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July 30th, 2009
10:29 AM ET

What's the 'teachable moment'?

Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. had a confrontation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, police sergeant.

Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. had a confrontation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, police sergeant.

Donna Brazile
CNN Contributor

The controversy involving the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer has brought race relations in America to the front burner.

President Obama has called it a "teachable moment." But what is the lesson to be gained?

I believe that one of the lessons is that we have not entirely passed through the threshold of the post-racial era. Living in it may be our national aspiration, but it is not our everyday reality.

Our everyday reality is that we must continue to struggle to reconcile racial differences without resorting to name-calling. Angry white racist cop! Angry black racist man! We must continue to struggle to find our common ground. Now that a national conversation on racial profiling has begun, where do we go from here?

Having acknowledged that his comment that Cambridge, Massachusetts, Police Sgt. James Crowley had "acted stupidly" in arresting internationally renowned scholar Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. may have escalated the matter, President Obama has volunteered to take time from pressing national and international issues to host a meeting between the two men in which they share cold beers and cooler heads.

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Filed under: Donna Brazile • Race in America
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. lampe

    The only teaching moment here, is that Obama broke his word to The American People. He said " He would run as a man with both Whites and Blacks in mind." Now the first chance he has to prove that what does he do? Calls a White Police Officer Stupid. Well Obama, I Hope you have learned something The American People have a very long memory when it comes to people who lie to them.

    July 30, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  2. Cynthia Flood

    Teachable Moment

    1) President Obama is Black – Highest Authority in the Land
    2) Sgt. Crowley is White – Order Keeper/Protector
    3) Prof. Gates is Black – Educator

    An Oreo Cookie – One of the best cookies on the market.
    (Once devoured a full, complete understanding is a result)

    This set-up should teach us there is good to be gain from each morsel. It should also teach us we need each other to get the job done correctly.

    Finding the wrong move is not important because it has found you; not making that same move again is what's most important for us all.

    Thank you Pres. Obama, Sgt. Crowley, and Prof. Gates for your example in GETTING IT RIGHT!

    July 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  3. Joanne R. Pacicca

    Neither side is guilty.

    July 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  4. JoblessInSeattle

    It's certainly a teachable moment for Prof. Gates and Sergeant Crowley, but I think the biggest teachable moment belongs to Obama.

    Right or wrong, his "stupidly" comment has caused division among people. It's one of those things that you can't help but take sides over.

    July 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  5. Jan

    Oh please! This is just another photo op for Obama. The only thing this beer buddy session will teach is that the President can once again use the media to his advantage. All Obama wants is for everyone to remember his attempt at "let's all get along" rather than his unscripted feelings that the police had acted "stupidly".

    I wish Sgt. Crowley could bring his mother along to this meeting and have the "internationally renowned scholar" Gates repeat his comments regarding Crowley's mother. You know if the situation was reversed, Gates would be demanding an apology for himself and his mama.

    July 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  6. Nichole

    The teachable moment is in understanding that our experiences are different and therefore dictate our responses and reactions. There's a huge lack of empathy and compassion in our country. Until it is addressed, there will always be problems.

    July 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm |
  7. Sharon S

    I think it is the fact that a Harvard Professor can be just as stupid as a factory worker!! Sad Sad world when a professor who has that many years of schooling can't realize the police came to his house for his benefit NOT to harrass him they had NO WAY of knowing if he lived there! What an idiot!! and Obama proved his racism and his stupidity along with Gates!!! I think Obama and Gates both need some classes on how to be a professional and will someone please give Obama a lesson on how to speak I can't stand his constand UMMM in between each word he is the WORST speaker I have ever heard I don't find Obama smart, witty or even intelligent I don't understand the Hoopla over this ignorant man!

    July 30, 2009 at 12:14 pm |
  8. DawnYawn

    As a white woman, I'm sure I would have been arrested if I had put up a big fuss like Professor Gates did, even in my own home. I know from past experience that Police will use their power if the person with whom they are dealing is acting in an angry manner. The Police are to be treated with respect. You don't treat the Police like an ordinary person when they are wearing the Police Uniform. They demand respect from everyone, not just black people.

    July 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm |
  9. ann jones

    bottom line, the policeman chose to arrest Dr. Gates at his own home for exercising his freedom of speech.....you can call anything disorderly conduct. and isnt there proof that the officer was dishonest when he told the media that the caller said that two black men with backpacks were seen breaking into the home.....since we have heard the 911 call, i havent heard anyone call him out on that misrepresentation of the truth....

