Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., drinks beer at Raleigh Times bar in Raleigh, N.C.,Tuesday, May 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
You can make fun of me for being a goody two shoes, but I’ve never finished a beer in my entire life. I am, however, willing to drink a beer with President Obama if that will open the door to an honest conversation on race relations in America.
President Obama’s announcement that he will get together today with Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley for a beer sounds, honestly, like a bit of political posturing from a man who is trying to reverse the stain of tremendous embarrassment. But like a political pro, the president is getting chummy with police departments across the nation, and this will help him recover from his own “George Bush moment,” in which he attacked the Cambridge Police Department while admittedly not knowing all the facts.
Perhaps the first beer in the White House will turn into a second and a third. People let it all hang out when they get drunk, so maybe open bottles of beer will encourage the three parties involved to have an honest dialogue on race. In fact, why don’t the rest of us drink a beer too? The American racial conversation should not only include three people behind closed doors, it should include all of us.
The exchange should be one that is without judgment or condemnation. It should be blanketed by the cloak of forgiveness and the desire to show true empathy. We should try to understand the honest fear many whites have of being unfairly labeled racist, while acknowledging the traumatic experience of being black in America. We need to address the statistics on black men in the prison system, black unemployment, and African American economic disparities without relying on illogical excuses that are laced by the poison of white supremacy. Simultaneously, black people have to be willing to admit that some of us use the race card as a weapon for battle, rather than a tool for true equality.
During this great dialogue we have to be brave, for it’s going to take hard work to fulfill Dr. King’s dream. Although dreams are created while sleeping, they must be fulfilled when our eyes are open and we are wide-awake. The United Nations has written reports recently condemning the US for its two-tiered society and if we keep living in denial, the fight will never end. When the conversation gets uncomfortable, we should drink more beer. If someone gets upset, we should offer them a beer to make them feel better. Our “national happy hour” (endorsed by President Obama) should be one that leads to true and lasting happiness, not just a brief moment of social intoxication.
One part of the conversation that should remain off limits is any discussion of the petty beef between Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley. Professor Gates is not OJ Simpson and Sgt. Crowley is not Mark Furman. However, I’ve compared this case to the OJ Simpson trial because everyone knew that the reactions across America had almost nothing to do with OJ. People were responding to bigger issues that lie beneath the skin of our nation, like a long-lived, untreated cancer slowly eroding our social infrastructure. I want Gates and Crowley out of the conversation, as they will both hopefully realize that the state of race relations in America is far greater than the egos of two people.
Crowley, Gates and Obama have had their moment, and they are going to have their beer. Now, it’s time for the rest of us to join the party, so we can solve real problems without any secondary agenda. Real Americans need to be involved in the discussion, not just politicians. And if we’ve got to let the liquor flow to make things right, then I’m ready to pop some bottles.