLE burgle ... this is SOP.
That he's getting all upset about it is ridiculous - and in my humble opinion - he's pretty full of himself.
Unfortunately, the officer DIDN'T know 'who he was messing with' - so Gates got some publicity from it and some notoriety.
Should the officer just walk away. Sure! But he didn't. And the Hispanic and Black officers there AGREED with the arrest of Gates.
Very interesting in my book.
I think it's LESS about race and more about POLICE PROCEDURES! And the latter are a mystery to me.
I worked as a Police dispatcher and was married to a State Trooper.
Let me tell you - he was CRITICIZED for taking a 7 year old boy home who was playing on a snow bank along the side of a road on a cold/ice foggy winter day. He was concerned that the boy would accidentally get run over by a car.
The mother of the boy called the Staties to VERIFY that he was REALLY a Trooper - maybe he was not in uniform - I don't know.
But Police get it from ALL SIDES. They have a VERY VERY DIFFICULT job.
God bless the officer involved and I hope that the beer fest that O seems to think will cure all - will CURE all and put out the fire of indignation and false accusations by those that DON'T understand what it's like to deal with abusive peeps. And Gates was ABUSIVE! In the old days they called it assault and battery and I think assault is the verbal end of things.

gr8god said...

bora: true about unpushing the button, though i wonder - which button-pushings do you think were justified, which weren't? iow, was gates right to come out swinging verbally, or was the officer right to arrest him for 'tumultuous' behavior? should the president have withheld judgment, or was it right to speak out on this too often neglected topic? looking forward to reading your post.

bevy: i agree that the police have a ridiculously difficult job, and i am sympathetic to the stressfulness of the challenges they face. i'm sure that whatever they do, they get criticized. i likewise agree that some things are true regardless of your race, and picking a fight with a cop (even a verbal one) is never a good idea.

gr8god said...

just when you thought it was safe to go into the water...

truth is surely stranger than fiction.