Of all the things that strike me about the prisms (Rodney King, O.J., Michael Vick, Sarah Palin rallies, and “Skip” Gates’ arrest) through which we Americans view and discuss race, one more hit me hard today. Although the Gates-Crowley encounter may not be exemplary of profiling or bigotry, there are instances in everyday American life, whether on a subway, in a classroom or courtroom, or in a high end store, when Blacks represent their entire race to a white person or persons. There are also plenty of cases where an innocent, individual Black, represents, to a white person (sales clerk, cop, banker), the most nefarious element of Black culture. Call it guilt by pigment association. Some Black person minding his or her business gets pulled over, followed, ignored service, or someone doesn’t sit next to them on the train because of the stereotype of an unsafe, poor, or unsanitary similarly-complexioned person. As a minority group, we learn to live with the fact we carry the burden of the Black criminal, or gangbanger, everywhere we go. We could have a business suit on and be driving through Bel Air or Hilton Head, we still know there are people who just don’t meet or know a broad enough representation of Black folk not to think the worst. But Gategate convinces me that most white Americans are far less willing (or as often asked) to assume and symbolize the worst representation of their number. I say that because not only are white people very defensive when Black people cite race as a factor in an incident, and quick to separate themselves from the bigots (read “worst element”), but Sergeant Crowley doesn’t want to be lumped into a group with all white people. He wishes to be recognized as an indidivual, one who gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying (Black) Reggie Lewis, and was hand-picked by a Black police official to teach a diversity training course in a city north of Boston.
Don’t stereotype me, whites are saying when they cry “I’m not a racist”. What makes them feel Blacks feel any less stereotyped or profiled when a police officer or store clerk treats us differently than everyone else who passes their way? Why do we have to take one for the team, if no one else is willing to do so?
That is why Black people “play the race card”.