Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Case in Point - The Gates Controversy and the 'Beer Summit'

We are now well past the flurry of excitment produced in the news media by the confrontation between Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Harvard professor, (see references below) and the Cambridge, Massachusetts police, and the story is, for many, now fodder for late night talk show hosts. As with many news stories of this kind, it touched upon an important issue which normally lies dormant concerning existing race relations and respect for one another. This issue, in the present round, had its day in the sun, and we are left with the question of what, if anything, about race relations and about respect for one another have we learned?

While the momentary flurry of news coverage has abated, the image of the President hosting a 'beer summit' to discuss differences has not. At least not for some people. While such a 'summit' may be considered a politically-motivated move on the part of the Obama administration, or may be ridiculed as an ineffective way to deal with the much larger issue at hand, the 'summit' had this to say for it: it left us as a nation with an image of a President and a national role model espousing the viewpoint of talking things out to resolve differences, with the premise that greater understanding and greater harmony would result, even if points of view did not change.

Images can be used for all kinds of purposes. As mentioned, they can be used to poke fun at, to rally a crowd, to support an administration's policies, to deflect from another or greater issue that one wishes the public not to engage with. There are many good and not-so-good uses of images. Here is one, however, that in a very modest way can be pointed to for adults and children everywhere to take note of. Namely, that our President sat down with people at a time when feelings were inflamed to talk things out. We can only hope that such engagement and the premise of hope that it implies will expand from this personal and anecdotal level to an international level where America might take the lead in opening the doors to a similar kind of respect and understanding.


ABC News - Prominent Black Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Arrested After Racism Charge
Bloomberg News - Gates Police Confrontation Ends With Charge Dropped
MSNBC - Cops, Scholar to Meet Again After Obama Chat


  1. Dear Julie, Thank you for highlighting the heart of what is important, especially when there are other voices that detract from this.

  2. Thank you Julie. I love what Doran wrote - it is so true, that you gave voice to what was so simple, beautiful and important about this meeting. I do hope that this can be an example for many.


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