Teaching Moments with the President, the Policeman, and the Prof

Everyone makes mistakes; the great correct them.

By now, just about everybody in the United States knows that President Obama called the entire Cambridge police force "stupid" because its Sergeant Crowley arrested his good friend Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct.

Mistakes happen everywhere.  Mr. Obama knows that the test of any person is what happens after a mistake is made, for the President just as surely as for the police.

After he recognized the magnitude of the public's negative reaction to his remarks, he backed up with all haste.  Even Prof. Gates is running down the racism flag; the New York Times quoted him as saying:

"I told the president that my entire career as an educator has been devoted to racial healing and improved race relations in this country. I am determined that this be a teaching moment." [emphasis added]

Having a "teaching moment" or two is a very good idea.  Let's look at some of the lessons we can learn:

Mr. Obama is a Human Being

Throughout the course of the recent election, the media presented Mr. Obama as one who walks on water.  During his victory speech, Mr. Obama said, "This is the moment that the oceans ceased to rise."  The Economist noted that a build-up like that causes unrealistic expectations, saying:

If Barack Obama disappoints his supporters, they will have only themselves to blame.

With all due respect to the Economist, this isn't true.  Mr. Obama's followers certainly do have unrealistic expectations, but rather than attempt to dissuade them as the legendary King Canute once did, Mr. Obama pandered to their desire to believe in the almighty power of Hope and Change.  Having built himself up in the eyes of his followers to such a spectacular extent, he's certain to disappoint sooner or later.

Sgt. Crowley pointed out that, having said he did not have the facts, the next thing Mr. Obama should have said is, "I have no comment."  We've all heard the mantra, "Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear."  As skilled an orator as he is, Mr. Obama erred by speaking hastily.

To err is human.  We have important news for all those in the media and on the street who have been worshiping him as a near-deity: Mr. Obama is a human being with all the ills to which the flesh is heir.  Get used to it.  Live with it.

Help make our country great in spite of having a President who's a human being.  We have had all-too-human presidents in the past who have nevertheless accomplished great things - and then some others who have badly failed, in part because nobody dared tell them that just possibly they were on the wrong path.

Mr. Obama Can Admit His Mistakes

My grandma used to say, "If you mess up, 'fess up.  It makes life better."  Having collected some facts, Mr. Obama backed down, sort of:

Mr. Obama described Sergeant Crowley as an "outstanding police officer and a good man" who has "a fine track record on racial sensitivity."

He's backed down before:

I've got to own up to my mistake, which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.

- President Barack Hussein Obama, New York Times quote of the day, Feb 4, 2009

He's admitted to mistakes, but he didn't make any changes after his first admission.  What will he do about this mistake?

Will he acknowledge that white cops sometimes arrest black guys for good reason?  Will he point out that it's stupid to yell at a cop even if the cop is wrong?  Mr. Obama has admitted that he messed up, but he hasn't apologized.  Will he 'fess up?

Mr. Obama is Racist

The New York Times article "Obama Shifts Tone on Gates After Mulling Debate" quoted Mr. Obama's staff:

He was personally outraged by the arrest and wanted to speak bluntly about it, aides said. [emphasis added]

Mr. Obama said he did not have the facts.  How could Mr. Obama be "personally outraged" about an arrest when the only facts he had are that a white policeman arrested his black friend?

He didn't have the facts!  His friend could have been wrong!  Did Mr. Obama think about that?  No.

He made the automatic assumption that the white cop was not only wrong but that he had arrested his black friend for stupid reasons.

Mr. Obama made a decision on the basis of race without knowing the facts.  He judged a man based on the color of his skin when he knew perfectly well that he knew nothing about the content of his character.  Yet he lashed out anyway, without even waiting for the facts he knew he didn't have.  By definition, that was racism.

Many black people have said that many if not most black people think ill of white people just because they're white, but they claim that it isn't racism for black people to dislike whites.  Apologists for black racism state that only powerful people are able to be racists.

