One of the unexpected side effects of Obama world is that on certain things there´s a disconnect between Obama´s old mates and your run-of-the-mill political/media establishment. The recent controversy with the Harvard professor being belligerent to a cop who´d accused him of breaking into his own home reminded me of an episode of The Boondocks about snitching. Huey Freeman does a retrospective about black people being culturally inclined not to talk the police, with some clips of people shutting doors in the face of various cops. Then they cut to some white people talking about how much they luuuuuuuurve talking to the police, ¨I mean, why wouldn´t you talk to the police? I looooooove talking to the police!¨
The half of the American population that thinks like this reckons that this police officer should get the benefit of the doubt. Well, because he´s the police, and more than that, maybe he technically did everything by the book and rather than do what they would all do, which is smile and nod and laugh along, Professor Gates told him to go fuck himself. In fact, there´s a long history of this in American culture. In some quarters the LA Riots for instance were where ¨a certain part¨ of the population were insisting on their right to behave lawlessly, loot and attack police officers, not responding to an outrageous miscarriage of justice and the kind of mass policing that led to something like 1 in 3 black males being detained by the police in any two year period. The 60s riots were nothing to do with fighting racial prejudice but some shite like black nationalism or anti-white racism.
Now, if I´d been on a long trip and discover my door jammed, I´d be annoyed. I might, had I managed to break into my house and sat down, got a cup of tea, by the time a police officer summoned by my neighbours arrived, it´s possible I would see the funny side of it. I probably wouldn´t maintain my cool if the cop was treating the whole thing too seriously after that. More than that, maybe I wouldn´t find it as funny if I was from a ethnic background that has a history of persecution from the police, and if I was thinking ¨I bet my neighbours wouldn´t call the police if Mr and Mrs. Kennedy from across the road were breaking into their house.¨ And additionally, I imagine if the police were called, and did find Mr and Mrs. Kennedy sat in their house, relaxing after a long trip, they wouldn´t start throwing their weight around and demanding identification.
Now police have rules to follow, but there are following rules and following rules. Now, I would imagine upon entering a room that an easy way to identify a burglar is to see if he runs away from the police. If he´s sat around and making himself at home, he probably isn´t robbing the place. So, even if procedure is to get him out of the house, search him, check his ID and all the rest, if you´re basically aware, through your instincts as a law enforcer, that a robbery is not in progress, you do this in an apologetic way, if at all. ¨I´m sorry, I couldn´t check your ID, you know, just doing my job, sorry.¨ If he tells you to go to hell, you probably leave it. You certainly don´t arrest him.
Now a lot of us understand why this whole thing would have pissed Professor Gates off, and, because we don´t ¨looooooooooove talking to the police¨, think it´s appropriate for him to tell the police officer concerned to fuck off. Well, we might think it was a silly thing to do, but we´d understand, we´d be sympathetic and we´d reckon when the officer arrested him, it was an arsehole thing to do.
Not, in WASP world. In WASP world, everything the police does is fine. We should always be polite and helpful, because the police always have our best interests at heart, and are never just being over-officious tools. And, of course, if we do complain, and tell the police to get to fuck, they have every right to arrest us for being abusive.
To the rest of us, we wouldn´t expect to be arrested for calling a random member of the public a dick, especially if they were behaving like, well ... a dick... Not in WASP world, in WASP land, the police are sensitive creatures who need special treatment, in case their poor wittle ears catch the odd swear word.
And this is where Barack Obama comes in. Now, he´s sooooooo establishment in everything he does. So much so that he´s not been brave enough to pass anything since becoming president. But the difference with establishment African-Americans, like Obama and Gates, is that racial profiling is so prevalent that, unlike poverty, it can´t be avoided even by them. Like the right-wing Atlanticist MP Shahid Malik who got detained and searched for explosives at Dulles Airport. Hence the disconnect, Obama can´t help but instinctively answer that question, because he´s experienced it. No doubt so had Professor Gates prior to being confronted in his own home. Of course, at the time of writing the President of the United States had already apologised ... there are some lines even he isn´t allowed to cross.