Friday, July 24, 2009

On the tumultuous

Who knows what pressures (implicit or otherwise) have come to bear on Barack Obama, for him to forego the word 'stupid' that he had earlier used to describe the conduct of that police officer as he confronted Skip Gates in his own house?

The debate among the global commentariat on the Cambridge imbroglio has been pretty heated but also quite balanced, with good points made on both sides. That police officers should be treated with respect, regardless of the colour of those they are questioning, and that they should be contacted if a neighbour spots a potential intruder (black or white), are both in the abstract unobjectionable points. That a home-owner becomes intemperate, nay tumultuous, when viewed with the continued suspicion Gates was even after showing his Harvard card in his own home, is only natural. That white people can often subconsciously turn the black male body (even the black male body of a neighbour) into the archetype of criminality (as Brits do with anyone wearing a hood) shows how deeply permeated the stain of race is into the grain of American society. That playing the race card can create a self-fulfilling prophesy is undeniable, but that this negative feedback loop is always intersected by the discursive violence of white folks - talking away the churning experience of black folks who are simply trying to get ahead in a world that is symbolically and existentially stacked against them in the most subtle and unsubtle ways on a daily basis - is also equally undeniable.

More generally, the various discursive responses to social conflict situations come pre-coded by the legacy dynamics of power. Whatever we say by way of reflective response is always after-the-fact and conditioned by the ways in which power reproduces itself through the body and our bodies. In America, race remains the dirty little secret, as class does in the UK. No matter what talk of a post-racial America, or a more meritocratic Britain, the habitus of a contorted social nexus endures. We sit across from each other, divided by the scars and wounds of history.

There is hope. Rather than see Gatesgate as giving the lie to the idea that the post-racial is upon us, Obama's linguistic correction shows that a balanced perspective is still possible. The policeman may have been blinkered by an unconscious racial bias which stopped him from accepting as fact the evidence before him; at the same time as in a parallel universe, the esteemed Harvard scholar might have behaved a little less dramatically.


chinny 4:21 am  

obama is facing a dilemma - he can chose to say nothing about race thereby ensuring that white america is never made to feel uncomfortable about its racist legacy or he can express indignation about racism as he did in his earlier press conference when the question about Skip Gates was raised and risk incurring the wrath of racist white americans who simply do not want to hear the truth.

unfortunately obama is not the president of a utopian society and therefore he is doomed to fall foul of white america sooner or later - in other words if he appears to be showing too much sympathy for issues that face blacks in america ie racism he will immediately face condemnation from white america. this is what has happened in this instance and i beleive that this is the reason for "Obama's linguistic correction" as you put it.

It appears that Gates has suffered the same fate that Reverend Wright suffered - disassociation and rejection in order to ensure the continued support from white america at the expense of black america.

Obama is in an unwinnable position as far as race is concerned - ironically the Gates saga reflects exactly what reverend wright was referring to when he highlighted america's sordid past. At the time that he made those statements the shameless american media ferociously condemned ,demonised and savaged him for exposing them, now the reverend can be vindicated for pointing out something that is glaringly obvious to any right thinking person.

police brutality towards black men is a common occurence in western countries and despite the fact that in this instance the police officer did not manhandle Professor Gates the point is he treated this man like a common criminal despite the fact this man is a Harvard college professor Something tells me that if this police officer had behaved similarly to a white college professor he would have found himself looking for another job. This demonstrates how the rules change whenever blacks are involved, what i find baffling is the issue of treating police officers with respect - isnt that a joke! can you explain to me why a police officer should be treated with respect after he has arrested you in your own home despite being shown id! the truth of the matter is that the police were called because Professor Gates fitted the racial profile of what many whites believe is a criminal- a male black person -if he were white the police would not have been called simple and short. In america or the UK if you are a black male you are 7 times more likely to be stopped by police and questioned - FACT! so lets not dance around the issue.

the british like to assume the moral high ground by proclaiming that their society is much more liberal but is instead class obsessed. I find this argument not only offensive but an attempt to portray others as ignorant , how can the UK which was responsible for inventing the transatlantic slave trade and the destruction of african civilization not be racist. How can a country which is still responsible for propping up genocidal dictatorships all over africa not be racist. It was out of the aforementioned acts that racism grew to become the monster that it is today in western society.

Look at the UK's track record on race relations in the UK today - look at the number of black men who have died in police custody in the UK, look at the level of racial discrimination with regard to employment, housing, look at the fact that black men make up 24% of the prison population in the UK despite only constituting less than 3 % of the entire population of the UK. if the UK is merely class obsessed how come the odious bigot by the name of Nick Griffin of the racist BNP was recently appointed an MEP despite the BNP's slogans stating that all non whites will face forced repartriation in the event of the BNP securing a majority in parliament.

To say that the UK is more of a class conscious society rather than racist is the most deluded and pathetic statement ive ever heard.

Oguro,  12:47 pm  

Was lovely reading this, one your better posts.

Kola Tubosun 1:42 pm  

I have also been impressed by how balanced the commentaries on the issue have been. From blaming the policeman who arrested a man in his own home, to condemning the racial profiling that necessitated calling the police in the first place... to questioning Professor Gates' own demeanour during a simple questioning exercise. (He was said to have kept repeating "Do you know who I am?" while screaming at the cop. He is Obama's friend, we now know). Could he not have shown the officer an ID, thanked him, and resumed his business of settling into his home? After all if someone else had broken into his home, he would have expected the police to have responded equally fast notwithstanding the colour of his skin.

The issue of race is a very complex one, but like the POTUS said, we don't know how much it played a part in this case. After all, the police officer is a decorated officer who had given mouth-to-mouth to an African-American sometimes ago, and had even taught the subject of racial profiling himself. Would it have been different if it was the black cop that arrested Professor Gates for disorderly behaviour? Would Prof Gates have complained this bitterly, or would the President have had to meddle in what should have been a domestic affair?

Maybe not every legal issue should be seen from black or white peephole.

Anonymous,  3:00 pm  

can you commit the offense of disorderly conduct in your own home. that questions needs to be answered first. i mean yelling at someone, even a cop, in your own home should not be an offense. the cop would not have arrested dershowitz or any other harvard professors. this was pure racism

Anonymous,  8:04 pm  

Great thoughts, Jeremy and Kola. America needs a teaching moment about the race discussion but I'm beginning to fear that this was the wrong occasion upon which to base it. Just last month the police showed up at my house because my alarm went off and requested my ID. All it took was a polite 'thank you' on both sides and that was that. Granted I wasn't being arrested or harassed so I saw no need to demand the cop's ID. If I really needed to know, I could have called the station to find out the officer's ID or simply note his car, badge no. etc. It's the service I expect from my taxes. If my house were being broken into, I sure hope my neighbours will call the cops. I understand that the Prof was tired, irritable etc after a long flight, stuck door, cop showing up and so on - but what was Obama's excuse for the foot-in-mouth poke-nose?? Makes me pity those of us who aren't presido's friends.

Sean,  1:44 pm  

well put. ah, the academic in you is coming out.
btw, sorry about the internet connection

Fred 3:05 pm  

It always amazes me when you comment on race-relations in a country you know next-to-nothing about, Jez. Oh well, "commentariat," that tortured but quite apt adjective holds here, I guess.

About This Blog

  © Blogger templates Psi by 2008

Back to TOP