7/23/2009

But, I'm Not a Racist! I Gave a Black Guy CPR!

As we travel farther and farther down the rabbit hole that is "post-racial America" following the arrest Dr. Henry Louis Gates at his home in Cambridge we find that people are reluctant to admit to racist tendencies in this country. After all, with an African-American President, we've put all that aside right?

Yet, in the denials of "I'm not a racist!" run the very threads of racism. Today the New York Daily News published a story about how Sgt. James Crowley, the man who arrested Dr. Gates, could not be a racist because he had once given CPR to Reggie Lewis an NBA star. This bit of logic on their part and that of Mr. Crowley misses the mark.

Racism rarely comes in the Ku Klux Klan variety. Those people are aberrations. Racism generally is much quieter and we don't often even notice it ourselves. It is not something we consciously think about even. Racism is the result of our indoctrination into cultural attitudes throughout our lives. It is informed by our own experiences as well.

Even when we talk about racism we are careful to appear to be non-racist. In other words, we talk a great deal about the racism of whites but we rarely address racism among other races. We are also quick to note that "racism" seems to be a self-limiting disease of sorts. In other words, while it seems to happen it is always explained away as simply poor education or some other fixable process.

But, in reality, there is no one on earth who is not racist in some way. Them's fighting words to my fellow liberals I'm sure. But, let's set aside our association of "racism" as being tantamount to burning crosses and consider "racism" in its actual form as simply a preference for one race over another. Sometimes this does not even include negative stereotypes. It can simply be that one prefers lighter skin to dark aesthetically or vice versa. There may be no negative reason for this just as there may be no negative reason that one prefers brown hair to blond hair. It is an aesthetic appeal.

In other cases, racism can be more associated with negative stereotypes. We might begin to conclude that African-Americans are more likely to commit crime. This would not be a completely unbelievable assumption to reach when we are constantly given statistics showing that they are by far over-represented in our prison system. Even when processing the liberal call to action in that statement, our sub-conscious forms an association: African-American = Prison. The subconscious is very simple when it comes to information and doesn't like complicated data that requires extenuating circumstances.

What about the stories of Mexican drug cartels that lead our stories continually in Southern Arizona? Even though, as liberals, we are careful to consciously sort this out from our idea of Mexicans or Hispanics as a population, we are still having our subconscious bombarded. The message we are getting subconsciously from all of this is: Hispanic = gangs/violence/drugs. So, even as liberals when we find ourselves walking down a dark street near midnight and see a group of young Hispanic men we are much more likely to assume they are up to something than on their way as a group to Midnight Mass.

This subconscious brainwashing goes on all the time in the form of "debates" on idiotic subjects. When Maggie Gallagher "debates" on whether gays are all pedophiles or not, it does not matter if she wins. The more she makes that connection in the subconscious minds of people, the more her message is delivered. Our subconscious will often trump our conscious mind in moments of stress.

Which brings us back to non-racist Sgt. Crowley. I have no doubt that he is not the KKK kind of racist. I have no doubt that he might even have African-American friends. However, I do doubt that he is the only person on earth who is not racist in the deepest part of his subconscious mind.

Mr. Crowley acted completely understandably (although not properly) if we look at the idea of subconscious racism. His experience teaches him that African-Americans are likely to be involved in a crime. That is both from what he is told culturally as an American through news broadcasts and "debate" as well as what he experiences as a police officer. Therefore, his conscious mind does not raise any objection to his belief that two "black men" are breaking into a house in a nice neighborhood. In fact, his conscious mind gets so far out of the way because of the adrenalin rush of catching a crook that he doesn't pause to consider why a burglar is dressed in a blazer and carrying his luggage.

Mr. Crowley goes into auto-cop mode and rather than apologizing to Dr. Gates upon seeing him in his home, he demands papers. His conscious mind has gotten so far out of the loop while he is in cop mode that he is now doing things he might find repugnant were he to see them from a distance.

The breaking point in this mini-tragedy came when Dr. Gates broke the hold of Crowley's subconscious. Dr. Gates accused him of a being a racist. This was not part of Mr. Crowley's self image and because he was acting in a racially biased way at that moment he directed his anger at Dr. Gates because he could not reconcile his actions with his self image. In order to keep himself from reflecting on this revelation he arrested Dr. Gates as the object of the stress.

This is still being played out as Mr. Crowley is trying desperately to reconcile his actions with his self image publicly. He cannot bring himself to apologize because to do so would mean admission that in the deepest recesses of his mind there lives a spark of racism. He cannot bring himself to make that self analysis. Beyond that, those around him are assuring him that he cannot be racist in any way and that his actions were completely justified. They are telling him that it is perfectly proper to arrest someone in their own home, a home you have invaded without permission, for daring to be angry with you and tell you as much. At no time, did Dr. Gates push or harm Mr. Crowley. It was his words that upset him so greatly. It was that moment of self-awareness that they brought. That was the offense.

And why are they telling Mr. Crowley this? Because, they too cannot reconcile their self-image with the idea they might possibly be racist. This is particularly true of African-American police officers who often share those same racial prejudices and for whom such revelation would be devastating.

What Sgt. Crowley did is not acceptable. It is understandable, but it is not acceptable. The proper course of action would be for him to understand why he did what he did and then see how he can prevent it from happening again. That process should begin with an apology. After all, Sgt. Crowley was the catalyst for this tragedy. Without his presence and actions the day would have ended peaceably for all concerned.

And just so no one feels the need to go off on me as casting stones: On the IAT (Implied Association Test) at Harvard (how ironic) I show a moderate preference for light skinned people. So, though I also have many African-American friends, campaign against overt racism, and generally scream about mistreatment of minorities to the top of my lungs.... deep down inside me there lives the seed of racism... just like in Mr. Crowley... and just like in you.

NOTE: In the NY Daily News story and in most coverage of the incident, you will see that our subconscious is being stroked still. In almost every case, James Crowley is referred to along with his police rank of Sergeant. Interestingly, Henry Louis Gates is referred to either as Mr. Gates or rarely as Professor Gates. I have yet to see him referred to as Dr. Gates, although he holds a PhD and is entitled to the honorific "Doctor."


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