FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

No Racism in Obama’s Post-Race America?

by WAJAHAT ALI

The farcical arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for “disorderly conduct” and President Obama’s recent “re-calibration” of his initial criticis, in which he accurately concluded the Cambridge police department behaved “stupidly,” reminds us that apparently the only way to transcend racism is to ignore its existence and place blame equally on the victim and the offender.

The police, led by arresting officer Sgt Crowley, arrived at the Gates’ residence responding to a call reporting suspicious behavior and attempted burglary in a predominantly white, middle class neighborhood. The blogosphere, infotainment channels and talking head commentators are riled in passionate debate over whether President Obama should have opined that the police behaved “stupidly” for arresting an allegedly loud and vocal Gates, the house’s resident.

The acclaimed professor’s crime was to accuse the police of unequal treatment, based on his skin color and his refusal to not immediately step out on the porch when asked. Despite Gates having already proved his identity by showing the police his ID, they continued to doubt him.
One wonders what chaos would erupt if Obama had explicitly called out the arrest for what it actually represented: stupidity and racism.

Apparently, President Obama’s election has transformed racism into a verbal “Voldemort” – a word that must not be mentioned lest we, as a society, have to actually acknowledge its existence in order to forcefully confront and overcome its pervasiveness.

This hesitation persists despite a very thorough, recent ACLU report submitted to the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, which concluded: “Racial profiling remains a widespread and pervasive problem throughout the US, impacting the lives of millions of people in the African American, Asian, Latino, South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities.”

The naive and well-intentioned white commentators on the cable news channel MSNBC discussed Gates’ arrest with two African American commentators, Carlos Watson and Harold Ford, and passionately defended the police, incredulous as to how President Obama or anyone could label the arrest “stupid” considering that Gates “act[ed] in a tumultuous way.”

Apparently when men of colour voice their anger at unequal treatment, bias and hypocrisy, it’s labeled “tumultuous,” formerly known as “uppity,” but when loud, belligerent white male commentators bark it on talk radio, they can make millions for simply “telling it like it is.”

To many, Obama’s bi-racial features and multisyllabic, Arabic name project a globalised, “United Colors of Beneton” poster for a new, diverse America that has “moved beyond race.” Thus, any mention of racism or racial profiling by ethnic minorities, such as Latinos, Africans Americans and Arab Americans, is immediately rebuked as whining victimhood by many commentators – yes, even the progressives – who point to Obama’s election as proof that we now live in an enlightened “post-racial” society.

This erroneous belief continues despite last year’s presidential campaign, where Obama was routinely smeared by a litany of fear-mongering involving racial and religious hysteria, employed by both Republicans and his Democratic opponent Senator Clinton. They associated him with Islam, Palestinians, socialism, Louis Farrakhan and black radicalism. The media pilloried Reverend Wright, a passionate and vocal preacher whose temper and politically incorrect comments were far less incendiary than previous presidential allies such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, yet nonetheless earned Wright honorary titles such as “crazy,” “angry,” and “anti-American.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama played it cool and calm, rarely showing indignation or anger like his opponent McCain, and tried desperately to avoid confronting any mention of racism until the shameful Reverend Wright hazing – and a subsequent drop in Obama’s support among white middle class voters – forcing him to give his eloquent yet substantively shallow “transcendent race speech” in Philadelphia.

However, President Obama bluntly confronted the issue of racial profiling and unequal treatment in his initial, off-the-cuff comment on Gates’ absurd arrest, saying: “Any of us would be pretty angry … that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.… There is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that’s just a fact.”

Yet, with declining poll numbers and a habitual tendency, or perhaps necessity, as to not appear too angry as to worry the middle class white electorate, Obama stated that he regretted his initial words, praised the arresting officer as “outstanding,” suggested both the police and Gates overreacted, and seemingly apologised for helping to contribute to “ratcheting it up” – “it” being the accurate analysis of the police’s conduct as “stupid” and the pressing need to have critical dialogue on racism and racial profiling. President Obama continued, “I could have calibrated those words differently.”

Perhaps President Obama should heed the advice of his Attorney General, Eric Holder, and “re-calibrate” law enforcement policies, considering both Obama and Holder have publicly stated ending racial profiling is a priority and that profiling is “simply not good law enforcement.”

