Deadly Viper: It’s not courageous to say you weren’t offended

It’s taken me awhile to finally write a blog post (not that people will read this, haha). I’ve been late to the game and I don’t really have much to add. But here are some of my thoughts and I’m sure these have been expressed already on many other blogs. I’ve been hesitant to write about it for some reason. I don’t claim to be right or have the answers. I have my own blind spots in all of this. But these are some of my thought – for what they’re worth.

I’ve been reading various blogs about the whole situation with Deadly Viper. In some ways I have been encouraged and inspired and in other ways I have been angered and disheartened.

What has been encouraging for me is to see Asian American voices being heard in all of this. I was able to hear from voices I hadn’t hear from before. I was able to talk with people about this in a way I hadn’t before. People were willing to share their pain and were not willing to be silent on this. You could see people writing emails to Zondervan to express their dismay at what was taking place. You could see and feel the empowerment of Asian Americans to speak up. I saw glimpses of an American American voice and presence in the larger Christian community. As the larger Asian American Christian voice is still forming and emerging, it was gratifying for me to see other Asian American Christians willing to engage and participate in this vital issue of race and racism in the larger Christian community. I was also encouraged by non-Asian American voices in the Church willing to advocate and speak out on this issue.

I was also inspired by Asian American leaders in the church willing to speak up for those who feel voiceless. It’s not an easy place for these leaders to put themselves out there because they knew there would be a backlash against them. But the courage they showed in their Christ-like advocacy has been inspiring for me and so many others who felt like they didn’t have much power to say anything.

While there have been things that have been encouraging, there has been plenty that has been discouraging, especially the backlash against the Asian American leaders who spoke out and against the Asian American community at large. I guess I shouldn’t surprised. But it’s still disheartening nonetheless. In this age of Obama, things are scary out there.

I’ve been listening to so many Christians, mostly white, but also other Asian Americans, who are basically telling those who have been offended and who have spoken up that “we need to get over it”. Our problem or our sin is that we CHOOSE to be offended. Everything feels so backward. How did the oppressed get turned into the perpetrator? This has brought up all those all too many times in my life when I was told to GET OVER IT! I need to be thick-skinned and if I was offended I just suck it up and move on. I went through a long period of my life with that attitude. How damaging it was for me to keep all my emotions and anger inside. I will not GET OVER IT! I am speaking up not so I can go through my gripes against white people. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with my love for greater Christian community that values Christ-like justice, reconciliation, and inclusion.

Many have commented on the way Professor Soong-Chan Rah handled the situation. He’s already apologized for his part. However, much of his reaction was facilitated by the dismissive response by Mike. Had he responded differently, I think Professor Soong-Chan Rah would have acted differently. Had Soong-Chan Rah not called people to action, I don’t think Mike and Jud or Zondervan would have responded.

I know some who claim to know Mike and Jud have said they were trying honor Asian culture and consulted other Asian Americans. However, I have to ask, who were the Asian Americans around them who were giving them counsel that thought this marketing would be culturally sensitive and honoring to Asian culture and Asian Americans?

What may be the saddest part of this whole deal is how this is looking to nonChristian Asian Americans who already think Christianity is an oppressive force and that the Church glosses over issues of race and justice. What kind of witness are we demonstrating to nonChristian Asian Americans with this backlash and justification of cultural insensitivity to the Asian American community?

I have been taken aback by the arrogance of those who confidently state that they have the theological high ground by quoting the same scriptures that purport to devalue race and ethnicity. It just shows the dominant view in the Church through the lens of individualism and reductionism. Like Soong-Chan Rah’s book states, we are witnessing the Western cultural captivity of the Church. Scripture being used to justify ignorance and cultural insensitivity is extremely dismaying to say the least.

I’ve already seen comments on blogs in which there have been white Christians not just discussing the Deadly Vipers incident but also their gripes against Asian Americans and other people of color. It’s sad that it has deteriorated to that point.

