There was (is) a media frenzy over the incident in Cambridge, Mass., that included the following players:

Lucia Whalen, Portuguese, called 911 about a possible burglary at a Cambridge home; Sgt. James Crowley, Caucasian, Cambridge police officer who responded to 911 call and subsequently arrested homeowner; Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (African-American, Harvard professor, owner and resident of the home referred to in the 911 call, arrested); Linda Sweet, Caucasian, Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief, who at a health-care press conference asked President Obama about Mr. Gates’s arrest the questions, “What does that incident say to you?  And what does it say about race relations in America?”; and President Barack Obama (African-American; U.S. president, quoted as saying in his response to Sweet’s questions that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly”). 

The race, color or ethnicity of participants is identified whenever a potentially racial incident occurs.

The media noted that the 911 caller was not really “white” but of Portuguese extraction and kind of tan. The 911 caller has pointed out that the police report erroneously stated that the caller identified the home-invaders as black males; that the caller did not mention race until the 911 operator asked her to do so (verified by the 911 recording).

Reporter Sweet states that President Obama had not been given her questions in advance and that she would have asked President Bush the same questions.  

Would she?  Hmmm! 

People (the media) like to ask members of an identifiable group to speak to matters involving that group, especially high-profile members of that group. 

President Obama was criticized by some for responding to Ms. Sweet’s questions without having all the facts, while others felt he should not have given a response based on his experiences as a black male in the U.S.A.  

Members of “minority” groups were quoted as being among those who criticized President Obama’s remarks.

But there are always members of “minority” groups against whom discriminatory comments or acts have been perpetrated who come forth (are resurrected) to deny the existence of bigotry in the alleged perpetrators. Stockholm syndrome?

 Like several of my friends (black and white, Christians and Jews), there were those who said they were glad Mr. Obama “forgot his cool” and gave a knee-jerk response to the Cambridge incident.

They also found fault with President Obama’s being advised not to “intrude” in a local matter (not said by the Cambridge mayor or city manager) and wondered if the same advice would be given if Cambridge suffered a natural disaster (such as Katrina) or civil unrest. 

I do not sanction Professor Gates’s alleged incivility, and I will not say that Sgt. Crowley did not overreact. Police officers et al say that officers are (supposedly)  trained not to overreact to name-calling, cursing and insults to their mothers, and that someone teaching a course in racial profiling should be more sensitive to actions that provoke (escalate) negative interactions between certain groups and the police. 

I admit to being biased about encounters between the police and black people since my experience with an officer who abandoned a conversation with a (“white”) friend on my friend’s sidewalk in a “white” neighborhood when the officer spied me (an African-American) standing in my friend’s house. 

The officer, unfastening her holster, charged up the steps and into the house and into my face, shouting and demanding to be told who I was and what I was doing there. 

I remained calm on the outside and told the officer I was a friend of the homeowner.  This did not suffice. It was only when my friend came into the house and told the officer more than once that I was her friend that the officer hesitatingly backed away from me and refastened her holster. 

The police chief assured me that this was a fine officer, but “fine” by whose yardstick?

President Obama reportedly said, “… Race remains a factor in this society.”  It certainly does. (See “Race Matters” by Princeton University professor Cornel West, Beacon Press, 1993; and “Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession,” New Press, 2005, by the late columnist Studs Terkel.)

President Obama will continue to be perceived by some as primarily an African-American (biracial) male – too black for some, and not black enough for others.  And as President of the United States of America, he will continue to be caught betwixt and between.



Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...