Reactionary Racism Revolts

Breaking news: Just because someone suggests, alludes, surmises, speculates, implies, infers, deduces or forthrightly declares something or someone is racist does not make it so.

One of the most charged words in the American lexicon, "racism" can at times be used in the same cavalier manner we use "and," "but," and "or." Because of the role racism has played in the pursuit of the elusive "more perfect union," we are quick to give attention when charges of racism are levied, especially when it is by someone deemed credible.

At first glance, we might be less inclined to accept charges of racism made by someone previously convicted of, say, bank robbery if that individual was recently apprehended at the scene of a similar crime.

What about a professor from one of America's prestigious universities who makes a charge of racism? That might pass the first glance test in the court of public opinion.

That appeared to be the case when Princeton University professor Imani Perry claimed that, during a recent traffic stop, she was mistreated because of her race by two white police officers.

After her arrest and release, Perry took to social media to say that she was arrested for having a single outstanding parking ticket. She further claimed the male officer (there was a female officer also at the scene) had performed a body search and that she had not been allowed to make a phone call before being placed in the squad car. She was handcuffed to a table at the police station, she said.

In the court of public opinion, Perry's charges recall recent tragic incidents such as the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner by officers in Staten Island.

Perhaps more concerning to some is that this latest incident was inflicted upon a professor at one of America's most prestigious universities, which is also embroiled in its own racial controversy concerning its public adoration of Woodrow Wilson.

Prior to becoming the nation's 28th president, Wilson was also Princeton's 13th university president. But his overtly racist views became a cause of concern by a number of Princeton's current student body.

If we leave the narrative there, Perry becomes the latest example of why the Black Lives Matter movement exists. If black professors at well-respected institutions of higher learning can be arbitrarily abused, who's safe? But there is more to the story.

Perry was stopped for driving 67 miles per hour in a 45 M.P.H. zone.

Moreover, her driving privileges had been suspended and a warrant had been issued for her arrest over two unpaid parking violations from 2013.

The warrant demanded that the person be taken into custody. This is not optional.
Did Perry believe the officers should have risked personal repercussions by letting her go?

Perry later issued a statement saying that she did not allege racial bias.

But following her arrest she posted on Facebook: "I was treated inappropriately and disproportionately. The fact of my blackness is not incidental to this matter."

The tragedy in this yarn is that Perry's failure to take responsibility led her to retreat into the briar patch of racist claims. In doing so, she devalues those who may indeed be victims of institutional racism.

America's original sin is too important, and our collective understanding too tenuous and sophomoric, for someone to make outlandish charges. It also reflects how reactionary racism can be when critical thinking takes a back seat to emotion.

Assuming momentarily there was some legitimacy to Perry's claims, it must be done so through the lens that she was driving 22 miles over the speed limit on a suspended license with a warrant for her arrest, and to believe that only people of color would be stopped under such "benign" circumstances.

Given Perry's standing as a Princeton University professor, along with the unfortunate legacy of racial profiling, it is easy to understand why many would rush to her defense. But her claims were built on a foundation of mendacity and lack of responsibility.

She owes all who took the reactionary road of support an apology. But that would require she take accountability for her actions, which was sorely missing when this fiasco began.