Obama apologized to Sgt. Crowley over his remarks on the Gates arrest, saying of both men, "[t]hese are two decent people." This was both inevitable and necessary.
There are more important things for the president to do right now than have a candid talk with America about race -- because Americans aren't ready for it. After the president's speech to the NAACP, dubbed the "no excuses" speech by the press, a number of white media figures, including Chris Matthews and Howard Kurtz, complained that "a white guy couldn't have given that speech." I'm not sure why Matthews and Kurtz are so eager to wag their fingers at black folks, and I won't go into it here.
But now we know what a black man can't do -- not if he's president and not if he wants to get anything done: He can't tell white people something about race they aren't willing to hear, no matter how true it is. Regardless of the specifics of the Gates incident, Obama's larger point about racial profiling is, as the president put it, a "fact." A culturally skewed media applauds when Obama presses black folks to do better, but when it comes to challenging white people, well, that just isn't appropriate. Maybe this is a bridge too far--it's hard to imagine any politician getting away with calling cops stupid. But this conversation is inevitably charged with the tumultuous history of black folks and law enforcement.
Obama's language describing the Cambridge Police was overly derisive. But this feels like much more than a personal apology to Sgt. Crowley. Obama did try to salvage his larger argument, saying that we need to spend "a little more time listening to each other, and focus on how we can generally improve relationships between police officers and minority communities." But that point will probably be lost. In the end, Obama's statement will be internalized in part as an apology to white people for not knowing his place -- which is, at least in part, to make everyone feel really awesome about having a black president.
-- A. Serwer
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