    July 30, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  10. Chasity

    I am a Black American, and I did NOT feel that this was racial profiling
    1. The police were called to the house
    2. Race was not discussed on the 911 call
    3. Gates did NOT cooperate
    4. Police officer arrested him

    The first two things that happened were fine. The last two were not, there was fault on both sides – Gates for "assuming" this was about race – and sadly as a Harvard professor – acted a "hot mess". The fourth, the police officer – should NOT have arrested him, since he was at his OWN home. Now, I might not have acted the way Gates did had a police officer shown up while I was in China and said someone called 911 saying my home was being burglarized. I would have WANTED the police to check it out for safety... but that is NOT what Gates did... He "assumed" profiling. This is NOT a case of racial profiling... there ARE some cases, but this is not one... and the sad fact that the media asked Barack Obama his opinion is sickening... So, he's a friend and stated as such that he "may be biased, Skips a friend" but does he speak for ALL black Americans who were arrested that day? Did we ask his opinion on any OTHER cases that were between a white cop and a black man? The point is, he shouldn’t even have been asked the question. Should an officer arrest someone in their own home without a real reason? – No, but he (Gates) was acting a damn fool... and for an example of a scholar – that is sad. Black people – who do act a damn fool, and you know who you are, you are not helping the racial profiling situations in general. Racial profiling is not held in a vacuum, there are REASONS this continues to happen, and SOME of the reason is our own fault...
    The sad truth is that we ALL profile each other, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Somalia, or Arab... and NONE of us is immune – that IS the teachable moment.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  11. sendoptions

    oh my.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:39 am |
  12. Michelle

    Why even bring up race? I am so sick and tired of this issue. I am so done with everyone wanting equality but yet wanting division- segregation-That is what it all boils down to. Be proud of your heritage yes, but push it in everyone's face for anything negative that comes up- no. Why didn't this guy just whip out his wallet with his license to show the officer he lived at that residence? Instead of trying to confront him for "racial harassment?" "Oh you are picking on me because I am black" is the first thing that comes out of his mouth? WRONG and shame on an educated "professor" for doing that! Shame on OBAMA for opening his big mouth and siding with him! The President should NOT be partial, he should keep his "personal" feelings on this issue to himself, not make it public and have to go back to smooth it over.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  13. john

    The teachable moment can be found in the lyrics of a Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror." The phrase "washed out dream" comes from the lyrics of this song. Martin Luther King said the dream is realized when a man is judged by the content of his character not the color of his skin.

    Both sides are guilty. Doesn't Jesse Jackson , Al Sharpton and anyone else who always brings up race/color in these situations fail repeatedly to remember that people have misunderstandings irregardless of color when the race/color issue is raised it does not always mean it applies to the situation.
    T
    The media is too eager to abilge such behave. Race relations will always be an issue if paranoid, insecure, opportunists feed the frenzy in order to fill their egos and wallets and a desperate superfical media fuel the fire to create friviious news not report it.

    Respectfully,

    John Sullivan

    July 30, 2009 at 11:32 am |
  14. Lilly

    First of all, I think Prof. Gates should have been grateful to the police and thanked the officers for responding and for "protecting" his home. How many times do home owners break into their own homes? What if it had been a real intruder? The police thought it was. He should have said I am Prof. Gates, I am the home owner, here is my identification. He should have provided that information voluntarily without being asked, as most of us would. End of incident.
    It appears to me that Gates wanted to make an issue of it. He wanted witnesses so he started yelling and acting belligerent to get everyone's attention. For a professor to act in this manner is very rude and not a good example for his students.
    As for as the President, he should have said, " I don't have all of the facts and I would rather not comment." His remark not only escalated the incident but also shows he has issues. "We have come a long way, baby"......look where he is ! We should be making progress on this and other issues....not regress, especially on such a volatile issue!

    P.S. To the moderator: I posted as an alias on another post before I read your tips on posting. It was pertaining to someone in politics. I am in business and I have friends in both parties, so if I disagree with their party or someone in their party, they take it personally. Some of them are not very broad minded. They feel that their opinion is right and everyone should think as they do....you know...tunnel vision.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  15. sabine

    To Cindy, Ga if that is the lesson that you learned from this issue, you need to think again. Abuse of power is not acceptable. If the president were to decide to arrest anyone who says anything that hurts his feelings then a lot of people would be in jail. Please read one more time the comment that you posted and reflect. on it.
    Sabine

    July 30, 2009 at 11:27 am |
  16. Pixie Sherry

    I apologize, in my anger I wrote "in the wrong place at the wrong time" when actually there is no wrong place or wrong time to be who you are, White, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, Native American, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian... you get the idea. I sincerely apologize for the foot in mouth gaffe.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  17. Pixie Sherry

