Brewski diplomacy won’t wash down racism

Unemployment among African Americans, which some may partly attribute to racism, is now at Depression-era levels. Racial profiling and police brutality continue to be routine occurrences in poor communities of color. Yet mainstream media tell us we’re in a “post-racial America” following the election of the country’s first black president. Don’t believe the hype.

Now the president and the same press that have largely ignored direct conversations about racism want to address the issue, albeit in a shallow way. The polarizing July 16 arrest of the popular black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates by white Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley became a much bigger (dare I say overblown) story last week when President Obama said the officer acted “stupidly”. Now, to cool matters and perhaps to spark dialogue about an issue that is as American as apple pie, Obama, Gates’ pal, has invited the professor and the officer to the White House for a beer.

The motivation behind the meeting, which is supposed to take place this week, is insulting to those who have been real victims of police brutality over the years, those who have been brutally assaulted or even killed in their own homes by trigger-happy cops. Gates, who was reportedly indignant with Crowley first, wasn’t tasered in his home, which happened to a cousin of a friend of mine in East Cleveland last year. In fact, Gates’ charges of disorderly conduct were dismissed – not so for my friend’s cousin.

The “brewski diplomacy” seems like an almost flippant way of addressing a complex, deeply rooted problem still troubling America. Is reaching something close to a resolution about the issue that easy? Maybe other presidents should have considered such tactics.

What if President Eisenhower had invited Mamie Till and the Mississippi men who murdered her son Emmett to the White House for a few beers in 1955? Would that have made that situation a little easier for the country to handle? Or perhaps President Johnson should have immediately invited Coretta and the kids to the White House for milk and cookies after Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis. Maybe that would have stopped the rioting in the streets.

Race relations may not be what they were more than 50 or 40 years ago but some things have definitely remained the same. Sure, the issue of racism needs to be addressed in this country – but in a far more pervasive, sophisticated way than a chat over beers. And given that so many blacks are now out of work and without health insurance, disproportionately more than whites, it seems President Obama has more pressing issues to address these days.

His high-profile friend, like so many unknown and poorer blacks harassed every day by the police, will get over what happened to him and move on. For them, though, a beer and a chat with a president isn’t part of the equation.