- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009


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.

the Rev. Jesse Jackson

Slavery and racism have been like a soiled garment that America has tried diligently and at great expense 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 black scholar Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. was arrested in his home after a neighbor, Lucia Whalen, called 911 to report “two men” on Mr. Gates’ porch trying to force open the front door?

According to a statement issued by her attorney and backed by Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas, she did not mention the race of the two men. If Ms. Whalen were black, would that change the dynamic of the conversation we’re having? That two of the officers who came to Mr. Gates’ home were minorities — one black, one Hispanic — apparently doesn’t count because the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, is white.

It also doesn’t count that Sgt. Crowley teaches a class on racial profiling and was named to that post by his black boss, who attests to his non-racist bona fides.

Like Mr. 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.” Mr. Gates is a classy guy with excellent social skills and a sharp mind.

Also like Mr. Obama, I wasn’t at the scene of the Cambridge confrontation. If one accepts the police report, Mr. 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.

A larger point was made by Mr. Gates and the president about blacks disproportionately being singled out for stops and arrests because of their race. The media have some responsibility in this. Most news reports show blacks as the perpetrators or victims of violent crime. Most news interviews with black mothers (and many TV commercials) have no man in the picture because in far too many cases, there isn’t one. He is either the absent father, deceased or in prison.

Much of the violent crime in America occurs in low-income neighborhoods. Race isn’t the cause of these crimes; a social system put in place by liberal Democrats is to blame. That system does not encourage minorities to succeed. It enables them in their victimhood and sense of impoverishment. Liberal Democrats refuse to allow poor black children to escape failing government schools.

The welfare system, revised by a Republican Congress and reluctantly signed into law by President Clinton, has doomed several generations of blacks to misery, complacency and despondency. Black children who do succeed are accused of “acting white” and urged to fall back into the cycle of failure experienced by many of their friends.

Mr. Obama properly apologized to Sgt. Crowley and his department for suggesting they acted “stupidly.” He also is doing the right thing by inviting professor Gates and the officer to the White House for what one hopes will be a moment of reconciliation.

The president thankfully has begun (at the recent convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to attack the underpinnings of an attitude that still reigns in much of the black community: that failure is someone else’s fault. Black people who have succeeded by playing according to race-neutral rules are testimony to the lie behind that claim.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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