28 July 2009

White Men are Profiled, Too

Cal Thomas, the syndicated conservative columnist, feels the pain of Henry Louis Gates, the professor arrested for protesting too vehemently against police suspicions that he was burglarizing his own house last week. Thomas knows Gates, apparently at least well enough to call him Skip, and calls him "a classy guy with excellent social skills and a sharp mind." Thomas, too, claims to have been profiled. As he has stated in several columns, he is on a "terrorist watch list" that obliges him to submit to searches at airports. How he got on the list I haven't been able to learn, but to be fair it is just as likely because he shares the name of a possibly more legitimate suspect as it is anything to do with his political opinions.

"I sometimes get upset when 'profiled' by Transportation Security Administration employees," Thomas writes, "It is tempting to say, 'If I were a terrorist shouting "death to America" you'd probably let me go through,' but because I know it would do no good and that I could be arrested and miss my flight, I hold my tongue." Of course, if fewer Americans held their tongues, a policy that's presumably unfair to Thomas might be modified, but his own resigned complacency is understandable, especially if that's what he would say to security. That sounds just as likely to get him arrested as Gates's assumptions about Sgt. Crowley's motives exacerbated the situation in Cambridge.

Thomas never really says what he thought Gates's proper response ought to have been. Perhaps his empathy prevents him from making recommendations. But the columnist points out that the scene at Gates's house wasn't purely black vs. white, and he makes the same point I have about profiling being not exclusively a white activity against blacks. He quotes Rev. Jesse Jackson in an admission that the civil-rights leader himself feels less anxious when a white rather than a black stranger is walking behind him on a dark street. Thomas is more interested in accounting for the phenomenon of racial profiling, and as is his habit, he finds that liberalism is to blame.

First, the media reinforces a stereotype of irresponsible criminal black men simply by reporting on violent crime. But when it comes to explaining crime itself, Thomas reverts to his reactionary programming:

Race isn't the cause of these crimes; a social system put in place by liberal Democrats is to blame. That system does not encourage minorities to succeed. It enables them in their victimhood and sense of impoverishment. Liberal Democrats refuse to allow poor black children to escape failing government schools. The welfare system...has doomed several generations of African-Americans to misery, complacency and dependency.

In the past, Thomas has written as if "Liberal Democrats" were literally and explicitly telling blacks that they can't succeed in America because it's a racist society, and that therefore they should not seek jobs but should insist on their entitlement to welfare. I'm not aware of anyone actually saying anything like this to anybody, and in lieu of actual quotes to that effect I'm willing to call Thomas a liar. In any event, his proposed remedy to ghetto poverty is for blacks to renounce grievances. I don't know if Thomas is so much of a fanatic for meritocracy that he thinks that compensatory policies were never necessary or if he concedes a onetime necessity that has now lapsed. But he wants blacks to stop thinking that "failure is someone else's fault," even though in our age more people besides blacks have reasons to believe that.

What this has to do with Gates grows dim at times, but I guess Thomas's point is that, if people like Gates don't want to be presumed criminal because of their race (even though the evidence now suggests that Gates was not presumed criminal because of his race), they must first give up the presumption of victimization that allegedly entitles them to both break the law and disrespect authority. Gates himself presumably would have some responsibility to help inculcate correct values if he doesn't want to suffer for others' sins. Thomas wants blacks to take the chips off their shoulders, but there's something unconditional about that demand, as if the burden of compromise in interracial relations is all on blacks now. Many Americans would like to think so, and I've seen plenty of proof that they do think so, but whether they have the unilateral right to say so and make it stick is still open to question.

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