Lastly, I’d like to say that it’s not courageous to say you weren’t offended. I’ve seen some blogs by Asian Americans who have proudly stated that they weren’t offended by the marketing of Deadly Vipers and they even have the audacity to apologize on behalf of the whole Asian American community. The Asian American community is not monolithic and they don’t need to apologize on my behalf. I have no problem with Asian Americans stating that they weren’t offended by the material or they thought Mike and Jud were trying to honor Asian Americans. That’s fine. However, those views have implicitly given license to those white Christians who are angry about this to blame the Asian American community for their feeling of “losing” Deadly Vipers and in some way “losing” power. I’ve seen so many of the white Christians who are angry about this justifying themselves by citing various Asian American bloggers who say they weren’t offended. They are called courageous by these white Christians. I don’t think it’s courageous. I think the ones who have been courageous are those who have spoken out against the cultural insensitivity of the marketing of Deadly Vipers even though they knew there would be a huge backlash by many white and some Asian Americans in the Church.

Soong Chan-Rah, Eugene Cho, Kathy Khang, Ken Fong, and Nikki Toyama-Szeto have stated their desire for Mike and Jud to be restored and for their ministry to continue. I hope Mike and Jud come back and get to continue their ministry that has changed the lives of so many. I think they can do that without being culturally insensitive to Asian Americans in the process. Let’s hope the reconciliation process will continue and that all those involved would continue to rely on God for discernment and that we would move a step forward in the elusive place of racial reconciliation.

I hope the three people who read this post enjoyed reading it. =)


U.S.-born Asian-American women more likely to think about, attempt suicide

University of Washington

Aug. 17, 2009 | Social Science | Health and Medicine
U.S.-born Asian-American women more like to think about, attempt suicide

Joel Schwarz joels@u.washington.edu

Although Asian-Americans as a group have lower rates of thinking about and attempting suicide than the national average, U.S.-born Asian-American women seem to be particularly at risk for suicidal behavior, according to new University of Washington research.

The study shows 15.93 percent of U.S.-born Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetime, exceeding national estimates of 13.5 percent for all Americans. The finding comes in a study published in the current issue of the journal Archives of Suicide Research. Lifetime estimates of suicide attempts also were higher among U.S-born Asian-American women than the general population, 6.29 percent vs. 4.6 percent.

Data from the study were drawn from the larger National Latino and Asian-American Study and were based on bilingual interviews with almost 2,100 individuals at least 18 years of age. Two-thirds were immigrants from Asia and women made up 53 percent of the respondents. Participants included 600 Chinese, 520 Vietnamese, 508 Filipinos and 467 other Asians, including Japanese, Koreans and Asian Indians.

“It is unclear why Asian-Americans who were born in the United States have higher rates of thinking about and attempting suicide,” said Aileen Duldulao, a UW doctoral student in social work and lead author of the study. “There is the theory of the ‘healthy immigrant’ that proposes immigrants may be healthier on average than U.S-born Americans, because of the selectivity of migration or the retention of culturally-based behaviors. But it is unclear if this theory is the mechanism at work with regard to our findings.”

Evidence supporting this idea was previously found among Mexican-American and Latino American immigrants. However, Duldulao said, the health of immigrants tends to decline with the number of years they spend in the U.S. and start adopting behaviors that are less healthy than those found in their homeland.

The suicide data echo a 2006 study that showed Asian immigrants to the U.S. have significantly lower rates of psychiatric disorders than American-born Asians and other native-born Americans. That study’s lead author was David Takeuchi, a UW professor of social work and sociology who is also a co-author of the suicide study. Seunghye Hong, who recently earned her doctorate in social work from the UW, also contributed to the suicide study.

The new research also found that:

• The percentage of Asian-Americans who reported thinking about suicide increased the longer they lived in the U.S.

• Young Asian-Americans, between 18 and 34, had the highest estimates of thinking about (11.9 percent), planning (4.38 percent) and attempting suicide (3.82 percent) of any age group

• Asian-Americans who were never married reported the highest lifetime estimates of thinking about (17.9 percent) planning (7.6 percent) and attempting (5 percent) suicide.

• There were few major differences by ethnicity, although Chinese (10.9 percent) and Filipinos (9.76 percent) reported the highest rates of thinking about suicide.

“This study highlights the fact that we may be underserving Asian-American women born in the U.S,” said Duldulao. “While there was little evidence of sociodemographic differences in suicidal behaviors among various Asian-American groups, there was some anecdotal data from people working in the community. It is important for service providers, as well as policymakers, to know that U.S.-born Asian-Americans, particularly the second generation, are at high risk for mental health problems and suicidal behavior.

