It is just mind-boggling how the Skip Gates incident has escalated in the past week – since Tuesday really after it was disclosed and the DA did his best to diffuse the incident. Everyone seems to have had a point of view since then, so that of course kept fueling the debate. But this tells me two things:
1) We still have serious issues with racism in this country - the very fact that some folks reacted so strongly, complaining that the race card was being played or uttering that they could not fathom how race was an issue in the first place is evidence enough that racism is alive and well;
2) There is a silent majority (mostly white lower middle class / blue collar) – or hopefully minority from a pure number standpoint – that sort of woke up with that incident and expressed discontent and frustration with the way the police officer was being portrayed in some media outlets. This is an intuition on my part based on many comments I read on the Boston Globe web site that were frankly pretty scary. Essentially, it seems as though a lot of folks in that group feel disfranchised and resent people like Gates who they see as elitist (which he may very well be). They probably have the same resentment towards wealthy and influential white folks – and for some good reason as socio-economic disparities have dangerously widened in this country in the past 15-20 years.
But the ugly part of the story here is that above and beyond that resentment towards those who have means and power, there may be frustration also against minorities, namely Blacks and Latinos, who according to those folks have received preferential treatments for quite a while. Moreover, since it has become increasingly politically incorrect and certainly slippery to address race issues, t hose guys who would like to denounce what they see as preferential treatments are just stuck saying nothing – and only being able to express themselves when elections come.
The combination of resentment and frustration towards elites and about preferential treatments / double standards produces that hostility against the Gates, Obamas, or Patricks of the world.
Obama with his usual political shrewdness has been the first one to back down and try to have everyone come to his/her senses. Those guys – the protagonists - will have a beer at the White House – or whatever – and we won’t see any riots as no poor black man was shot and killed by police this time. But it does not mean that we as a country can look ourselves proudly in the mirror and think that we’ve done such a great job of putting racism behind us.