When Barack Obama gave his pivotal speech on race during the presidential campaign, he set what much of the country hoped would be a new standard. Here was a nuanced speech that went beyond the usual platitudes, that avoided easy divisions, that looked at the impact of a racist history on 21st Century blacks and understood the grievances of blue-collar whites in an era of affirmative action.
The most disappointing part of the Henry Louis Gates imbroglio is that, given our first real opportunity to employ the new approach, we have reverted to the ways of old. We are shouting at each other on talk radio. We are taking one side or the other.
Did Gates get belligerent? Sure. But there was a history fueling his anger. Did the cops go overboard in arresting him? Sure. But that doesn't necessarily mean that race played a role. The professor and the police participated in a pregnant moment worthy of a nuanced conversation. Both sides deserve some understanding, some empathy. And sadly, the president who set a new standard on race hasn't lived up to it here.