“In most cultures suicide is just as unacceptable as it is here. It is pretty much a taboo. That’s why this study is important and why Asian-American communities need to talk more about suicide and mental health,” she said.

The researchers used a modified version of a World Health Organization questionnaire to assess whether and at what age people had suicidal thoughts, made suicide plans or attempted suicide.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research at the National Institutes of Health, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Anger Has Its Place

The New York Times
Published: July 31, 2009

Cambridge, Mass.

No more than five or six minutes elapsed from the time the police were alerted to the possibility of a break-in at a home in a quiet residential neighborhood and the awful clamping of handcuffs on the wrists of the distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

If Professor Gates ranted and raved at the cop who entered his home uninvited with a badge, a gun and an attitude, he didn’t rant and rave for long. The 911 call came in at about 12:45 on the afternoon of July 16 and, as The Times has reported, Mr. Gates was arrested, cuffed and about to be led off to jail by 12:51.

The charge: angry while black.

The president of the United States has suggested that we use this flare-up as a “teachable moment,” but so far exactly the wrong lessons are being drawn from it — especially for black people. The message that has gone out to the public is that powerful African-American leaders like Mr. Gates and President Obama will be very publicly slapped down for speaking up and speaking out about police misbehavior, and that the proper response if you think you are being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race is to chill.

I have nothing but contempt for that message.

Mr. Gates is a friend, and I was selected some months ago to receive an award from an institute that he runs at Harvard. I made no attempt to speak to him while researching this column.

The very first lesson that should be drawn from the encounter between Mr. Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, is that Professor Gates did absolutely nothing wrong. He did not swear at the officer or threaten him. He was never a danger to anyone. At worst, if you believe the police report, he yelled at Sergeant Crowley. He demanded to know if he was being treated the way he was being treated because he was black.

You can yell at a cop in America. This is not Iran. And if some people don’t like what you’re saying, too bad. You can even be wrong in what you are saying. There is no law against that. It is not an offense for which you are supposed to be arrested.

That’s a lesson that should have emerged clearly from this contretemps.

It was the police officer, Sergeant Crowley, who did something wrong in this instance. He arrested a man who had already demonstrated to the officer’s satisfaction that he was in his own home and had been minding his own business, bothering no one. Sergeant Crowley arrested Professor Gates and had him paraded off to jail for no good reason, and that brings us to the most important lesson to be drawn from this case. Black people are constantly being stopped, searched, harassed, publicly humiliated, assaulted, arrested and sometimes killed by police officers in this country for no good reason.

New York City cops make upwards of a half-million stops of private citizens each year, questioning and frequently frisking these men, women and children. The overwhelming majority of those stopped are black or Latino, and the overwhelming majority are innocent of any wrongdoing. A true “teachable moment” would focus a spotlight on such outrages and the urgent need to stop them.

But this country is not interested in that.

I wrote a number of columns about the arrests of more than 30 black and Hispanic youngsters — male and female — who were doing nothing more than walking peacefully down a quiet street in Brooklyn in broad daylight in the spring of 2007. The kids had to hire lawyers and fight the case for nearly two frustrating years before the charges were dropped and a settlement for their outlandish arrests worked out.

Black people need to roar out their anger at such treatment, lift up their voices and demand change. Anyone counseling a less militant approach is counseling self-defeat. As of mid-2008, there were 4,777 black men imprisoned in America for every 100,000 black men in the population. By comparison, there were only 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white men.

While whites use illegal drugs at substantially higher percentages than blacks, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.

Most whites do not want to hear about racial problems, and President Obama would rather walk through fire than spend his time dealing with them. We’re never going to have a serious national conversation about race. So that leaves it up to ordinary black Americans to rant and to rave, to demonstrate and to lobby, to march and confront and to sue and generally do whatever is necessary to stop a continuing and deeply racist criminal justice outrage.

The Personal Responsibility to End Racial Profiling

The Huffington Post – July 28, 2009

by Mark Thompson

In one week, President Obama covered the waterfront on racial politics. Although, in his address to the delegates at the NAACP’s Centennial he said, “an African-American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a jail,” he also used the same “personal responsibility” rhetoric as he has every time he has spoken to African American audiences as candidate and president. Just days later, he would answer a question at a prime time press conference regarding the arrest of African American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. that would place him in the middle of the debate on racial profiling.

