Addison Gardner: Always Right
August 4, 2009
I had an epiphany, last weekend, after receiving a chain e-mail from a valley friend.
This e-mail, titled “Black Robbers,” told about a woman who had won a bucket of quarters playing the slots in Las Vegas, but was afraid to board her hotel elevator when she noticed the two black men already aboard.
As so many of these e-mails do, this one encapsulated a morality tale: Fearful white woman – prisoner of her inbred prejudices – makes bigoted assumptions about African-American males and is humiliated when proved wrong.
Adding to the piquancy of the tale is the inevitable, “rest of the story” ending, which juxtaposes the white woman’s humiliation with the mirth of her two elevator companions (“black gentlemen” in the story), who turn out to be none other than Michael Jordan and Eddie Murphy, and who send her a dozen roses next morning – each rose wrapped in a “crisp, new” $100 bill.
Accompanying the roses is a note from Michael and Eddie, “Thanks for the best laugh we’ve had in a long time.”
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A quick trip to snopes.com debunked the e-mail story – it never happened, of course – but few recipients will bother checking, because the story sounds so plausible.
We have all been taught that white women are fearful of black men; that’s a familiar waypoint on the media and academia’s funhouse, trolley ride. We’ve all been strapped into those seats, since youth, and we’ve memorized the paper mache scenery.
President Obama reinforced the universality of the irrational (OK, “racist”) white woman stereotype while campaigning, when – smiling ruefully – he referenced his “typical white woman” grandmother’s phobias about sidewalk encounters with black strangers.
The problems with this rusty trolley are twofold: First, there’s the knee-jerk dismissal of the white woman who – we’re led to believe – sees ghosts in every cup of steaming cocoa, and, second, there’s the notion that it’s inherently “racist” to fear for one’s life when confronted by strange, black men.
The most recent, spinning-reality-on-its-head illustration of our ties to racial trope was illustrated, last week, when America’s shirt-sleeved (“just us guys”) executive branch sat across the White House picnic table from a working class, Cambridge cop, sweating in coat and tie.
President Obama, Vice President Biden, and professor Henry Louis Gates (past chairman of Harvard’s African-American Studies Department) faced off against Sgt. Jim Crowley, a blue-collar stiff who obdurately refuses to play his part in our cautionary tale.
“Rogue Cop Crowley” – like the quarter-laden elevator lady, or the elderly white neighbor who occasioned the Cambridge 911 call – are all unwilling players on a stage, forced to hit their marks and lead us to a familiar destination: African-American victimization, “racial profiling” and white fear/intolerance.
The snopes.com of crime-statistic myth busting is the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Program (UCR) site, which breaks down types of crime (e.g., “violent”) by demographics. A review of American crime at the end of President Bush’s first term in office (2004) featured Justice surveys that yielded unexpected results.
According to the 2004 digest, African-Americans are seven times as likely as people of other races to commit murder, eight times more likely to commit robbery and three times more likely to use a gun during a crime.
Black-on-white violence is 39 times more prevalent that white-on-black, and Obama’s “typical,” white grandmother is 139 times more likely to be the victim of black robbery than white.
Black-on-white rape is 115 times more common than its counterpart: White-on-black rape approaches statistical “zero.”
By any reasonable account, America’s white women have cause to consider their money, their virtue and their neighbor’s front doors when they witness African-American men engaged in suspicious conduct.
Crashing into a neighborhood home, shoulder-first, qualifies as “suspicious conduct” in any American precinct, and it’s worth mentioning that the Cambridge 911 caller never identified Gates or his chauffeur as African-Americans, despite dispatcher prodding.
The fourth seat (nearest the jungle gym) at the South Lawn picnic table should’ve been reserved for Lucia Whalen, the 911 caller, instead of for Joe Biden, a non-player in this factoid fiction about racial profiling.
Whalen has been the target of death threats and groundless racial slurs since the day she placed her phone call. If anybody has been “victimized” in this episode of political butt-covering, it’s this “typical white woman,” and her atypical willingness to put herself on the line.
The president had an opportunity to fulfill at least one campaign pledge: His promise of American “post-racial” reconciliation. He had the platform during his (counting on fingers) fourth news conference to set the record straight. He inflamed racial tensions, instead, by defaulting to Trinity Church stereotypes about white police officers.
America has a black president and a black attorney general; Massachusetts has a black governor; Cambridge has a black mayor. This is not your grandfather’s “Jim Crow America,” and it’s time our politicians stopped flogging that mule to assuage white guilt and win black votes.
The president’s “teachable moment” came and went, long before the suds flowed on the south lawn, but it’s still not too late for a presidential apology that takes the measure of Obama, “the racial healer,” instead of Obama, the media myth.
I’m not holding my breath.
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