    One teachable moment is that unless an officer of the law is physically assaulting you, cooperate and then file your complaint about it afterwards. Whatever happened to just taking the name and badge number of the officer with questionable behavior? Another teachable moment is for the President himself: Do not get involved, in any way, shape, or form, in police investigations until the matter is concluded. All I could think of while this was going on was "Where was the President when an 18 year-old Black youth, who reacted after being startled awake in his car, was shot and killed by a non-Black police officer?" This happened in my hometown (Austin, Texas) just recently, and I cannot believe the way this is being handled. The on-board camera was not even turned on. Coincidence? Would the President care to comment on every single incident involving police and racially motivated incidents? What happened in Cambridge is not cool, but it is certainly not the tragedy it is being portrayed to be, especially when people are not just being arrested when they don't like it, but are actually getting killed for being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time. I invite the President to come to Austin and pay respects to the family of the wrongfully killed young man. Perhaps he could have a beer at the cemetery with them.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:20 am |
  18. genxman

    If a taxi doesn't stop for a white guy, it's because the driver didn't see him.
    If a taxi doesn't stop for a black guy, it's because he's black.
    If a white guy doesn't get a loan, it's because he didn't qualify.
    If a black guy doesn't get a loan, it's because he's black.
    If a white guy smarts off to a female bartender and is asked to leave, it's because he smarted off.
    If a black guy smarts off to a female bartender and is asked to leave, it's because he's black.
    If a white guy breaks into his own house and the police come and ask him to identify himself, it's because he was acting suspiciously.
    If a black guy breaks into his own house and the police come and ask him to identify himself, it's because he's black.
    If a white guy insults the police and refuses to cooperate and gets arrested it's because he's a jerk and deserves to be arrested.
    If a black guy insults the police and refuses to cooperate and gets arrested, it's because he's black.
    I don't think anyone would dispute that we have a ways to go in overcoming racism in this country. But we need to quit using "it's because he's black" as an explanation every time a black person is involved.
    When the officer asked Gates to step outside and identify himself and he yelled back, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?", he let us all know that "it's because he's black" was his explanation for the situation.
    I think we will have made great progress toward eliminating racism in this country when our behavior is the first thing we examine when evaluating the consequences we receive, instead of using race as an explanation

    July 30, 2009 at 11:11 am |
  19. Chuck

    The teachable moment is that the police abused their power, the disorderly conduct' law, and arrested the individual who bad-mouthed and insulted the police in his premise. The 'Disorderly Conduct' law was used by police to protect themselves from being personally'insulted by the individual. The 'disordely conduct' law should be changed to limit the police abuse of power. This is the 'teachable moment'. The race issue is only secondary to the abuse of this law.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  20. Michele

    I challenge anyone to replay this entire scenario with reversed ethnicity. It would have played out as a common sense act. If the white population cried "discrimination" everytime they felt they were in an uncomfortable situation, maybe we could make this a more obvious 'teachable moment'....Grow up America!
    I am a Chicago native, living in FL, went to Mississippi for 4 months to care for dying father–in and out of hositals......the discrimination (in OR out of the hospitals) was amazing! People looked at me like a complete foreigner. The hospital personnel had to be shown that I was taking notes on all of my father's care and never leaving the hospital before they started to ease-up even the slightest bit.
    When my father returned to his home (I was staying with him) a family member tried to attack me. I called the Sheriff, gave him my DL, and the black officer wrote a completely different name and wrong incident address on the ticket! If you want to talk "teachable moments", bring in ALL the facts! Let's not further 'glorify' or try to uphold the weaknesses of those who 'cry wolf'......Grow up America!!!!!!

    July 30, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  21. James Hulme

    The teachable moment is before the event, not after. An after thought is anyone and everyone's guess. Monday morning quarter backs are always dead on arrival.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:02 am |
  22. Annie

    The one teachable moment that nobody in the liberal media will touch upon is the fact that BLACK RACISM is very much embedded in black culture, witness how Mr. Gates profiled the white cop before Mr. Crowley said anything to him and assumed the lady who called him to be racist when she clearly was not.

    If America wants to get past racial issues then it is up to black Americans to admit that they are very much racist, if not more so than white people. Putting all the racist blame on "whitey" will get us nowhere because most people know that not all racists are white only.

    btw I'll be shocked if CNN prints my letter.

    July 30, 2009 at 10:49 am |
  23. Cindy

    The lessoned to be gained is that not all police are racist. And that when police come to your house do as they ask without fussing them out. If that would have happened here none of this other stuff would have occured.

    And also the last lesson is to not listen to others and judge for yourself as in the case of the 911 caller when everyone and his brother was calling her a racist going only by what the media said and never even hearing what she said on the call. Yet when the 911 tape was released we see that she didn't even mention anyones race.

    That's what should be taken away from this fiasco.

    Cindy..Ga.

    July 30, 2009 at 10:39 am |