“Personal responsibility,” a Republican vocabulary word born in the Reagan era, plays politically well among moderate and conservative Whites, and even among some White liberals who, unfortunately, have a hard time distinguishing reality from the right-wing noise machine. The “personal responsibility” argument suggests that there is some inherent pathology within African Americans that is disabling. “Personal responsibility” is the modern day replacement for the antebellum term that endured through the middle of the 20th century — “shiftlessness.”

Today, Republicans argue “personal responsibility/shiftlessness” most frequently with the statistic that 70% of African American children are born to single mothers. But according to the Institute for Policy Studies, “the increase in the share of White children living in a single parent home has been much higher (229%) than for Black children (155%) since 1960.” Yet Whites are never accused of lacking personal responsibility or preached to about the subject. And sometimes we Democrats, Lefties and Progressives are too quick to repeat what the Right has popularly propagandized without a careful analysis of this rhetoric’s roots.

I criticized the president for feeling the need to include “personal responsibility” repeatedly and exclusively in front of African American audiences (not to mention his admonition while in Ghana for Africans to get over colonialism). Even he mused aloud to the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson after his NAACP speech about the attention he received. “I’ve noticed that when I talk about personal responsibility in the African American community, that gets highlighted,” Obama said. “But then the whole other half of the speech, where I talked about government’s responsibility . . . that somehow doesn’t make news.”

Enter Gates. Literally. Or Gates attempt to enter into his own home. An arrest is made. The Harvard professor charges racial profiling, and most of us who are African American can immediately identify. Countless studies have proven that African Americans are disproportionately stopped and detained Driving, Walking and Flying While Black. Hence, the NAACP has introduced a mobile rapid response system for African Americans to report police misconduct. I co-founded the Washington, DC NAACP Police Task Force that pressured the DC Police to implement their own profiling study using data collection and analysis. (I even taught a course at the police academy on racial profiling and the historical relationship between African Americans and law enforcement. So, I would love to talk shop on racial profiling instruction with Gates’ arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, a reported fellow teacher on the subject.)

There is no question that the president is an African American who has genuinely lived the African American experience. So when asked about Gates’ arrest he gave an answer which unlike his NAACP speech was unscripted. He said that “the Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home…what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”

Immediately, the political punditry and police unions focused on “acted stupidly,” and demanded an apology from the president. The demographic to whom “personal responsibility” rhetoric was appealing a week earlier was at risk of alienation. The White House then began Walking Backward While Black. The president invited first, Crowley, then, Gates, over for a beer.

But this does not erase the most important part of the president’s statement at the press conference: “There is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”

White House refreshments are insufficient to end racial profiling. As a student of Abraham Lincoln, President Obama knows that Lincoln’s diplomacy by appeasing the South with a plan for gradual emancipation failed to stem the tide of the Civil War. Injustices must be pulled promptly by their very roots.

Why not invite stakeholders on all sides to a National Conversation About Race and Policing as the National Black Police Association has suggested? Why not endorse the reintroduction and swift passage of the End Racial Profiling Act in Congress? This bill would require state and local jurisdictions to practice data be collected by race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and religion, so as to determine the extent to which profiling exists in a jurisdiction, if at all. For both sides of this debate, this legislation puts the proof in the pudding.

Mr. President, refreshments are insufficient. Without a national conversation and passage of this important legislation, there can be no post-racial America before we achieve an era of post-profiling. With your gifts, Sir, and as president, getting us there is your personal responsibility.

Pique And the Professor

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If race were the only issue, there would be much less hyperventilation about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s unpleasant run-in with the criminal justice system. After all, it would hardly be the first time a black man had unjustly been hauled to jail by a white police officer. The debate — really more of a shouting match — is also about power and entitlement.

This is a new twist. Since the triumph of the civil rights movement, minorities have been moving up the ladder in politics, business, academia, just about every field. Only in the past decade, however, has a sizable cohort of African Americans and Latinos broken through to the tiny upper echelons where real power is exercised.

I’m talking about President Obama, obviously, but also Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons, entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and many others — a growing number of minorities with the kind of serious power that used to be reserved for whites only. In academia, the list begins with “Skip” Gates.

He’s a superstar, one of the best-known and most highly acclaimed faculty members at the nation’s most prestigious university. A few years ago, when he made noises about leaving, Harvard moved heaven and earth to keep him. The incident that led to his arrest occurred as he was coming home from the airport after a trip to China for his latest PBS documentary. Following the traumatic encounter, he repaired to Martha’s Vineyard to recuperate. This is how the man rolls.

