Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Post-Racial" America?

Selling Obamacare - July 22, 2009Image by Mark Sardella via Flickr

After enormous effort to shift the focus of Americans from the economic crisis to the unarguably important (yet tremendously complex) issue of health care, the Obama administration was (perhaps inevitably) derailed by a single reporter's question about the dust-up between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and the Cambridge, MA police.

The question, "What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?" President Obama's impromptu response, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home" touched off a gasoline bomb in the media. A media, I would argue, desperate for the Next Big Story of the slow summer news cycle.

I find it unfortunate that the attention of the country has wandered from a unique historical opportunity (toward fixing a major systemic problem in American life) to tediously analyzing an off-the-cuff presidential soundbite. But perhaps this blog, and others like it, is a better forum for this issue of race, in an era some have argued is "post-racial" since the election of America's first African-American president. How would you answer the questions? Perhaps we can offload the debate from the shoulders of the politicians and get them to focus on more pressing issues?

Here's Jon Stewart's take on the media circus (warning: some explicit content):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
White House M.D.


Cleo and Leo said...

The president answered honestly, from his gut. Race relations in this country have been somewhat exacerbated by the election of a bi-racial president. Blog watchers tell us that the negative chatter on racist sites has increased dramatically. Bates was in his own home and had a right to be upset.

Miles said...

Amen Bolos! "I find it unfortunate that the attention of the country has wandered from a unique historical opportunity to tediously analyzing an off-the-cuff presidential soundbite."

Like we discussed last school year, when Obama made an under his breath comment on Letterman about the mentally handicapped, we found ourselves over analyzing things that aren't meant to be important. Both comments were not the "smartest" things to say, so of course the media ate them up. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the reporter who asked the question is a correspondent for AOL news, a player in the perpetuation of media over analysis. Anyway, how is President Obama supposed to react to a question that had nothing to do with the questions he had previously answered? Also, so what, the President chose the wrong words, no surprise to a nation that has witnessed one of the most verbally challenged Presidents, i.e. the last eight years. Yet the media, especially the conservative media (who defended Bush's every last word) find this remark to be catastrophic. It's interesting, very, very interesting

Jackie said...

careful not to let that bias shine through too much miles, haha.

I think, believe it or not, the election of Obama actually made America more sensitive about race. We don't like the idea that we are racist, and we thought that electing a black president would prove we are over that era, but we aren't, and i don't really think we ever will be, no matter how many black presidents we elect. And because everybody keeps saying that everything has changed, when we find proof it hasn't, obama supportors get really defensive, while things like the 'conservative media' (whatever that is) get really aggressive. We are more eager to fight about something that we believe very strongly in.

I didn't get to watch the Daily show post because the computer i'm commenting off of in africa doesn't have speakers! But i'm sure he had some pretty interesting things to say, and i'll listen to them when i get home.

All in all, I think we are going to have a lot of problems similar to this in the future, as much as we would love to believe it, the election did not change everything.

Doc OC said...

I certainly agree that it is a shame that the health care debate was sidetracked by a last second, off-the-cuff remark, it is a powerful comment on the nature of contemporary media.

Frank Rich of the New York Times cited an MSNBC cable anchor who admitted that “Health care is bad for ratings.” What a relief, then, Rich continues "to drop dreary debates about the public option and declare a national conversation about black-white fisticuffs."

Since Mr. Bolos rightly suggests that this blog is a better response vehicle, here is my take: While I feel that both Officer Crowley and Professor Gates over-reacted, only one of them was "on-duty." Gates was acting well within his rights as a citizen. The 911 call occurred at 12:45, and Gates was in cuffs by 12:51. Even if one were to concede that Gates inflamed the situation by speaking derisively to the policeman, Crowley was not able to remain calm -- his job, in this instance -- for 6 minutes (minus the time it took for him to arrive on the scene and for Crowley to follow Gates and his walking cane into the house for identification). While some conclude that the only stance a citizen is to take is mute submission, we are entitled to free speech. Gates was not obstructing justice, he was screaming for some justice. Could Gates have handled the situation more calmly? Sure -- but is the onus really on him in this case?