"I hate to admit it, but I have reached a stage in my life that if I am walking down a dark street late at night and I see that the person behind me is white, I subconsciously feel relieved." -- Reverend Jesse Jackson
Slavery and racism have been like a soiled garment that America has diligently and at great expense tried to wipe clean. President Obama acknowledged at his news conference last week that America has made "great progress" in the direction of racial reconciliation and he is living proof of that.
Having acknowledged these truths, what should be learned from the incident in Cambridge, Mass., in which African-American scholar Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. was arrested in his home after a neighbor, Lucia Whalen, called 911 to report "two men" on Gates' porch trying to force open the front door. According to a statement issued by her attorney and backed by Robert Haas, commissioner of the Cambridge Police, she did not mention the race of the two men. If Whalen were African American would that change the dynamic of the conversation we're having? That two of the officers who came to Gates' home were minorities -- one African-American, one Hispanic -- apparently doesn't count because the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, is white. It also doesn't count that Crowley teaches a class on racial profiling and that he was named to that post by his boss, an African-American, who attests to his non-racist bona fides.
Like President Obama, I know Skip Gates. He recently gave me a personal tour of the African-American museum at Harvard after we had corresponded about his excellent PBS program "African American Lives." Gates is a classy guy with excellent social skills and a sharp mind.
Also like President Obama, I wasn't at the scene of the Cambridge confrontation. If one accepts the police report, Gates apparently said things he ought not to have said. Is that understandable? It is certainly human nature. I sometimes get upset when "profiled" by Transportation Security Administration employees because I've had difficulty getting off a terrorist suspect list. It is tempting to say, "If I were a terrorist shouting 'death to America' you'd probably let me go through," but because I know it would do no good and that I could be arrested and miss my flight, I hold my tongue.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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