The reaction from the first black president on the arrest of one of America's most famous black intellectuals, according to Evita Neefs, proves that the U.S. is still grappling with diversity, despite all the beautiful myths.
What inspired Barack Obama to call the actions of a white cop who arrested a black man “stupid?” And, most importantly, why did the president involve the racial issue here? Incomprehensible for a politician who never loses his “cool,” he knows exactly how to deal with the media and only raises the issue of race if he really cannot ignore it. But, Obama's response was politically stupid.
First the facts, though somewhat blurred. When Henry Louis Gates on July 16th wanted to enter his house in Cambridge, near Boston, he could not open the door. With the help of his taxi driver, he finally managed to unlock the door, but a white woman, who was suspicious of the fact that two black men were fumbling at a door, had already called the police.
A white cop responded immediately. According to the policeman, Gates began to call and rage that the officer was a racist and only showed his identity after resisting violently. With the help of some colleagues, the officer arrested Gates and took him to the police station. According to the police report, Gates kept on repeating: “Who do you think I am?”
The 58-year-old Gates, walking with a stick after hip surgery, is a professor at Harvard and one of America's most famous specialists in African-American literature and culture. Besides being a valued scientist, he is also renowned as an astute commentator on American society. In Europe, he was especially known for his TV reports on the situation of blacks in the U.S.
And he is a friend of Obama. Maybe that was the reason why on Wednesday, at his press conference on healthcare, Obama responded to a question about the Gates incident. Obama blamed the police and added: "Blacks and Hispanics in this country are subjected to excessive control by the police. It always has been like this and this incident shows that race remains a factor in our society. "
For Obama, this is an unusual response. Indeed, as a presidential candidate, he carefully avoided repeating the error of his black predecessors, who used their candidacy to show the black grievances and were consequently unacceptable to many voters.
The unusual remark on Wednesday does not mean it isn’t correct. The figures confirm this. By the way, Obama also experienced it as a young man.
Race was also an issue during the debate on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court - the first Latino in that prestigious institution. Sotomayor is known to be in favor of appointments taking the color of the candidates into account as a remedy against past racism and discrimination. Her opponents oppose such "reverse discrimination," but do not agree with “racial profiling,” the act of determining police arrests by using a person's skin color.
In his statement, Obama gave his opponents ammunition for a new attack on his patriotism. The most dangerous of all, radio and TV presenter Rush Limbaugh, the eloquent spokesman of the extreme right, let no day pass: "Obama is evil in this country. He does not like the U.S. He is always apologizing for our performance."
Polls on Obama's intervention are not available yet, but chances are that the president himself led to a weakening of his position, all while he is involved in a difficult battle over health insurance reform.
"Common sense should have prevailed," said Obama. Indeed. Even with him, especially since his old approach delivered results. If Obama's failure proves one thing, it is that the U.S. is still grappling with diversity, despite all the beautiful myths.