Barack Obama versus the ‘Stupid’ Pigs

Something like this was always going to happen; at some point during the Obama administration, there was going to be a race-based incident that would gain widespread publicity and that would demand the attention of the President.

That time has arrived.

In response to the arrest by the Cambridge Police Department on Thursday, July 16th of noted black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his own home for ‘disorderly conduct’, President Obama weighed into the affair, describing the actions on the police as ‘stupid’.

Now, I think I can state with some certainty that a white president would never have become involved, and would certainly have never have used that phrase. But it took these words for this story/issue to gain traction and to draw attention to a problem that would have quickly died if the same old faces such as Jesse Jackson had been trotted out to complain about the police behaviour.

Sometimes, to get a discourse moving on a difficult subject, you need to be provocative, to be controversial, to upset people. Whether inadvertent or not, this choice of ‘stupid’ did precisely that. It also meant that a major stress point in American culture was being addressed and not glossed over.

The President has since apologised for his choice of phrase, but a number of TV networks showed vox pops from African-Americans who said that he shouldn’t have apologised. This I think is telling, and why I cheered when I first heard Obama using such a provocative word. It had the rhetorical power to incite debate and focus media attention on an issue that is all too real for African-Americans.

The institutionalised racism demonstrated on a daily basis by U.S. enforcement agencies is not unique, however, and Gate’s experience and story will be familiar to many ethnic minorities throughout the world who live in white dominated societies. So Obama’s comment—his choice of words—gave this story global wings and maybe it is the sort of rhetoric needed to shock these organisations into doing more than pay lip service to stamping out such institutionalised practices.

P.S.: The reaction from Fox News

What would surprise me was the balanced opinions coming from a couple of Fox ‘News’ presenters who thought it was pertinent for the president to bring attention to this social problem. Could the slavish, butt-licking, Bush-whores who switched instantly into rabid attack-Obama dogs as soon as the election was won last year actually be living up to the network slogan of “Fair and Balanced”? Well, the jury’s still out on that one, because one swallow doesn’t make a summer, as they say.

P.P.S.: As more information is coming to hand about the arrest, it would seem that Obama’s use of stupid was not far off the mark. Perhaps the apology was too hasty.

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