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Henry Lewis Gates: Service or Disservice to the Black community?

Perhaps not as easy a determination as some might think. At least it’s not for me.

Officer Crowley, in uniform and responding to a report of a burglary at Gates house, asked Gates for ID. Rather than provide ID Gates screamed “NO I WILL NOT”, “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO BLACK MEN IN AMERICA.” At this point the cop has no proof of any sort that Gates is the homeowner and not the reported burglar and Gates screaming certainly isn’t helping any. (Note, when I accidentally set off the alarm at our home and the cops come to check on things the first thing they always do is ask for my ID to prove that I’m the homeowner and not a burglar. It’s not a big deal.)

Gates continued with insults against the officer and comments about the officers mother. Gates stepped outside and began screaming “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO BLACK MEN IN AMERICA” to passerby who were beginning to congregate. From all available evidence, including from all witnesses both black and white, this was not even in the realm of racial profiling. It was either immature over-reaction on the part of Henry Lewis Gates Jr. or intentional actions on Gates part to provoke a racial response from the officer.

Service or disservice?

Service: Some Blacks are quick, just like Gates and Obama, to claim the race/victim card. It has become a convenient excuse for anything and everything. Obama thought this was the case to show how Blacks are mistreated and victimized by police. Instead it is showing just the opposite – how some Blacks over-react and claim to have been racially profiled or victimized when nothing of the sort happened.

Disservice: Unwarranted racial profiling is real, though fortunately declining. Abuse of power by police is real, and unfortunately increasing. Now racial profiling will be treated more like the boy who cried wolf. Even real instances of it will be met with skepticism. Rather than someone being viewed as unfairly victimized they’re just over-reacting as Henry Lewis Gates Jr. and President Obama did.

We might not know which for months or years. Lets look at three other recent events for some more perspective.

First is of a white state trooper, Daniel Martin, in Oklahoma pulling over black ambulance driver Maurice White as White was taking an elderly woman to the hospital.

I won’t rehash everything, but this clearly appears to be a case of abusive behavior by the trooper. This cop should be fired and never hired in a position of authority again – he was instead given a 5-day suspension. I have no idea if race played any part in this incident and there is no proof or indication that it did. I suspect it may have though, but that’s just my opinion. Racially motivated or not State Trooper Daniel Martin is not someone any of us should trust.

Second is an incident last week in MN. A white undercover cop, Le Sueur County Sheriff’s investigator Todd Waldron, followed a pickup truck driven by a 24-year-old man suspected of robbery. When the pickup pulled in to a parking space at the man’s apartment the cop pulled in behind and ordered the two men out of the truck. Witnesses said that at no point did he identify himself as a cop. According to witnesses the two men got out of the pickup, both wearing nothing but bathing suits, a scuffle ensued between the driver and the undercover cop, when the driver noticed the cops badge on his belt he jumped up with his hands in the air. The cop pulled his gun and shot the unarmed driver 3 or 4 times, killing him.

Both men in the pickup truck were white. I can assure you that if the driver had been black this would have made national news as racially motivated – true or not. In partial defense of the cop the driver had a history of 19 arrests, 3 for felony assault. This cop, in my opinion, should be tried for murder. I’d think the exact same thing if the driver had been black.

Third is the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that caused the promotion of several White and Hispanic firefighters and explicitly did not promote Black firefighters.

Many successful Blacks in the US are in a continuous war to prove that they deserve the position they’re in. They’re constantly fighting the perception that they are where they are only because of Affirmative Action and the color of their skin and that if they didn’t get their way they’d scream that they were victims of racism.

Affirmative Action programs have indeed given Blacks and other minorities a sometimes preferential leg up, and this was needed. For a time. It helped numerous Blacks get in to high schools, universities, careers, and career positions that they otherwise might not have; because of racial and gender discrimination or a family who did not believe in the benefits of education.

Note: We all need the assistance of others. I cannot list the number of people who have helped me in my life. People who overlooked a mistake and gave me a second chance. People who have stood by me through struggles and who have given of their own time and resources. People who have given me a promotion when I’m not sure I was ready or deserving of it.

One result of Affirmative Action though is that it casts a pale over nearly every successful Black. If a University was admitting 100 students to a program and there were only 2 Blacks in the top 100 they’d go down the list to find others. Companies would do the same in hiring and promotions. In trying to achieve a certain mix of minorities they’d sometimes, or often, promote less qualified candidates who met minority criteria.