In addition to its ineffectiveness, racial profiling forcefully reminds many Americans that despite their academic achievements, Harvard degrees, publications or scholastic achievements, their skin color continues to reward them with “reasonable suspicion” and unequal treatment by law enforcement. For example, the New York City police department’s 2008 statistics on their “stop and frisk policy” showed a record 531,159 stops – over 80% of which were of black and Latino New Yorkers.

If President Obama’s multicultural America truly wants to “transcend” racism, then it must be willing to “ratchet it up” and at least confront the existence of a policy that that frequently torments her citizens of color. In the case of Gates’ arrest, we must acknowledge the racial undertones provoking the event, as evidenced by the polarising viewpoints and reactions from minorities who cite such police conduct as familiar occurrences and others who sometimes, despite the best of intentions and without malice, fail to see blatant racism staring them in the face.

At the very least, we all should be able to call it “stupid.”

WAJAHAT ALI is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders” is the first major play about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Edition
May 06, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Dave Wagner
When Liberals Run Out of Patience: the Impolite Exile of Seymour Hersh
John Stauber
Strange Bedfellows: the Bizarre Coalition of Kochs, Neocons and Democrats Allied Against Trump and His #FUvoters
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and the End of the Democratic Party
Joshua Frank
Afghanistan: Bombing the Land of the Snow Leopard
Bill Martin
Fear of Trump: Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism
Doug Johnson Hatlem
NYC Board of Elections Suspends 2nd Official, Delays Hillary Clinton v. Bernie Sanders Results Certification
Carol Miller
Pretending the Democratic Party Platform Matters
Paul Street
Hey, Bernie, Leave Them Kids Alone
Tamara Pearson
Mexico Already Has a Giant Wall, and a Mining Company Helped to Build It
Paul Craig Roberts
Somnolent Europe, Russia, and China
Dave Lindorff
Bringing the Sanders ‘Revolution’ to Philly’s Streets
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Last Gasp Imperialism
Carmelo Ruiz
The New Wave of Repression in Puerto Rico
Jack Denton
Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”
Jeffrey St. Clair
David Bowie’s 100 Favorite Books, the CounterPunch Connection
David Rosen
Poverty in America: the Deepening Crisis
Pepe Escobar
NATO on Trade, in Europe and Asia, is Doomed
Pete Dolack
Another Goodbye to Democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is Passed
Carla Blank
Prince: Pain and Dance
Gabriel Rockhill
Media Blackout on Nuit Debout
Barry Lando
Welcome to the Machine World: the Perfect Technological Storm
Hilary Goodfriend
The Wall Street Journal is Playing Dirty in El Salvador, Again
Frank Stricker
Ready for the Coming Assault on Social Security? Five Things Paul Ryan and Friends Don’t Want You to Think About
Robert Gordon
Beyond the Wall: an In-Depth Look at U.S. Immigration Policy
Roger Annis
City at the Heart of the Alberta Tar Sands Burning to the Ground
Simon Jones
RISE: New Politics for a Tired Scotland
Rob Hager
After Indiana: Sanders Wins another Purple State, But Remains Lost in a Haze of Bad Strategy and Rigged Delegate Math
Howard Lisnoff
Father Daniel Berrigan, Anti-war Hero With a Huge Blindspot
Adam Bartley
Australia-China Relations and the Politics of Canberra’s Submarine Deal
Nyla Ali Khan
The Complexity of the Kashmir Issue: “Conflict Can and Should be Handled Constructively
Josh Hoxie
American Tax Havens: Elites Don’t Have to go to Panama to Hide Their Money–They’ve Got Delaware
Ramzy Baroud
The Spirit of Nelson Mandela in Palestine: Is His Real Legacy Being Upheld?
Alli McCracken - Raed Jarrar
#IsraelSaudi: A Match Made in Hell
George Wuerthner
Working Wilderness and Other Code Words
Robert Koehler
Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz
Ron Jacobs
Psychedelic Rangers Extraordinaire
Missy Comley Beattie
It’s a Shit Show!
David Macaray
Our Best Weapon Is Being Systematically Eliminated
Colin Todhunter
Future Options: From Militarism and Monsanto to Gandhi and Bhaskar Save
Binoy Kampmark
The Trump Train Chugs Along
Cesar Chelala
A Lesson of Auschwitz
John Laforge
Dan Berrigan, 1921 – 2016: “We Haven’t Lost, Because We Haven’t Given Up.”
Norman Trabulsy Jr
John Denver and My 40th High School Reunion
Charles R. Larson
Being Gay in China, Circa 1987
David Yearsley
Skepticism, Irony, and Doubt: Williams on Bach
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail