Gates Affair Discussed More This Week Than in 2009 – Why?

Posted on July 23, 2010


You will remember that in the early months of the Obama Presidency, a distinguished professor at Harvard University who was a black friend of the President’s was arrested by the Cambridge Police.  Two men had been seen trying to break into Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates’ residence and the police were summoned. Gates himself was trying to break into his home having lost his key.  But a confrontation between Gates and a policeman followed in the height of emotion and confusion and Gates was arrested.

At his first press conference, the President acknowledged that all of the facts were not in but that the Cambridge Police acted stupidly.  Due process was out the window and so was the loyalty of many whites who had helped elect him.

Now we come to the Shirley Sherrod affair and it almost seems as if the President, blinded by the term “racist,” grabbed at an opportunity to clean up the image of his judgment in 2009 by immediately declaring that Sherrod, a black woman, was racist.  Score: love – 0.  Advantage Obama.  But that is not how it fell out. He and Sherrod’s boss among others were accused of being a kind of lynch mob, skirting due process and executing the woman – stoning her perhaps?  Shockingly, this whole matter was not blamed on Bush but on the head of the Department of Agriculture, Sherrod’s boss, Tom Vilsack, who had consulted with the President about firing her. [ABCNews]

Since the Sherrod matter, there has been more discussion of the Gates affair than there was when it happened. Why?  Are we afraid?  Do we suppress the issue of race as a point of discussion? The result of all of this avoidance seems to have been for the Gates issue to spill over into the Sherrod affair.  Conclusion: incidents of pre-judgment and hate driven racism simply build on one another over time if not effectively addressed soon after they have occurred.

If we don’t STOP to examine the major bumps along the road to equality then we are taking steps back each time.  We will end up with civil unrest.  The mere presence of a Black Panther group who have such national standing should worry all of us who seek racial harmony and equality.  But like a good marriage, it has to be worked at.

At the Beer Summit it was agreed there would needed to be a national dialogue about what happened.  Instead, it dropped from the headlines like a stone.  And white America especially did not speak up about it and how it truly affected them and their view of the President.  What was that all about?  Fear they would be called racist? Could it be that they didn’t want to “lynch” him verbally before there was more opportunity for a larger forum for debating race relations and the origins of hate?

The President did only two things when the Gates affair was over:

1. Organized a Beer summit of 4 people with pretzels and beer in the steamy White House Garden in summer.

2. He made some summary remarks about the incident including his reaction.

He did not do 2 important things:

1.  He did not delegate the authority to set up a conference or study group for race relations as promised.

2. He never apologized directly to the Police for his knee-jerk condemnation.  The police are his people on the streets. He is the boss of the nation’s top cop.

In the end, the whole thing was a teachable moment in way Obama could not know.  He had stood before us as a man whose judgment had been less than adequate in a key moment in our nation’s history.

Here is a thoughtful reaction to what happened.  We need more of them and in an organized format so that we all hear the same thing at the same time.  You must listen to this.

And here is our President who can’t bring himself to apologize to the Cambridge Police or consider that they were innocent until proved guilty.  He is still splitting hairs about the police.