Friday, July 24, 2009

Common Sense and Common Courtesy

Frankly, the two things mentioned above seem to have disappeared entirely from the modern world.

I have been following the case of the Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who recently had a run-in with the cops that got him arrested in his own house, and I think everybody acted like idiots.

Let's start with the neighbor who started the whole thing by calling the cops. Has this person just moved into the neighborhood? Perhaps she's an extreme recluse who never leaves the house (I think it was a "she") and never looks out of the window? I ask because if she was close enough to see the front door of the Gates house, she was presumably aware that a black person lived there, and could also recognize her own neighbor, for God's sake. Has anyone asked if the neighbor is one of these people who call the cops if a stray dog runs by? Yes, I know it was dark, but wouldn't he have had the porch light on to be able to see to open the door? Okay, maybe not...but still...

Next, we go to Professor Gates himself. I will fully admit that it's got to be entirely infuriating to have the police question you about breaking into your own house. And I'm not a black man. However, God knows I've had enough friends who've been stopped for "driving while black," and for that matter, many other pieces of stupidity simply because of the color of their skin.

BUT. Surely common sense and common courtesy would have been of great help in this situation. Bite your tongue, Professor Gates. Since you ARE a highly respected professional in your field, the proper forum for your entirely correct fury would be a scathingly worded letter to the police, with copies to all local newspapers. What you do with the police is you calmly show them your ID, commend them on their prompt response to a report of trouble, and then politely show them the door. Losing your temper and screaming just isn't any kind of useful response here.

Lastly, our gallant police. Once Professor Gates HAD lost his temper, and once you HAD been shown the proper ID, how about a little empathy here? How about, "Sir, please calm down. We're just trying to do our job. We understand that you're very angry about this, and we apologize. Good night, now."

There. Problem solved. Look, I've been a fighter for civil rights for about a million years now, and I do understand (as much as a white child of privilege can) the hundreds of years of indignities that have been suffered. Maybe a little more than most whites, because I'm half Jewish...when I was in my freshman year of high school, our school had limited membership rights at the local country club to swim after school. Except me, because my father was Jewish. So prejudice has indeed given me a flick of its tail in passing, although a minor one (in that I hated that school and didn't want to swim with the girls anyway - I just didn't want to be told I couldn't).

But until we can put this sort of thing - and for that matter, all other human interactions - on a basis of common sense and common courtesy, IT WILL NEVER CHANGE. Think about airports, say. For a change, instead of shrieking at a hapless counter person at the check-in line, try "You must be exhausted. I really hate to do this to you, but could you please..." You will be AMAZED.

Please. Thank you. May I. Do you mind. And the world will get better.




SaintTigerlily said...

Wiser words never spoken. Wendy for VP 2012.

Beth said...

I've been a lurker from Saint Tiger Lily's site for a while, love your posts. But I especially like what you had to say today. I like that you called both sides on this. I've been reading about it for a few days and most people are strongly on one side or the other. It's nice to see someone who gets it. Both sides could have handled it better. The world would be a better place if we all remembered a little common courtesy.