Over the last few weeks, it seems no one -- the media, the punditry, social intellectuals and not even African American scholars and activists -- hit the target with a correct analysis about the real issue underscoring the Gates/Crowley incident. Terms or phrases such as, "race," "conversation about/on race," "the race question/issue," "racism," "who's a racist," or "bigot," were bandied about as though the meanings are all the same -- which they're not!
Anyone serious about putting an end to "racial profiling", should discuss this problem with a clear understanding about what's being talked about. To talk about race is a waste of time. To call someone racist, when we don't even know the difference between racism and bigotry is even more of a squander; since the name calling is the equivalent to two children arguing in a sandbox. The race discussion gets us no where fast as we label each other and then seek to "move past the issue" when there is a national uproar.
One teachable moment we will witness from the new Ebony and Ivory duo is that Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley will capitalize on all that's happened; leading them to more notoriety, fame and Ka-Ching. Both men with their very diverse levels of success and world views -- an elderly well known Harvard Professor a part of the Black elite who spends summers at the Inkwell and a good-looking Irish working class cop who loves to protect and to serve will share their powerful experiences working together to help our nation discuss the wrong issue -- race.
Noel Cazenave a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut teaches a course called White Racism. He says he's very concerned the outcome of the incident and the beer at the White House will not even begin to scratch the surface about a problem that is so endemic to society.
"They [Crowley and Gates] are going to do what it takes to redeem their reputations in their respective communities," declares Cazenave. "But I don't see these individuals pursuing the issue of racial profiling in a very serious way as a team or individually; Prof. Gates certainly has the resources to do this -- he did not have to wait until it happened to him personally."
The problem with discussing "issues of race," is that it dummies down the issue of racism to an individual level, when the real problem is at the macro level. "When I teach my class on White Racism, the first thing I tell my students is that I am not talking about your Mama; so don't take it personally," says the author of two books currently working on a third book, The Urban Racial State: Programming Race Relations through Community Action. "The biggest mistake everyone makes about this issue is people are not looking at it as a "system of "race" based oppression."
Cazenave says when people define racism some will say it is a set of beliefs. Others will argue that it is racially discriminatory behavior. However, if one takes the level of analysis about racism and base it upon a system inclusive of beliefs and behavior, then there can be a quality discussion on how to begin to deal with it. Cazenave argues that White Racism operates at five levels -- Societal, Institutional, Formal/Organizational, Primary Group and Individual. So the idea that racism is prejudice plus power is not enough. Racism is a phenomena and epi-phenomena leading from the Macro/Society/White Superiority down to the Micro/Individual/Bigoted.
For African Americans, the notion that they can't be "racist" on a societal and institutional level is correct since they as a group do not control these social structures. However, African Americans have the power to discriminate and can be "racial bigots." "African Americans are gaining more power in society as individuals. You can't say if you have an African American Superintendent of Schools he/she doesn't have the power to discriminate in hiring. It's hard to argue if you have a Latina Mayor of a city, that she does not have the power to discriminate in who she gives contracts to. We have an African American President and he has the power to discriminate," states Cazenave.
Individuals impact the power dynamics of the group and African Americans as a group have grown in power and stature over the decades. The Gates/Crowley incident demonstrates African Americans have power to speak about it. With Boston's history of serious racial tension, "The city of Cambridge did not want to see a Jena 6 situation," says Cazenave. "African Americans do have power, but they don't control the system and that is the key difference." Cazenave sites some Black Nationalist separatist groups on an organizational level as examples of racial bigotry as well as African American racial bigotry on a group/individual level against Mexicans and Chinese in comedy.
On December 7, 1993, a Jamaican born black man by the name of Colin Ferguson, opened fire on a Long Island Railroad subway in New York, killing 6 white people and injuring 19 others. It was a clear case of racial bigotry that led to violence and murder committed by an individual. "There is no way for me to tell a person whose son or daughter has been killed by a racial bigot that the individual does not have power or that this is not a serious problem," recalls Cazenave.
On the other hand, an individual or group level acts of racial bigotry by Blacks although wrong and vile doesn't compare in the same way to a system that has racism on all levels -- inclusive of racist politics (conservative and liberal), white supremacy organizations, peer group violence to bigoted individuals. It moves from the society to the individual. This appears to be what has to be deconstructed in order to deal with racial profiling or any form of racial inequality in America -- for Cazenave he strongly believes both conservatives and liberals are not prepared to change the system -- thus individual cases of racial bigotry will continue; pointing to the larger issue no one really wants to change.
Cazenave says focusing only on the bigotry of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Lou Dobbs' birther pathology is a mistake, because their populist racial overture statements are said strictly for commercial purposes and followership.
Their statements by these men propagate racist culture conveniently distracting people from focusing on racism and its social and structural system of race based oppression. Cazenave said he is not at all concerned with proving that an individual is racist bigot or not since most people will deny it and claim that, "you don't know what's in my heart." He is concerned more about the action, the behavior and the outcomes surrounding it. So, who cares if Officer Barrett of the Boston Police department is personally racist, it was his "Banana Eating Jungle Monkey" writing and his sending a racist message he learned at the group level while working for a formal organization and institution (Boston PD) -- now that is troublesome.
When the media, politicians and the public have discussions about race, it's supposed to open a door to being treated equally. However, "the whole concept of race assumes that you have two different groups of people who are inherently unequal," declares Cazenave. "A lot of people don't understand that. They think you can talk about racial equality and go back to the Civil Rights Movement when black and whites came together to hold hands to sing "We shall overcome." It's a nice ideal, but impossible because the concept of race -- is about inequality and has never been about equality."
To continue the commotion that steers us away from the authentic issue, Gates and President Obama will continued to be called racists and Rush and his boys will gladly receive their racist label and hurl it right back with their own style of hyperbole for mass media coverage. So, until someone one day stands up and says we need to bring real reform to a system and the way it is set up supporting racial superiority, then this discussion will continue and never go away because leaders who control the system like it just the way it is.
To conclude, I'm sure someone will call me a "reverse racist" for raising an issue that really gets under the "skin" of a number of whites. I may even be called a "sell out" for critiquing African American bigotry. All-in-all both sides either will play the role of the victim, sycophant or oppressor behind the aim to in no way embrace the true meaning of racism and how to commence its arrest.