August 15, 2009
A Learning Moment
“Do you want to know what the President did today?” I asked my ten year old son. He wasn’t paying attention as he was playing Nintendo. With my laptop on, I scrolled through news websites with the TV on in the background.
He came over to see what I was talking about. There was a picture on the Drudge Report of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley. This was the scene which the President hoped for, a “teaching moment.”
My son asked me what I was talking about and I showed him the photo. I then explained about the arrest of Professor Gates and the misunderstanding about race, and why it became important for President Obama to preside over this meeting. My son sensed that this was a significant story. He nodded his head and listened as I spoke. “He’s doing a good thing, he’s a nice president” he said. He paused over the laptop a moment longer and I patted him on the back.
As a former New York City police officer, I can closely relate to Sgt. Crowley and his handling of the burglary investigation. I’ve never been accused of racial profiling in my career; yet, I can detail incidents where bystanders expressed antipathy towards the white officers present at the scene. Upon reading the report of the incident at Professors Gates’ home, my reaction was to side with Sgt. Crowley.
However, I feel that President Obama has made his point with this “beer summit” on the White House lawn. Neither man apologized, but that wasn’t the intent of the get-together. The President got them to talk to each other. In spite of his answers at his press conference when first asked about the episode, and no matter how pundits interpret his motives for this gathering, he has used his office for something powerful and positive. His lesson: If we could all talk openly and honestly about race and find a common setting to do so, then maybe we can finally get past the issue of race in America.
I did not cast my ballot for President Obama, nor do I agree with some of his economic policies. Since I first registered to vote, I’ve only pulled the lever for a Democrat once. I’ve listened to a lot of talk radio and I can speak Republican Party line verbatim. Often, I’ve been unwilling to listen to those from the “other side of the aisle.” Yet, as I told my son just before I closed my laptop “Our president is a good man, he’s trying hard to bring everyone together.”
President Obama wanted a teaching moment and he achieved it. In the process, I learned something about tolerance myself, and I’m using this moment to teach my children.
-Michael J. Kannengieser