Something strange is happening in America. For the first time, a white man is standing up to a black man’s charge of racism. And he is being supported by his employer. In another first, the media coverage of this event is not employing the time worn premise that only whites can be racist.
For those of you who may have missed the unrelenting 24/7 media coverage of the latest racial tempest in a teapot, the basic facts: A white policeman in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the alert for 2 reported black burglars, detained a prominent black professor. The black professor then proceeded to play the race card, accusing the officer of being a racist. After challenging the authority and the mother of the policeman, professor Henry Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct.
This incident may have gone the way of millions of others but for the fact that this professor was a friend of President Obama. Luckily for Henry Gates, the most powerful man in the world took time out from pressing affairs to take his call.
The President then announced publicly that the Cambridge police Department ‘acted stupidly’, even while acknowledging that he wasn’t familiar with all the details. That our president chose to get involved in the first place is a discussion for another time.
What makes this incident unique is the fact that the automatic assumption of racism on the part of the white policeman is actually being questioned. In a very public way – signaling the possibility that the ‘white guilt’ America has embraced for the last 45 years may finally be consigned to history.
White guilt is best described by author Shelby Steele, who says “White guilt is literally the same thing as black power.” Steele hypothesized that America lost its moral authority when it acknowledged and apologized for the sin of slavery in the early 60’s. This ‘moral authority’ transferred to the victims of historical racism and became their great power. The power to stigmatize one as a racist became a powerful tool. A tool that has been wielded for decades with virtually no opposition, until now.
The power to evoke white guilt and the stigma of racism has been used time and again to bring corporations, politicians and public figures to their knees. White guilt has also played a significant part in the shaping of public policy and political correctness. It has also shielded generations of blacks from accountability, with predictable and damaging results.
Because white guilt is a vacuum of moral authority, it makes the moral authority of whites dependant on proving a negative. As in, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ For over 45 years, discussions of race in America have been constrained by the threat of being deemed racist. For over 45 years, most white Americans have been put in the impossible position of having to prove a negative. It now appears this might be changing.
As usual, the Rev. Al Sharpton weighed in with his predictable and automatic assignment of blame to whitey, calling the case an “abuse of power” by the officer. But, in yet another first, the media declined to annoint this blowhard his usual status as commentor in chief on all things racial. Poor Al failed to get his usual ‘face time’. His comments were, gasp, not news. Perhaps the media sees the writing on the wall.
The writing that seems to indicate that charges of racial oppression and racism ring false now that a black man has been elected to the Presidency. The writing that indicates that most white Americans are ever so tired of having to prove day and night that they ‘are not racist’. The writing that indicates that America has paid its debt to the black man and they are now welcome to compete, on an equal footing, with the rest of America. The writing that indicates that frivolous charges of racism will now be challenged.
Finally, Martin Luther King’s dream may become a reality – Americans may now be free to judge a man based on the content of his character instead of the color of his skin. High time.