"How cute!" my adults would say when they passed a black baby or a small black child. They'd grin approvingly at the baby and smile their acceptance at the baby's mom. Sometimes they'd extend a hand to brush the baby's cheek to prove their gentility. And then they'd walk a bit further, lean into each other and snark the zinger that angered me then and now, "yeah, they're cute now but wait till they get older." There it was. There it is. The not-so-subtle prejudice I witnessed in my family that millions of impressionable children witnessed in theirs.
As far back as I can remember, I was offended by this language. But others in my family, in my generation, were not. Many assumed the attitudes and language of our adults and continued these prejudices into their own adulthoods. Some more strongly than others. Some used the "N word." Some used "ditsoon," the Italian pejorative for blacks. In my large extended family, which includes several police, racial insensitivity was the norm.
That same racial insensitivity ran throughout my New York community. They weren't violent racists. They didn't burn crosses on black people's lawns. They held no memberships in the Klan. They never attended segregated schools or used "white only" bathrooms. But somehow they just knew that they were "better." They had that white smugness -- that air of superiority I still witness on some faces. I see it on the faces of certain whites in the House and Senate when they speak of President Obama. I see it on the face of CNN's Lou Dobbs when he conspires against President Obama. I saw it on the faces of the thick blue line of police unions on July 24th when they challenged three Black officials (President Obama, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons) for speaking against racial profiling and the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates.
I've seen persistent smugness from Gates' arresting officer, Sergeant James Crowley, in his encounters with the press. This supposed expert on racial sensitivity has shown no sensitivity at all. But he does seem pleasantly taken with his fame. And why shouldn't he be? He out-maneuvered the President. He arrested a man for yelling-while-at-home and scored a beer at the White House as reward!
The police unions, the few officers of color who fell meekly behind their blue line, and the many who won't acknowledge their part in perpetuating inequality, made a dreadful error in supporting Crowley's arrest of Gates. This is a win for racism. Rather than narrow the gap of insensitivity, they've expanded the racial divide.
On December 13, 2007, Congressman John Conyers of Michigan introduced the "End Racial Profiling Bill of 2007" (H.R. 4611) into the 110th Congress where it died, just like other Bills before it in previous sessions of Congress and the Senate:
110th Congress: S. 2481Dead
109th Congress: S. 2138Dead
108th Congress: S. 2132Dead
108th Congress: H.R. 3847Dead
107th Congress: S. 989Dead
107th Congress: H.R. 2074Dead
End Racial Profiling legislation is long overdue, yet it will probably languish for many more years because legislators don't Do The Right Thing (love ya, Spike!). If such legislation did exist, Professor Gates would have more leverage to challenge Sergeant Crowley. But just like single-payer health care, that which levels the playing field is too uncomfortable for Washington to do. Only when We-The-People rise for equality will reforms be enacted. Until that time, law enforcement will retain its power to target certain victims. Corporations will retain their power to target certain victims. Be they the Sergeant Crowleys of America, the Aetnas or the Cignas, inequities will continue until The People make them end.