Obama’s choice of words might not have been politic, but he was merely stating the obvious when he said the police behaved “stupidly.” Gates is 58, stands maybe 5-feet-7 and weighs about 150 pounds. He has a disability and walks with a cane. By the time Sgt. James Crowley made the arrest, he had already assured himself that Gates was in his own home. Crowley could see that the professor posed no threat to anybody.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Crowley’s version of the incident is true — that Gates, from the outset, was accusatory, aggressive and even obnoxious, addressing the officer with an air of highhanded superiority. Let’s assume he really recited the Big Cheese mantra: “You have no idea who you’re messing with.”

I lived in Cambridge for a year, and I can attest that meeting a famous Harvard professor who happens to be arrogant is like meeting a famous basketball player who happens to be tall. It’s not exactly a surprise. Crowley wouldn’t have lasted a week on the force, much less made sergeant, if he had tried to arrest every member of the Harvard community who treated him as if he belonged to an inferior species. Yet instead of walking away, Crowley arrested Gates as he stepped onto the front porch of his own house.

Apparently, there was something about the power relationship involved — uppity, jet-setting black professor vs. regular-guy, working-class white cop — that Crowley couldn’t abide. Judging by the overheated commentary that followed, that same something, whatever it might be, also makes conservatives forget that they believe in individual rights and oppose intrusive state power.

There was a similar case of collective amnesia at the Sotomayor hearings. Republican senators, faced with a judge who follows precedent and eschews making new law from the bench, forgot that this is the judicial philosophy they advocate. The odd and inappropriate line of questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) about Sotomayor’s temperament was widely seen as sexist, and indeed it was. But I suspect the racial or ethnic power equation was also a factor — the idea of a sharp-tongued “wise Latina” making nervous attorneys, some of them white male attorneys, fumble and squirm.

Is a man of Gates’s station entitled to puff himself up and remind a police officer that he’s dealing with someone who has juice? Is a woman of Sotomayor’s accomplishment entitled to humiliate a lawyer who came to court unprepared? No more and no less entitled, surely, than all the Big Cheeses who came before them.

Yet Gates’s fit of pique somehow became cause for arrest. I can’t prove that if the Big Cheese in question had been a famous, brilliant Harvard professor who happened to be white — say, presidential adviser Larry Summers, who’s on leave from the university — the outcome would have been different. I’d put money on it, though. Anybody wanna bet?

Being Black on a Sunny Day

By Carl Jeffers

The Huffington Post – Posted: July 24, 2009  02:17PM

The best news about the Professor Gates arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts and its aftermath is the very fact that it is news — big news. And I believe that is positive. I think that too many White Americans thought that with Barack Obama in the White House, we could just skate through the next four or eight years without having to deal with this annoying and uncomfortable “race” issue, since Obama as president should quiet those kinds of unsettling issues. I warned sometime ago that I feared that too many black Americans thought that with Barack Obama in the White House, we could just skate through the next four or eight years without having to deal with a lot of “race” issues since his being president would somehow make things better and magically reduce the instances of racially motivated incidents in the country.

Nothing could be further from the truth. From country club swimming pool incidents in Pennsylvania, to “birthers” demanding to see the president’s birth certificate because they “want their country back” quoting from one angry white female at a protest meeting, to cartoons about the First Lady with racial overtones, to — how much time do we have here — we have seen a nationwide outbreak of incidents that are or imply an extension of racially insensitive and hurtful motivation.

I have a theory about that which I will expound on further in another forum, but let’s say it has to do with a society wherein if Americans really like an African-American, they like them more than anyone else — Oprah, Tiger, Colin Powell, Michael Jordan. If they really don’t like an African-American, they don’t like them more intensely than anyone else. Right now, more and more Americans are liking Barack Obama less and less (thanks also to some prodding from talk show hosts and agenda driven commentators). Those who like Obama less are now more easily incited to transfer that dislike into racially motivated comments and smears. That’s not everyone — but it never is everyone.

But the Professor Gates incident is different because it has aspects to it that we have seen consistently for 100 years that have nothing to do with having a black President, as well as aspects that are unique to this particular case (internationally renowned scholar and intellectual from Harvard), and the incident has aspects to it that are specifically related to having a black President. You can’t find too many other incidents like that, and I didn’t have to spend much time searching, either.