Guess what.  Mr. Obama, a black man, is the most powerful man on the face of the earth.  Everywhere he goes, a military officer carries the "football," a small box with the codes to our nuclear arsenal.

Suppose Mr. Obama gets fed up with the Middle East.  He can call this guy over, open the box, send the codes, and have the Middle East turned to glass from the Mediterranean to the Indian border.  The missile guys have a saying, "If it's still there after half an hour, the next one's free."

It would take Mr. Obama no more than half an hour to solve all the problems in the Middle East and eliminate our dependency on terrorist oil in one shot.  Anyone who can vaporize untold millions with the wave of a finger is anything but a downtrodden victim.

Mr. Obama, the most powerful man in the world, has just admitted to making a racist judgment; he condemned a white cop on the basis of race when he had no other facts.  Mr. Obama is a very powerful man who made a racist judgment and who happens to be black.

Mr. Obama Is Not Alone

Mr. Obama is not struggling with racism all by himself.  The problem with following a Great Leader unthinkingly is that you can wind up where you don't want to be.

Dozens of prominent politicians, writers, and pundits now find that they've condemned a highly professional, highly-respected cop unjustly.  We could fill pages with a list of notables who immediately sided with Mr. Obama against Sgt. Crowley when they knew even less about the facts than he did.

For example, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who is black, made the same rush to a racist judgment as Mr. Obama.  He, too, condemned the white cop without having the facts.  The governor of Massachusetts, again by definition, acted like a racist.

Same for the black lady mayor of Cambridge, E. Denise Simmons, who apologized to Prof. Gates on behalf of the city and went on to say, "This can't happen again in Cambridge."  Is she saying that it's open season in that city for housebreakers who happen to be black?  If she means that white cops shouldn't arrest black burglars, one supposes the homeowners and voters of Cambridge might have something to say about it at the next election.

Does this mean that all black Americans are racists?  Of course not, any more than all white people were racists even during the days of slavery.  For every real-life white Simon Legree who owned black people as property and treated them like animals, there was a white Harriet Beecher Stowe or Abraham Lincoln who spent their lives fighting for justice and human rights.

For every Jeremiah Wright, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or, yes, Henry Louis Gates whose business is bigotry and raison d'etre is racism, there's a Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Condoleeza Rice, or Colin Powell who are absolutely determined to succeed based on their own efforts and on nothing else.

Mr. Obama's action was that of a racist.  Some black people are racists.  Some white people are racists.  Let's help each other deal with it.

Help make our country great in spite of it - because for all that there are still racists around, there are fewer than there ever used to be.  The grip of bigotry is a dying hand that wilts whenever it's confronted and called out for what it truly is.

In His Heart, Mr. Obama Doesn't Understand Racism

America's official racists are at least fifty years behind the times.  The vast majority of Americans today truly do judge individuals as individuals just as Dr. King called for and are offended and enraged when others don't.

America has not always been fully "a shining city on a hill," but we've always tried, and we've always moved closer to that goal each day.  Refusing to admit the progress we've made is every bit as bad as denying that any changes are ever needed - and in a way it's worse, because it discourages the well-meaning from trying to make things better.  Sure, everyone might slip from time to time - but by and large, almost all ordinary Americans are colorblind on a day-to-day basis.

For their own partisan political reasons, alas, all too many powerful people refuse to recognize that racial Hope and Change has already long since mostly arrived.  The Times reported that Mr. Obama was "surprised" by the intensity and fury roused by his racist remarks.  We have news for Mr. Obama - white people are fed up of being accused of racism, particularly of being accused of racism by racist black "professors" whose only credentials are affirmative action.

Mr. Obama knows this, in his head.  During the campaign, he talked about white people who resent being passed over in favor of less qualified blacks.  Ms. Sotomayor, his nominee for the Supreme Court, said she would not have made it into Princeton except for her race.

