July 24, 2009
Executive Exclusion of Empathy
Claiming that empathy is high on the list of qualities that are necessary in public officials, Barack Obama desires his administration and appointees to epitomize understanding, awareness, and sensitivity, and to be able to vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of other people. Yet, Obama is the one that lacks the empathy he demands from everyone else. The President, who supposedly transcends race, is revealing himself a proprietor of racial politics and race related discrimination.
It appears that, based on skin color, Obama leaves empathy at the door and makes snap judgments that are discriminatory, insensitive, emotionally charged, and lacking full knowledge. Obama is an unsympathetic racist whose bias is revealed in ignorant, off the cuff opinions expressed unabashedly, while admitting to be uninformed on the subject he's opining on. Obama takes it for granted that if a dispute between a Black person and a White person takes place, based on history, the Caucasian is at fault. Nowhere in the equation does empathy for the situation the latter finds himself in come into play.
Emphatic human beings can intellectually identify with or place themselves in a situation of another person, experiencing their thoughts or attitudes. The definition does not specify that empathy is only possible when identifying with someone of the same race, which is what Obama did when making his uninformed comment on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., usually characterized as one of the foremost scholars on race in the nation, arrived home to Cambridge, Massachusetts after a trip abroad to find the door of his home stuck shut. Both Gates and his driver, donned with backpacks, attempted to jimmy the door open. A neighborhood watch type, looking to protect the community, in the way any self respecting community organizer would suggest, called the police. When Sergeant James M. Crowley, an appreciated professional in his field, arrived he found Gates and his driver inside the home.
The police report suggests Crowley politely asked Professor Gates to step outside and provide identification, which anyone rational person would consider a reasonable request for a police officer responding to a possible home burglary. Gates' response, according to the Officer, was belligerent. Gates accused Crowley of racism and refused to comply with the officer's request, prompting his arrest. Neither Gate's, nor Obama, exude the type of empathy that would be called for in such a situation. Both Gate's and Barack Obama's inappropriate racial insensitivity reveals a level of hostility toward Caucasian police officers and law enforcement in general.
During the press conference, not once did Obama, the proponent of empathy, even attempt put himself in the place of the White police officer. He avoided the opportunity to extend understanding to Crowley's response and position as a law enforcement official. Instead, Obama forfeited the opportunity to exercise the compassion he claims Americans lack instead calling on his own racial bitterness using the opportunity to stir racial dissension. Obama judged and condemned the Cambridge police saying they, "... acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof he was in his own home." Obama cast aspersions on their character after admitting he did not know the facts of the incident. Following up, the President interjected a divisive statement on racial profiling, "What I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately...that is just a fact."
The President judged Sergeant Crowley without "...knowing all the facts of the case" condemning his actions as "stupid" based on obvious preconceived biases. Listening to the President one would think that Henry Louis Gates Jr., walking down the street innocently minding his own business was targeted by Officer Crowley, who jumped out of a squad car, handcuffed, beat him bloody with a billy stick and arrested him, merely on the basis of skin color, which was not the case.
If Henry Louis Gates Jr. were asleep in his home in Cambridge and a black youth, with a backpack, was prying open the door to his home and a neighbor called the police, would Gates still feel that, "...this is what happens to a black man in America?" Or, would he be grateful that Sergeant Crowley was there to protect him? If Sergeant Crowley disregarded Gate's call for help to protect himself from appearing to target a black youth, would Professor Gates call Crowley a racist for not responding to a black man's call for help?
Moreover, if the President's "friend," Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s life were saved by James Crowley, as he attempted to do when Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis collapsed in a school gym, would Obama feel obliged to call his actions "stupid" before the entire nation during a prime time press conference?
Disorderly conduct, charges were dropped against the Harvard professor, but not without Gates using the opportunity to accuse Crowley of "racism." Not once did the President of the United States extend empathy toward Crowley, but rather highlighted the history of racial profiling in America and assigned to the Gate's incident, without reservation, all the injustices that Black Americans and minorities have experienced at the hands of law enforcement. The only thing missing was a recap of the Rodney King incident.
An eleven-year veteran cop, Sergeant Crowley refuses to apologize for doing his job. Crowley claims he is not a "racist" and followed standard procedure. In essence, Crowley was protecting Gates, his neighborhood and the Boston community. True empathy, on the part of the President, would permit him understand that the same indignation Henry Gates experienced in being "profiled" as a burglar, is the same indignation experienced by anyone accused of racism when they are not. The opportunity for a lesson in empathy could have been extended to the nation if Obama would have acknowledged that regardless of the racial component, misunderstandings happen in volatile situations. Just as Professor Gates should not be mistaken for a criminal as a Black man, America should not assign the label of racist to innocent police officers responding to concerned citizen's phone calls.
Barack Obama demands empathy from Supreme Court Justices, embodied in the person of "wise Latina woman" like Sonia Sotomayor. America needs to know if the kind of judging Obama exhibited in his press conference, is the style of judging he is counting on Sotomayor meting out when she is confirmed. Does Obama expect from Judge Sotomayor the sort of empathy where facts are disregarded, judgments made based on lack of information, racial dissension stirred up, and the benefit of the doubt given based on skin color?
For Barack Obama, neither Sergeant James M. Crowley, nor the esteemed Professor Gates are viewed as individuals; they are both symbols of perceived racial injustice that Obama can capitalize on politically. In Barack's Obamerica, empathy has been redefined to include racial politics and judgments based on resentment and intrinsic bitterness. Any empathy that excludes fair assessment of a situation, equity when considering the feelings and experiences of another, or sensitivity in order to come to a fair resolution to an issue, is not empathy and will ultimately prove to be a disservice to us all regardless of the color of our skin.
Jeannie DeAngelis blogs at Jeannie-ology.