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Gates-Crashing, ctd

John McWhorter, one of the most thoughtful commentators on race in America (among other topics), discusses the “teachable moment” that America is supposed to be having due to Gates’s arrest.  He asks why black Americans are so quick to assume racism as police officers’ motives. 

Officer Justin Barrett tossing off messages calling Gates a “banana-eating jungle monkey”–you couldn’t write this thing better–could be seen as teaching us something: that casual racism is still with us. But didn’t we already know that?

The racism of interest is that which deprives people of their rights. To seek a society where there is no racism whatsoever of the parochial barstool sort is to seek a society where no one passes gas. I apologize for the vulgarity, but I consider the analogy precisely correct. There will be no society of Homo sapiens where occasional eruptions of the Barrett sort are unknown: we are animals.

This means that to parse what happened to Gates as evidence that black men are still regularly hauled off to the clinker just for being black makes for good conversation (and surely, for the next year or so, scores at the podium), but is ultimately just sloppy. It will be the province of people neglecting detail in favor of an emotional score, subscribing to narrative over serious engagement.

The real issue he concludes (and will discuss in detail in future columns) is The War on Drugs. 

Which leads me to see the main lesson in this as, when we pull the camera back, that the War on Drugs tears at this nation in a grotesque fashion and must be revised thoroughly with all deliberate speed.

The War on Drugs forces attention to certain drugs sold most openly by poor black men, which catches too many innocent black (and Latino) people in its net and fosters a sense of the police as enemies of people of color.

That sense spreads beyond teens and twenty-somethings. Some may have been surprised that a middle-aged man like Gates was as sensitized to profiling as a black 19-year-old. Well, this awareness knows neither age nor gender. Also, even if black women suffer less from direct contact with the police, they are often just as irate about the issue because of it happening to their brothers, fathers, and boyfriends. 
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