And to a limited extent this is OK. Universities creating a class with diversity of backgrounds or companies doing the same isn’t a bad idea. At least as long as the minority candidates still fully meet the criteria.

Problem number one though is when every Black in a university is suspected of being there, not on their own merit, but because they are Black. Had they really earned the right to be there? And worse, they are suspected of having taken the place of someone who had earned the right to be there by their own merit and hard work rather than via minority preferences. This carried over in to the business world where many Blacks and Women were, and sometimes still are today, viewed as having attained their position not by their own merit and hard work but by gender or the color of their skin, true or not.

Many Blacks who’ve achieved a lot are truly deserving. They have the ability and have worked hard to get where they are. Yet they’re still unfairly saddled with a perception of being there only through racial preferences.

Others? Well, here’s where we encounter problem number two. When someone is promoted in to a position for which they do not possess the proper ability they often don’t do very well. When this happens to a lot of people in a very identifiable group, Blacks for instance, it makes it appear that Blacks in general are less capable. They’re not. It’s just that, to meet quotas, so many were promoted in to positions beyond their ability that it sometimes appears that way.

And this has been wholly unfair to Blacks, both as a community and individually. For far more important than actual position or power or income is the respect of others – how well someone is regarded by those around them and how well they regard themselves.

A person who is highly successful as an individual contributor is much more highly regarded than someone who is unsuccessful as a manager or executive.

Let’s look at a flip side of this. During the tech boom many people from India came to the US to work. When I was reviewing resumes, someone with an Indian name nearly always made the cut, almost by default. My experience, and that of others, was that folks from India were extremely bright (and of good character, integrity, work ethic, etc). I became an expert in the H1B visa process. In the late 90’s reality started arriving. It wasn’t that people from India in general were so bright, but that we’d been seeing only the very best and brightest, the top 1%. During the 90’s we worked our way through the best and brightest and started seeing the above average and then started seeing the mediocre and then occasionally the below average. But extremely few were ever in positions beyond their ability. Most were in positions below their ability and they shined. The result is that folks from India are today still viewed as being well above average.

Likely, all of these instances will eventually work out to the benefit of the Black community in the US.

With the SCOTUS decision we may eventually begin to know that a Black person in a lecture hall at Harvard or Alabama or Whittier Community College earned the right to be there. They aren’t there because of the color of their skin but because they deserve to be there. And they’ll be regarded by others as deserving of being there. And perhaps most important, they’ll regard themselves as deserving of being there. They’ll know that they truly earned the right, equally, with everyone else.

Thanks to Oklahoma State Trooper Daniel Martin and Le Sueur County Sheriff’s investigator Todd Waldron in MN maybe we can put law enforcement on further notice that unfair treatment really will not be tolerated. That Driving While Black or Terrell While Black are not crimes. And maybe we can start to realize that cops grossly abuse their power with Whites and Blacks (and Hispanics, and Asians, and …) somewhat equally. That just because a cop is white and the victim of their abuse is black doesn’t mean that there was any racial motivation.

And, thanks to Henry Lewis Gates Jr. and Barack Obama (and Jeremiah Wright, and…), and their combined over-the-top over-reaction, the race card and victim card can die. Blacks won’t play the card, successfully anyway, and eventually they’ll loose the boy-who-cried-wolf element and when someone does claim to have been the victim of racism they’ll be taken seriously instead of shoved to the side as just another Gates/Obama over-reaction.

And this will filter in to the workplace over the coming decades. If a Black is promoted to commander or chief in a fire department everyone will know that they truly deserve the position and have the abilities necessary to do well. They didn’t need a preferential leg up because of their ethnicity. They didn’t utilize a preferential leg up to get where they are. They didn’t claim racism when there was none. They earned their position. They’ll have the respect of those around them and those they’re commanding. Eventually Blacks will no longer have to fight a war of everyone wondering if they’re in a position purely because they’re Black.

And better yet, this will filter down to succeeding generations. Someone who is highly regarded by those in the community and who respects themselves for what they themselves have accomplished will pass this down to their kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews and others in the community. In the end this will do far more to strengthen the Black community and add to it’s success than any preferences or screaming racial bias ever will.

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