Wednesday, July 29, 2009

June 29, 2009/1

In the old days, when something like the sad business involving Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police officer Crowley occurred, people would talk about among themselves, around dining tables, in bars, strolling beside the river. There would be some pulpit action. People would be given time to consider the possibility that this is just one of those things that happens, especially in a culture that believes it's all about "me" and extrapolations thereof, in times that have everyone on a hair-trigger. Gates would have been tired, hot, on edge from the effort of having to break into his own house, irritated in the back of his mind at the inconvenience, maybe the cost, of fixing whatever damage he'd been forced to wreak on his own front door. Officer Crowley would have been hot, too, probably out of sorts at being sent on what must clearly have seemed at first blush a fool's errand. He would have been doing what he saw as his duty. At such moments, what is said, no matter how mild or modestly intended, is susceptible of combustion and escalation. So now an entire nation has to take sides in a debate about racial profiling, proper apologies etc. etc. etc. which is no business of the 99% of the opiners and pundits and public-radio weighers-in. Where has common sense fled to? And ordinary good manners? Where did this notion that to apologize is to lower, demean, prostrate oneself come from? I must say "sorry" or "please" a dozen times a day. It's reflexive, not so much tied to a specific incident or occurrence or contact as to a general feeling that the best way to get along in a crowded, intemperate world is to signal my recognition that there are other people out there trying to get along, too. I might add that, as I live in Brooklyn, and travel mainly by public transportation, nine in ten of those to whom I extend these small, painless courtesies are persons of color. And nine out of ten of them reciprocate.

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