Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How would you define "racist," then?

Okay, so, many of you are familiar with the whole Gates' arrest controversey that isn't quite dying down. Black Harvard prof has trouble getting into his house after a trip. He and his black driver try to get inside. Neighbor is worried that someone might be breaking in, but isn't sure. Calls police. White officer shows up; black prof is already in his house. Black prof proves identity and residence, but gets angry when he's asked to go outside. White officer arrests black prof for his conduct. Everyone goes nuts.

Some quick thoughts:
- I'm actually glad that the neighbor called police. Too often, we see something potentially dangerous, and we don't do anything about it. We say to ourselves, "You know, it must be that the guy is having trouble getting into his own house." Or, for those of you who know a thing or two about rape culture, "You know, I'm sure that guy is just helping his drunk girlfriend to a bed upstairs where he will take care of her and keep her safe." Just checking is important, and that's what the neighbor was doing.

- Racial profiling, being illegal, isn't something that happens consciously. White society might view one behavior as normal in a white person, but risky/dangerous/suspicious in a person of color. We must point out when this happens. That's how you stop it. In this case, Gates became very frustrated and angry. I do not think he would have been arrested had he been white. I think his anger and frustration were seen as somehow dangerous because of his skin color.

- Just because a black cop said that he approved of the arrest does not negate race from the equation. Plenty of white people don't approve of the arrest; does that mean that NO white person should? That's like saying, "My joke wasn't sexist because another woman laughed."

Now, we're seemingly at the point where we can keep the incident in mind, but make jokes about it (as seen here and here). But it's not over.

An Officer Barrett, a Boston police officer, sent an incredibly racist, sexist, and insulting letter to Globe writer Yvonne Abrahams (don't read it unless you want to be shocked by the kind of people we let onto the police force). He was suspended, pending termination. Mayor Menino is nothing short of enraged:

“I was angry about the incident when the commissioner spoke to me [Tuesday] night,’’ Menino said. “I said, ‘He has no place in this department, and we have to take his badge away.’ That stuff doesn’t belong in our city, and we’re not going to tolerate it.’’

The mayor said he has not seen the e-mail and while the officer is not officially terminated, he might as well be. “He’s gone - g-o-n-e. I don’t care, it’s like cancer, you don’t keep those cancers around.’’

What did Barrett say?

“I did not mean to offend anyone,’’ he said. “The words were being used to characterize behavior, not describe anyone . . . I didn’t mean it in a racist way. I treat everyone with dignity and respect.’’

Uh, no. Oh, and now he's suing. Yeah.

According to the lawsuit, the mayor and commissioner’s actions caused Barrett pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, posttraumatic stress, sleeplessness, indignities and embarrassment, degradation, injury to reputation, and restrictions on personal freedom.

Barrett, on the police force for two years, requested that they be enjoined from decreasing, terminating, or withholding any wages. He also asked for money damages to compensate for the emotional and physical pain he suffered, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages.

Here's what I don't, and will never understand:

How can you possibly say something so obviously racist and offensive? And sexist and offensive? And then think that you treat everyone with dignity and respect?

How can you say that this is not about race when you used racial slurs? How can you say you're not racist when you used racial slurs and expressed racist sentiments?

Unless, of course, you don't think your letter was racist. Which makes sense. Otherwise, you wouldn't have said those things because you would have known and understood that they were racist.

The city of Boston doesn't deserve the punishment of having this awful, awful person on its police force.

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