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


Majik1987 said...

I am glad that we can all learn something from that moment with Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley. If it's one thing, that there is still hostility held toward law enforcement officers, part of it undeserved. Nevertheless, there is a long history behind the sentiments that surround many of the groups whom share these perspectives. If I could say I learned anything from this moment, it's that we have to always be able to look at things from both perspectives, and understand that each can be justified to a certain degree. Thank you for this post Mr. Grudge. May you reach across the aisle a bit more to find common ground.

Michael J. Kannengieser said...

Thank you Malik1987. I will indeed keep reaching across the aisle. I am proud of our President and I wish him, and America, success. Once again, Thank you for reading and for your comment. -Mike.

Anna said...

Michael, this is excellent point: '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 think sometimes we just so paranoid to say the wrong thing. Excellent post, welcome back, you have a very nice son too. Anna :)

Paul said...

Was interested in this slice of USA life, Mike, and your comments about political affiliations. It's taken me a while, but only recently have I begun to find out and understand a little more about U.S. politics, and what Republicans and Democrats seem to stand for. It is very interesting to someone like myself, who doesn't live in the States, but hears so much about it.

Michael J. Kannengieser said...

Hi Anna,
yes, we are indeed paranoid about saying "the wrong thing." Too many times, though, people have said bad things. That is why I hope that this summit was the beginning of a new dialog. yet, with the reports of hate groups on the rise and people showing up to rallys with guns, hope seems a futile. This is sad. Thanks for your comment and for visiting. -Mike.

Hi Paul,
Too much of American history is glossed over when it comes to the genocide of native Americans, slavery, and other forms of segregation and racism. In the late 1800's many Italians, Irish, Catholics, and other recent immigrant groups were discriminated against as well. We're hoping that President Obama can be a transformative figure; a man who can rise above race and lead by example, and not be recognized merely for the color of his skin. The direct result of this is that he also will be judged on the success or failure of his presidency based on his policies, and not how one perceives race matters. That is the tranformation this nation needs to go through.

A great man, Dr. Martin Luther King said in his famous speech in Washington D.C. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

I think we have a long way to go, but the election of this man and the messages he sent with this meeting is a first step.

As for the politics of Republicans and Democrats, that has changed over time as well, and the extremism of both the left and the right will soon be tempered by the coolness of the middle.

That is the cycle of American politics, and I thank you for your your interest in our culture and for visiting here. -Mike.