Earlier, I said that the fact that this topic is now national news is really a good thing. Let me expand on that a bit further. At one point in a TV interview, CNN commentator Candy Crowley said that “the president has given this story more legs.”

And she was right — and I am glad he did. It doesn’t matter to me what side you’re on (there shouldn’t be sides) and it doesn’t matter how you feel — not to me anyway. What matters to me is that you’re talking about it — that’s what conversation is. The story needs not just legs, but arms, hands, and a talking head on it — and that turned out to be the president himself. And that is good. I have been saying for the longest time that our country elected a black President before it had the conversation on race that we really needed, and because of that, there could be a real price to pay unless the president used a substantial portion of his term in office to address issues of race in a way that used his office to further the conversation and further the understanding we need.

You folks can argue about who was right and who was wrong — not my issue. I just want you talking about it. Because you can’t really talk about it in any extended conversation without at some point addressing perceptions, built up frustrations, attitudes among an entire community as well as a subset within that community (African-American males) about their relationship with law enforcement, and pre-conceived notions about crime and people’s intentions. If we are talking about that, all over the country, whites and blacks — then that’s good for America. Enough of all of the criticism that the president should have stayed out of this or he went too far. The fact is, the only reason we are now having this discussion nationwide is precisely because the president jumped into it — and I applaud him for doing so.

Now as to the incident itself, there is still information to be obtained and deciphered, and I hope that all those weighing in now with judgments about the behavior of the parties will reserve final judgment until all the facts are in. But there are a couple of issues that I have a problem with, and I will share those with you again for measured and calm reflection on your part.

1.I am concerned about the neighbor who originally called in the report to the police department. Since it is a neighbor, they should absolutely have regularly seen Professor Gates coming and going from the house and, particularly with the popularity and stature of this professor, they would have seen many African-American males coming and going from the house from time to time as well as whites and a multitude of visitors to that home. Furthermore, the neighbor might still be guilty of a “rush to judgment” even if it was any African-American male going to that home to call in to the Police department before being just a bit more certain. But in this case, we weren’t dealing with some other African-American male — it was Professor Gates himself. A neighbor who could see this man that close to see what he was doing should also have seen him enough times in the past to recognize that it was in fact Professor Gates himself. That’s a problem I have which is separate from the facts of the confrontation and arrest itself.

2. Whatever comes out as to the facts of the case, it is my current impression that Professor Gates was totally not justified in referring to Officer Crowley as a “rogue cop.” Rogue cops plant evidence in people’s bathrooms and then arrest them for drug use. Rogue cops take bribes and deliberately set out to go after targeted troublemakers and abuse their rights. Rogue cops manufacture evidence. Officer Crowley’s credentials and record on paper are impeccable, and I gladly note his work in helping to train other officers on how to deal with racial profiling. So let the record for my part stipulate that.

However, it is entirely possible that Officer Crowley reached a point where his adrenalin surge took over and he reacted in a way to what he judged to be provocation on the part of Professor Gates in a manner that maybe he would have been better served to “let go.” He had established that there was no crime, that Professor Gates was in his own home, that he was in fact Professor Gates (and don’t tell me that doesn’t matter — this is America — of course it matters — and people are right — if it was Henry Kissinger there would have been no arrest. And finally, the fact that at some point the officer had established that Prof. Gates himself was not armed and was not a threat to cause harm to anyone in the area. So maybe when the officer was leaving the home to conclude the incident he should have continued on his way. That is an option that would have been far more likely if Professor Gates was a white professor with his stature and credentials and the officer at some point became aware of that.

3. I am concerned that white America understand that there is a real problem here that is steeped in racial profiling and stereotyping that has in fact victimized African-Americans (and Hispanics, as well) for far too long. Many African-Americans look at this situation and not only understand the reaction of Professor Gates, but they also are frustrated because they know that when this type of incident takes place all over the country, usually the African-American male involved is not a world renowned professor, is not universally acknowledged as an intellectual and scholar, and cannot count on public expressions of support from the governor of the state and the president of the United States in a national press conference. As a result, in those cases, the person has to fend for himself, and it becomes just the word of this black man against the integrity and consistency of the version of the story as presented by the police department. And in reality, even if the facts of the Gates case do not warrant a charge of racial profiling by Officer Crowley, the circumstances remind too many African-Americans all too painfully of how close this is to what happens to so many of them when there is racial profiling and there are no resources or circumstances like those surrounding Professor Gates to help them deal with the aftermath.

