GatesGate: Are We Still the Prisoners of Race?

With the Performing Daughter in a big show downtown this weekend, and relatives in town for the occasion,  I’ve been too busy playing tour guide and bottle washer to  blog about GatesGate. I’m definitely late to the party, but a few post-mortem thoughts:

1. Obama’s premature lurch into GatesGate  during his press conference last week was a classic case of what old friend and fellow blogger TheFabSage dubbed ETSOTTGO(eht-SAHT-go), one of my favorite acronyms. It stands for “Easier to Stay Out Than to Get Out,” and man, was that true with Obama.

How easy it would have been for him to stay out by  saying  something like, “I’m troubled by what I’ve heard, and I have great  respect for Professor Gates, but I want to hold off commenting for a while until I can get more details about this incident.”  Period.

2. Alas, Obama’s insistence on going to bat ASAP for his fellow member of the  Talented Tenth led him into a real swamp in which he seemed to be doing two objectionable things: A) Presuming that a member of his own class cohort could not share any blame  in the matter, which shows us that Good Ol’ Boys’ Clubs exist among all kinds of people, and B) playing into the creaky but still nastily alive party line about White Oppressors fighting to  keep Black Victims down forever.

It seems I’m always pointing this out, but one of the most curious phenomena of our time is the Paradox of the Powerful Victim: Minorities who wield enormous power via wealth, celebrity, or position who reflexively, dishonestly behave as if they are illiterate Alabama  sharecroppers in 1949.

We see it with Sonia Sotamayor,  when she was on  the power path at  Yale Law School, embracing “the Third World Community” on campus. We saw it in the recent death of Michael Jackson, with Al Sharpton and others trying to portray “Nothing Strange” Jackson as the victim of a vampiric white tabloid press. And now we see it with Gates, who, the day after the incident, uttered these tragically misguided words:

“What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable all people of color are, and all poor people, to capricious forces like a rogue policeman, and this man clearly was a rogue policeman.”

For a man of Gates’ accomplishments, privilege and power to say this is just heartbreakingly cynical.   I don’t do much gazing into people’s souls, but I’d be astonished if he actually believes that. (Though, alas, many impressionable young blacks may believe it.)  I think Gates knows that he lost his cool and  provoked an ugly national incident, and instead of accepting a chunk of the blame, he  decided to go all in with the scorched-earth race rhetoric, knowing that at least he’d please “the base” among professional rights  activists and the black talk-radio cadre.

3.  Can we get a happy ending? Yes. Obama’s suggestion  that the three men have a beer at the White House is a nimble recovery and a  super idea–a fine gesture of reconciliation that can be done without investigating committees, marches, and lawsuits.  The three of them can get together and  acknowledge that, like everyone else, they’ve made some mistakes. Maybe Gates can at least hint that life in America is a wee bit better now than it was during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.

And how about a handshake on the White House lawn? Hey, if Rabin and Arafat can shake, I bet these guys can work it out.


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