White people knew all along that Mr. Obama nominated a Latina "quota queen" instead of a "wise Latina," but most of them were afraid to say so.

All through the campaign, the media told us that America stood condemned of racism in the eyes of the world and that only by electing a black President could our racist sins be forgiven.  We duly elected a black President - and we're still being accused of racism, this time by a racist black President.

White people - and, surely, more than a few blacks and Hispanics - don't appreciate that level of hypocrisy.  Mr. Obama knows this in his head, but in his heart, he thinks it's OK to call white people racists just because they happen to be white.  Somehow he still manages to be surprised when they react negatively.

If you're going to call somebody a racist, you need to have at least some shred of evidence, it's only right.  To tar an entire race with the "racist" brush doesn't make them racists, it makes you a racist.

Stretching The Thin Blue Line

Meanwhile, humble, hard-working police officers risk their lives every day to protect all of us, black, white, and in between.  The word "cop" comes from "constable on patrol."  A "cop" doesn't sit safely behind a solid metal desk; he's out there in the mean streets where the rubber meets the road and, all too often, bullets fly.  As one of our readers pointed out, every time a cop encounters a citizen, he knows he might get shot dead.

Check out "Two Officers Killed Serving Domestic Abuse Warrant" from policelink.com.  That happened July 27, 2009, a few days after the Gates incident.  "Law Enforcement's Multiple Death Tragedies" reports that on March 21, 2009, four Oakland police officers were gunned down, two when they made a traffic stop and two SWAT team members who responded.  On April 4, three Pittsburgh officers were murdered during a domestic violence call.

The list goes on, and on - yet America's heroes in blue still report to their next shift and put their lives on the line every day.

Commentators who criticized Officer Crowley for arresting a "slight, bespectacled man with a cane" are idiots.  Anybody can pull a gun, knife, or club at any time; canes are good places to hide swords or pepper spray.

Every cop knows this.  Every adult should know this.  Most cops are quiet heroes.  Thank the next cop you meet.

Yelling at Cops is Stupid

Whenever any policeman approaches any stranger, the officer knows that this might be the last thing he ever does.  No matter how experienced he is, a tingle goes up his spine, he breathes funny, his adrenaline pumps, and he's alert for the slightest threat.  No matter how cool he may look as a matter of professional pride, he's nervous.

Yelling at a very nervous man who has been trained how to use his gun is just plain stupid, no matter who you are and no matter who he is.  Making sudden moves can be fatal, he might think you're goin' for a gun.

People complain that Officer Crowley didn't back off when Gates showed his Harvard ID, but Harvard IDs don't give addresses.  All Crowley needed was proof that Gates had a right to be in the house after bashing the door down.  Was finding his drivers license so very hard, or even a piece of mail with his name and the address on it?

The black officer who accompanied Officer Crowley said that the arrest was justified.  Why did Gates fly into a rage?  As my mother used to say, "serenity and tranquility are the hallmarks of maturity."

Was Gates trying to manufacture a "racist" incident for a PBS show?  Did he have a "braino," the mental equivalent of a typo?  Maybe it was a "senior moment," although he's a little young for that.  Hey, it happens to us all, but if that's it, will he apologize?  No sign of an apology yet - but an apology is never too late.

Our First Admitted Racist President

Much good can come from this.  Mr. Obama, our first real black president, has admitted that he made a racist judgment.  Now that he has the facts, he's admitted that Officer Crowley is a highly-competent professional.  He hasn't yet said that his friend was a fool to yell at the cop, but that may come.

