1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Beer Summit

Like nearly everyone else at the bar last night, a pitcher of Shiner Smokehouse led our table into a long discussion of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and the officer who arrested him. The Talented Videographer had the most charitable take toward the cop -- she sees what they have to deal with everyday and recognizes how very dangerous and stressful that job is.

My 1 1/2 cents, for what it's worth, is that this was definitely about racism, but did not involve racists. Racism is what Gates was worried about when he exploded up front, and it's what the cop was angry about being accused of. Both decided to wear their heart on their sleeve exclusively because of racism, if for different reasons, and that is true even if neither, in my opinion, were doing anything worse than overreacting and showing bad judgment.

More importantly, the things that brought this event to our attention are the things that make it a shame it was brought to our attention. Gates is a very well known, and powerful, black intellectual, and he has an enormous network of the most-connected of the black community behind him. It was for this reason that Obama knew him, and probably felt enormous pressure, both externally and internally, to say something. At the same time, Gates' position makes this whole thing kind of a farce. Much worse happens to black men on a daily basis, but because they're not Skip Gates, the president does not comment.

Moreover, it was, INMHO, Gates' acute sensitivity to his position that made him so angry. It strikes me that he feels he's transcended the plight of the average black man, and was just plain furious to be pulled down into it, even if glancingly and with some complicity. (Hence the color-transcending odiousness of his tirade: "Do you know who I AM!?!") I do not know Gates personally, but I know a some folks who do, and the consensus is that he's a bit pompous. Sure, he's earned it (no one could top Harold Bloom, of course), but at the same time, it was this personality trait that launched him into this situation, as well as making him such a poor spokesperson for a cause he has had (cough) little to do with as participant or advocate over the last couple of decades.

To emphasize, I respect Gates as a scholar (I have great admiration for the work he did to bring Gwendolyn Brooks into the scholarly canon, for instance), but as a spokesman for civil rights, he's a wiffle ball. It's too bad the President felt compelled to take a swing.

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