“A teachable moment.” Have you noticed how the phrase, so redolent of reasonable and sober reflection, gets hauled out by the mainstream media every time liberals get into a serious fix involving race? So it’s no surprise that the Henry Louis Gates affair, like last year’s revelation that Barack Obama’s spiritual mentor spouts the vilest kind of hateful tripe, has been cast as “a teachable moment.” What are we meant to be taught? Well, what else? That for all of the progress we seem to have made on race, black people understand, in ways whites can never fathom, that racism is alive and well in America.
With each such incident, however, fewer and fewer of us are playing along. This time, more than ever, we’re learning other lessons. One of them: for all the talk from his starry-eyed acolytes, in the media and elsewhere, about Obama’s being “post-racial,” the president clings to the discredited and deeply damaging view of America as fundamentally racist, seeing his fellow blacks as perpetual victims justifiably suspicious of cops and other establishment authority figures. So when it comes to race, it’s facts be damned. Indeed, while Obama is so famously cautious and deliberative it took him months to decide on the family dog, his now-infamous off-the-cuff comment on the stupidity of the Cambridge police made it clear that on this issue, the former community organizer wholeheartedly embraces the black victim/racist cop trope.
We’re also learning that race hustlers come in all kinds of packages. Henry Louis Gates, notwithstanding his success and prestige, is every bit as ready as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to wield the race card, and even less apt to take responsibility for his own mistakes and shortcomings. Lest we forget, the supposed Bull Connor he reflexively pegged as a racist operates in the politically correct wonderland of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gates and his fans would tell you that the incident just proves that racism can rear its ugly head anywhere. By contrast, any rational soul would tell you that instantly jumping to such a conclusion is prima facie evidence of a distorted worldview.
We’ve learned, too, that a professorship at Harvard isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As a scholar in the trendy field of black studies, Gates has built a career on being deferred to by cowed liberal colleagues, and he’s obviously unaccustomed to anyone’s calling him out on anything. In the midst of the current episode, the estimable Mark Steyn recalled Gates’s courtroom appearance some time back on behalf of the rap group 2 Live Crew, in which the professor testified that one of the group’s lyrics was similar to Shakespeare’s “My love is like a red, red rose.” “As it happens,” noted Steyn, “‘My luv’s like a red, red rose’ was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. Sixteenth-century English playwright, 18th-century Scottish poet: What’s the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case. Certainly no journalist reporting Gates’s testimony was boorish enough to point out the misattribution.” As one anonymous online commentator observed about the current controversy: “Why wouldn’t Gates expect preferential treatment? He’s been getting it his whole life.”
We’ve also been reminded, once again, that the media are to be trusted even less on race than on other contentious issues. The New York Times, for one, seems always to have a racial-profiling feature prewritten and ready to slap onto the front page. Yet somehow these features never seem to include the vast store of documentary evidence contradicting the fervently held view of minorities as victims of racist cops. Perhaps the most telling media moment during the Gates brouhaha was the observation by an NPR anchor—only slight paraphrasing here—that opinion was divided over whether the police were to blame or there was fault on both sides.
“Teachable moments” never teach these people anything.