By accepting Professor Gates' account of his arrest, President Barack Obama cast himself as an enemy of "American firsters."
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, July 24, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Professor Gates: Victim or Bully? President Obama: Us or Them?
At the end of his press conference on health care, Barack Obama addressed the controversy over the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Referring to Gates as “Skip,” the President asserted that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly.”
As a psychologist and a lawyer, I have learned not to go too far out on a limb until I hear the other side of the story my client is telling me. (You can learn the same thing watching “The People’s Court” et al.)
The original narrative – the one the President was operating from – was that a distinguished but slight senior African-American man was irrationally profiled as a burglar and forcibly removed from his own home despite having proved he was the legal resident.
A day later, the police officer (who teaches Cambridge police how to avoid racial profiling) gave his story: he was simply responding to a report of forced entry, asked a man inside the house for his ID (which he initially refused to provide), and after the officer turned to leave, Professor Gates followed him spewing epithets.
In the first version, Professor Gates is the unwitting victim of prejudice against African American men in America. In the second, a powerful man abused a public servant doing his duty.
Although these divergent perspectives are a major conflagration point in the United States, that’s not what this post is about.
A separate much screened news clip shows a woman at a public meeting in Delaware holding up her birth certificate and asking why the President hasn’t shown his. She ends up screaming, “I want my country back.”
This scary episode is about Us/Them. A majority of Americans decided, despite his exotic background and off-brand racial identity, that Barack Obama was one of “us” – a decent family man and a good American.
But a substantial minority of Americans remains unconvinced. For them, Obama is an alien from another world, or culture, who has arrived in our midst, perhaps to destroy us.
Showing the screeching woman a copy of the Obama birth certificate (which is available on the Internet, has been attested to by the Republican Governor of Hawaii, and which is supported by a contemporaneous newspaper announcement of Obama’s birth) will not satisfy this woman and people like her.
How do you guess the President’s siding with Skip Gates over the white police officer will affect this woman and other “birth certificate deniers”?
Could get ugly. Oh, it already is?