Mr Obama has the opportunity to do race relations a power of good.  He could:

  • Admit that his remarks about Officer Crowley were based on race and that black people can be as instinctively racist as white people.  Revs. Wright, Jackson, and Sharpton might just be shocked into silence, and we'll all be the better for it.
  • Point out that the only way to stop racial discrimination is to stop discriminating by race, and that goes for both sides.  Justice Roberts won't mind if the President borrows his line, it's worth repeating.  Mr Obama can add that he knows from personal experience that overcoming one's own inner racist is very hard to do; all Americans can draw together around that.
  • Suggest that not everything that goes wrong between a black and a white is racism, sometimes it's stupidity or bad choices made by individuals who threaten us all.  The vast majority of the victims of black crime are themselves black; how does it help innocent, law-abiding black people if white cops are afraid to arrest black suspects?  Judging people by the content of their characters rightly means that some people - black as well as white - will be condemned that way; this isn't racism, it's justice.
  • Tell everyone, repeat over and over: name calling doesn't help.  If white people think they'll be accused of racism no matter what they do, they might as well gain whatever advantage they can by being as racist as they can get away with.
  • Point out that it's always stupid to yell at cops, they'll think you might be getting ready to attack.  Making a nervous, gun-totin' man or woman even more nervous is never a cool move no matter how unjustified you think he might be.  As all of our past Presidents have done on occasion, Mr. Obama might even quote the Proverbs of Solomon to make his point: "A soft answer turneth away wrath."

Having achieved an undeniable place in history, Mr Obama is reaching for true and lasting greatness, and well he should.  All Americans benefit from having the greatest presidents we can find or grow.  If race relations are America's original sin, Mr. Obama has an opportunity to become an eternal luminary by once and for all openly stating the plain truth to everyone.

He can say that he has occasional racial lapses.  He can say that black people have occasional racist lapses just as white people have their moments of racism and that we should all try to knock if off!  We all say stupid things from time to time.  We all say and do things that others can interpret as racism.  Help make this country great by cutting other people some slack, especially people who're different!

Will white people disrespect President Obama for 'fessing up to his racist moments?  No, we'll respect him for recognizing the obvious: dark thoughts and urges lurk beneath the surface of his humanity just like you and me.  We won't diss his honesty, we'll cheer his efforts to deal with his issues.  As he struggles with his own prejudices and human shortcomings, he can set an example for us all that will live through the ages, and we'll help to the best of our ability.

If he does it, if he becomes our first post-racial President, we'll be the first to honor him for it, but we won't be the last.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
"Mr. Obama made a decision on the basis of race without knowing the facts. He judged a man based on the color of his skin when he knew perfectly well that he knew nothing about the content of his character"

July 28, 2009 8:08 AM
What's yet to be seen is if the "teachers" will become the students within the "teaching-moment" opportunity. One-way teaching is incomplete.

What Crowley should have agreed to is a "LEARNING MOMENT" in which the three participants slip into the other shoes.

This type of "TEACHING" is very over rated. It's not TEACHING, it's "imparting a philosophical tenant", nothing more.

POTUS understands teaching, what is his experience in law enforcement?
July 28, 2009 8:53 AM
Most people are beginning to realize that Barry Sotero Obama was not raised here but in the almost-totally country of Indonesia. He was never a Cub Scout, nor a Boy Scout...the only thing he and his wife, and his friend, Gates, know about is that America schooled them all without one penny out of their pockets...and they bumped the line through Affirmative Action..which even the Black Caucauses have said...'It doesn't work'. No American likes it when someone 'bumps the line' just because of the color of their skin. It seems to me very unfortunate that Barry never learned from the very esteemed words of REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING...'We must judge people by their character, not the color of their skin'

It would be wise for Barry to take heed from this most honored Reverend, instead of the Hate Rhetoric of Rev. Jeremiah Wright!

If Barry wants a transparent society from all Americans...then why doesn't he produce his 'real birth certificate'?

Does he really think that he 'above the law'?...I certainly have to say that he does possibly have this character and personality flaw.

It's too bad that the President of the United States is a RACIST!...of the most foul degree.
July 28, 2009 8:54 AM
"White people - and, surely, more than a few blacks and Hispanics - don't appreciate that level of hypocrisy."

Yep. Here's a bunch of black Cambridge cops who voted for Obama saying they won't next time.

July 28, 2009 10:12 AM
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