Call me cynical, but the reunion of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley at the White House Thursday didn't give me the warm fuzzies.
Perhaps this is because it seems that the meeting had more to do with damage control than racial reconciliation.
President Obama landed himself in a quagmire last week when he remarked that Crowley "acted stupidly" for arresting Gates in his own home. After his comments generated a backlash, Obama backtracked from the comment, saying that he felt that both parties bore some responsibility in what transpired and that the public outcry the incident received indicates that race remains a sensitive issue in America. Later, it was announced that Gates and Crowley would meet with the President for a beer at the White House.
"I don't think anybody but Barack Obama would have thought about bringing us together," Gates commented, according to the New York Times.
Of course, I don't know President Obama's intentions in bringing Gates and Crowley together, but I do wonder if he would have organized the reunion had there not been a backlash against him. Does this not echo the time Obama made his speech on race last year after controversial remarks made by his former pastor landed the then presidential candidate in hot water? To prevent alienating members of the public who disagreed with him, it seems Obama isn't really being authentic. Perhaps he regrets saying that Crowley "acted stupidly," but that doesn't mean that the President no longer harbors that belief.
Obama said that he hoped that the meeting he organized between Crowley and Gates served as a "teachable moment." Well, it seems that the main lesson Obama learned is that presidents can't express their views candidly without alienating some segment of the public. It seems there are three choices for dignitaries in such situations: stay on script, shut up or say what you really feel. As a journalist, I was impressed when Obama spoke his mind, even if it landed him in a sticky situation. Now, I not only question Obama's authenticity but that of Gates and Crowley as well.
"What you had today was two gentlemen who agreed to disagree on a particular issue," Sgt. Crowley said after meeting with Gates, according to the New York Times. "We didn't spend too much time dwelling on the past, and we decided to look forward."
But this is an incident that warrants both reflection and introspection before those involved can truly move forward. Agreeing to disagree doesn't cut it in such a volatile situation, especially one that has generated so much public outcry. Check the comments section of the New York Times online, Gawker.com and other sites that have covered the controversy, and you'll find that lingering questions remain. For instance, did Gates really tell Crowley that he'd see "your mama outside" before he was arrested? Gates denies the remark, and in my opinion it rings false that a nearly 60-year-old professor would make it. I mean, what else did Gates say during the incident: "What'cha talkin' about Willis?" Moreover, did Crowley lure Gates outside because he knew that he couldn't arrest a man for disorderly conduct in his own home, and is there a reason why Crowley's police report conflicts with the information the woman who initially reported the "break-in" gave to police? Only Gates and Crowley know the truth. But until they come together and separate fact from fiction, I'll have trouble believing that they've reunited for any reason other than repairing their public personas.
After all, Gates is a television personality and author in addition to being an academic. Since his arrest, he's tried to quash the notion that he's a raging black militant by playing up the fact that he's part-white and married a white woman with whom he fathered biracial children. The Cambridge Police Department also has a vested interested in doing damage control. This wasn't the first time blacks from the Harvard community have accused police of racial profiling. By having Crowley reconcile with Gates, area law enforcement aim to wipe away the stamp of racism that's been imprinted on officers.
Only time will tell if Gates and Crowley have sincerely reconciled. For now, the two have arranged a follow-up phone conversation back in Cambridge. We'll see where that leads.