4. The fact is, at this point I am inclined to believe that Officer Crowley had good intentions but may have made a mistake in judgment in how he handled the situation. I can live with that because we are all as human beings subject to that, and it is also my impression that Professor Gates contributed to the officer’s reaction by his own conduct. I’ll let them and all of the commentators deal with that. If I can be satisfied that Crowley was not pre-disposed to racially profile Gates or allowed his own biases to affect how he dealt with the situation, then I can move on because I can separate this case from true racial profiling cases but still use the case as a launching pad for the conversation we need on these kinds of subjects. Fine. But I am not interested in hearing any more commentators point out that there was an African-American police officer on the scene as if that would automatically rule out profiling or somehow provide an automatic pass or validation for Officer Crowley. Oh, no. What most African-Americans know clearly is that having an African -American police officer on the scene means absolutely nothing and may sometimes even empower the white officers in charge into thinking they have a license to get away with more. I just wanted to state on the record at least one challenge to that argument that I have been hearing frequently in the discussion of the Gates case.

5. I also heard Professor Gates remark that “this incident has made me realize how vulnerable all black men are” in situations like this. I want to go on record as expressing my shock that a man of his intelligence, with such scholarly accomplishment, such worldly views with such a well traveled background and an eloquent ability to articulate the black experience, could be so naive as to reach his late 50’s or early 60’s and need to experience a personal incident like this to realize how vulnerable the status is of black men in America. He should think about that statement and ponder just how ridiculous the implication of that admission is for those hearing it coming from him.

In a Huffington Post editorial I wrote paying a final tribute to Michael Jackson, I said that President Obama needed to address the race issue while he still has such high personal approval ratings with so much political capital in the bank. With the slower than expected economic recovery for the working and middle classes in America while Wall Street is almost fully recovered and fully re-cashed chipping away at his approval ratings, and with health care chopping away at his political capital bank account, the president needs to step up the pace a bit if he is going to be effective in using his unique term in office to further the understanding of “race” in America and enable all of us to make progress as a country in this regard.

The comments he made at his press conference, while coming under so much criticism from so many, actually were a good start as the effect has been exactly what I have been calling for — focusing on the conversation we need to be having. That’s a win. But I also felt it was an opportunity missed when the day after the president’s press conference, he went to a Town Hall meeting in Ohio facing a perfect forum to move the discussion further, and the president said nothing about the larger race issue: not the specifics of the Gates incident, but using that incident to launch the conversation we need. That’s a loss.

The issue of race will never be a win-win. Very often it may be a win-loss. But what we cannot have is an approach where we skip from racial incident to racial incident, ramp up the conversation at each incident, and then a day later forget about it and forget about having the conversation. That’s a loss-loss for all of us, and we can and must do better.

In his first comments on the incident, Professor Gates was quoted as saying his crime was “housing while black.” That reminded me of Franklin Ajaye, one of the best and sharpest black comedians of the 70’s who was perfect in the movie Car Wash. Ajaye was one of the most successful black comics ever in focusing specifically on using humor to expose the harm of racial profiling. From Ajaye, we got “driving while black”, and “housing while black,” and any other derivative formulations thereof — maybe “writing while black.”

For as Ajaye used to joke, things were so bad that he and a buddy were driving along the boulevard with the top down in a convertible, and they were stopped and arrested for being “black on a sunny day.” Like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory and George Carlin before and after him, Ajaye and the others demonstrated that humor and comedy are sometimes the only forum where we as Americans have even been willing to listen to a conversation about the pain and hurt of racism and prejudice and try to learn from it and become better for having the discussion.

But it’s no laughing matter. And with a president in the White House who has a keener sense of the ravages of prejudice and hate and misconceptions than perhaps any president we have ever had, we must not only take this opportunity, but also insist that he and we take this opportunity to initiate the conversation, and keep it going so that as each new incident comes up, we are already set up to deal with it rather than having to ramp up to devote every waking moment to that incident only to return to normal after the 24 hour news cycle. Let’s try to do that — even if it’s just you and I.

Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles-and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and commentator, and a national lecturer. E-mail: cjintel@juno.com


Commentary: Professor arrested for ‘housing while black’

By Michael Eric Dyson
Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and the author of 16 books, including the New York Times bestseller, “April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America“.

Michael Eric Dyson says the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. shows that the U.S. is not "a post-racial paradise."

Michael Eric Dyson says the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. shows that the U.S. is not “a post-racial paradise.”

(CNN) — Last Thursday, President Obama, in his fiery speech before the NAACP Convention, admitted that “an African-American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison.”

But he surely couldn’t have imagined that only a couple of hours before his oration, one of America’s most prominent scholars — and a distinguished professor at Obama’s alma mater, Harvard University — would breathe cruel and ironic life into that sad statistic.

Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. is simply the most powerful and influential black scholar in our nation’s history.

He received a doctorate at Cambridge University long before the culture wars became au courant; he was among the first group of figures to receive a MacArthur “Genius Award” Fellowship; he wrote the finest work of literary criticism in a generation with “Signifying Monkey”; he was named by Time magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Americans”; he has a boatload of honorary degrees; and he has been a ubiquitous media presence and thoughtful interpreter of race and culture for a quarter-century.

But none of that made a bit of difference when Gates returned from a research trip to China to find the front door to his Harvard-owned house jammed and enlisted the assistance of his driver to muscle the door loose. By the time Gates was on the phone with his leasing company, a white policeman had arrived, summoned by a neighbor who spotted two black men looking as if they were unlawfully breaking into the house.

Their stories diverge from here; the policeman says he asked Gates to step outside, Gates refused, the officer entered the home and requested Gates’ ID, which he didn’t initially produce, and finally had Gates arrested when he followed the officer outside, as Gates was “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.”

Gates allegedly shouted, “Is this how you treat a black man in America?” and “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” Gates says he showed the officer his ID, demanded that the officer identify himself, which he didn’t, and then the professor followed the officer outside to get the policeman’s name and badge number when he was arrested by the gaggle of police who had gathered.

Several features of the story scream the presence of lingering bias and racism. A black man in a tony neighborhood simply seems out of place, even to his neighbors.

Had Gates been a white professor trying to get inside his home, and called on his driver to help him jar his door open, he probably wouldn’t have as readily aroused the suspicion of neighbors. And when police arrived to check out the premises, they probably wouldn’t have been nearly as ready to believe the worst about the occupant of a home who clearly wasn’t engaged in a criminal act.

Whatever one believes about what happened, Gates clearly wasn’t the beneficiary of the benefit of the doubt, a reasonable expectation since he posed no visible threat.

It is also striking that Gates seems to be the victim of a police mentality that chafes at a challenge of its implicit authority. While that may be true for folk of all races, it seems especially galling to cops to be questioned by a person of color.

How dare black folk believe that, regardless of their station or privilege, they have permission to speak back — or speak black — to state-enforced authority, one that, not a decade ago, routinely ravaged black communities in blatant displays of wanton aggression.

It is for good reason that police brutality is a constant concern for black folk; the stakes are often high and harmful. The link between black vulnerability and racial profiling — of setting in one’s collective imagination an image of black men as bad people who are liable to commit mayhem at any moment, and who must therefore always be suspected of wrong and subject to arbitrary forms of control and surveillance — is evident in the pileup of black bodies, from Amadou Diallo to Sean Bell, that testify to the force of police to impose lethal limits on black survival. Gates rubbed up against the unspoken code that enforces black silence and often violently compels black compliance.

In the end, Gates’ unjust treatment speaks volumes about the cynical assertion that we now live in a post-racial paradise.

Gates’ crime appears to be a new one in the litany of crimes that black folk commit by virtue of their very existence — in this case, HWB, or housing while black. If a famous and affluent black man in his own home can be accosted, arrested and humiliated, then all black folk can reasonably expect the same treatment.

To Gates’ credit, he realizes that racial profiling happens regularly to poor black folk, and he has pledged to do something about it. But another famous black figure associated with Harvard must renew his pledge to get rid of racial profiling and spare the nation the illusion that his success represents a post-racial America. While it’s not likely he’ll be unjustly arrested in his House, he’s got to make sure that the same privilege extends to millions of other black folk who don’t live on Pennsylvania Avenue.