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The New York Sun


Cab Ride, Interrupted

August 22, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

Barack Obama is nonracial enough that none of his likely vice-presidential picks are black and no one has batted an eye. Yet he is now processed as "racial" enough that we hear ever more about what kind of "black" agenda he needs to present. Saying he must address a criminal justice system is deliberately set up to lasso in black men.

It isn't, but debate on that will be fruitless. What Senator Obama really needs to address is a War on Drugs which, while failing, is what brings so many black men into crime in the first place.

He'd be better off getting to this after he took office rather than trying to campaign on it. However, eliminating the famous disproportion of black men in prison would be a major factor in discouraging a sense of racism ever "just below the surface," of the sort that encourages vapid diversity workshops and CNN specials.

I thought about this some nights ago when near the end of a cab ride home, the driver got stopped on a minor moving violation by two white police officers. They told him to sit tight—with a certain edge—and went back to their car.

After they had lingered for 10 minutes plus, I decided to walk home. Something in their body language suggested they were dawdling on purpose.

One of the men rushed over: "And where do you think you're going?"—as if I was an accomplice in some heist. I said "I'm just hot and tired and I'd like to walk home."

"Weren't you telling me how drunk you were?" he snarled. I had spoken not a word and was not drunk in the slightest. I said "I don't mean any disrespect, but I am not drunk and I'd like to go home."

Then, "Well, you better pay this man"—when I had already done so. Finally, a condescending "Good night." He was clearly disappointed that he couldn't hold me sweating in that car for as long he chose.

So, all he saw was a ... you know?

Oh, it ran through my mind. When the cab driver, an African, gave a wan explanation when he was pulled over, the jerk said, "Welcome to Jersey City." Sure, I thought about "It's Giuliani Time!" line from the Abner Louima episode.

But the officer could have just meant that Jersey City cops don't put up with the free-for-all driving culture of Manhattan. Plus, even Louima later admitted that no officer ever actually even said "It's Giuliani Time." And there were no N-words; the man did not push me against the car; and I did, after all, get to walk away (and two minutes later got another cab).

What I thought about as I walked away was not whether I just might have encountered a racist and how profoundly sad that would be. I was perfectly fine. I thought about the War on Drugs.

Yes, that. Officers in the New York area are often surly like that man. Maybe their hard job just makes them mean. Maybe some do harbor unsavory feelings about "the blacks."

Either way, for poor urban blacks, guys like my little fireplug are largely the only white people they ever encounter. White officers, assigned to trawl poor black neighborhoods for drug peddlers, question and stop-and-frisk random groups of black youths who are just hanging out. It's their job.

But sensitivity training can only do much, and all evidence is that the nasty way my little fella treated me is how cops often treat children in the projects. Black boys who have never done anything illegal in their lives often express a hatred for the cops because of how they treat them, already feeling like aliens in their own land. It won't stand them in good stead as they take their places in a world that white people run.

I want surly cops like mine to have as little contact with black children as possible. The War on Drugs makes sure he has a lot of it, assigning him to neighborhoods where drug dealers are likely to center—while the War on Drugs remains a joke.

My interrupted ride home was not about me. It was about the black Bronx adolescent who cannot help thinking that officers like that are what all white people in America are. This is one of the reasons that the War on Drugs must end.

If parochial jerks like this are some of the only whites the young boy is likely to meet, I would rather he meet none. "Segregation" some will shudder. Well, if the choice is between Crabby McCop and segregation, give me Chocolate City.

I am writing in Toronto, where native-born black Canadians' perspective on race harbors much less doubletalk and exaggeration than black Americans' often does. Much of the reason is that black kids here do not regularly run up against angry white cops trying to run them or their friends in, and grow up thinking of whites as menacing aliens.

I wonder if Senator Obama could make it so that it was more like that in America which he is so grateful of.

Original Source:



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