Race politics as usual, beer notwithstanding

President Obama had his beer with Sargeant Crowley and Professor Gates today, as Vice President Biden joined in with a non-alcoholic “beer.” It wasn’t much of a photo-op for the White House. The event was filmed from a distance making it difficult to discern whether there was any warmth, or even authenticity, to the event. To extent I could judge, it looked like a rather stiff affair. Understandably.
The aftermath of the meeting didn’t play out particularly well for the president either. Gates issued a statement in which he pompously declared: “It is incumbent upon Sgt. Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us,” the opportunity to foster sympathy among Americans about “the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.”
Crowley didn’t necessarily embrace Gates’ view of what was “incumbent upon” Crowley to do. He said, “I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue.” By appearing before the press, instead of merely issuing a statement as Gates did, the composed, telegenic Crowley continues to come across more sympathetically than the man he arrested.
Meanwhile, our composed, telegenic president expressed his hope that “instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that everybody has different points of view.” This statement invites Americans to recall that it was Obama who helped “gin up hyperbole.” In reality, the less people reflect on this incident the better it is for the president.
I do have one more reflection on the matter (though not about myself). As “race men” go, Gates has always been viewed as relatively sensible, as opposed to, say, Cornel West. Indeed, as E.J. Dionne reminds us in a worthwhile column, Gates once criticized “race politics” as a “court of the imagination wherein blacks seek to punish whites for their misdeeds and whites seek to punish blacks for theirs, and an infinite regress of score settling ensues.”
Barack Obama, for his part, was going to be a post-racial president. As such he would lead us out of the “race politics” Gates (and the rest of us) finds so sterile and counterproductive.
Yet when the rubber met the road, Gates didn’t hesitate to level baseless charges of racism in an extremely aggressive manner. And Obama didn’t hesitate to attack the white police officer before he had the facts.
This suggests to me that, as far as African-Americans are concerned, “race politics” will continue unabated, as if Obama had never been elected president.

Responses