The first black president, the first black first lady, the first black attorney general, more African-Americans in the White House than ever before – but old problems, old worries, reservations and prejudices are still present. On both sides.
This has all been prompted by a curious criminal case and a thoughtless comment from the president.
It was already a few weeks ago that the famed Harvard professor Henry Gates wanted to enter his house after returning from a trip to China. However, the door did not open, so he pulled it and shook it and finally kicked it open. This caught the attention of neighbors and the police, and a white police sergeant finally asked the professor if he was authorized to enter the house and if he could identify himself as the owner. The professor was outraged and considered it an improper demand.
An argument ensued, at the end of which the Harvard professor was taken to the local police station in plastic handcuffs for disorderly conduct and was kept there for several hours. For the angry Gates, this was obviously racism. His black friends and companions felt the same way.
Barack Obama is also friends with Gates and knew about the incident, which has become public beyond the university campus only now, weeks afterwards. When asked about it at a press conference, the president frivolously claimed that the police had acted “stupidly.” Although he did not know the case in all its details, past experience shows that white police officers have it out for African-Americans.
Too bad Obama had not read up on things better beforehand. No, not about the statistics, but about the specific case itself. According to the principle “what is right in 80 cases is also right in 100,” he used the wrong example as an illustration of an overall correct observation. The outrage about the president is big. Often, it is feigned or consciously fueled by politicians, but it is equally as often meant earnestly.
The fact is that the white police officer did not act alone. Several other colleagues were present, among them at least one black officer. He now attests his colleague had acted appropriately and had not been led by racist motives for even one second. The white officer initially reacted very patiently to the professor’s temper tantrums and insults, until he was forced to take more drastic measures.
Now, one could counter the white officer’s colleague by saying that police officers stick up for each other, regardless of race. But the white police officer has a pristine reputation: a black supervisor had chosen him many years ago to teach young police officers tolerance and to make them aware of conscious and unconscious prejudices. His students, white and black, were and still are enthusiastic about their teacher.
Nevertheless, in principle Obama has a point. But only in principle. Of course one wonders if the arrest of the professor was not an overreaction. White people are also taken to the station in handcuffs for no good reason. The newspapers are always reporting on small traffic violations, tipsy housewives and shoplifters. In principle, it is also true that the police and justice system treat black Americans more harshly than white Americans. They are being put into prison much more frequently and are being sentenced to long imprisonments or even death more often. This has been proven by innumerable studies.
Obama is now busy healing the wounds of American racism. Because of his biography, he is qualified for it like no other and has already proven his capabilities in several groundbreaking speeches. He has appealed to the conscience of both white and black Americans not to jump to conclusions, but to look carefully and consider all the facts before pointing blame at others.
His lapse does not render his speeches and actions worthless. He already apologized to the white police officer and invited him and Gates for a beer at the White House. But nevertheless, the mediator and bridge builder has fallen into the racism trap himself for the first time.
Edited by Alex Brewer