Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Lindy McDowell: Why American race row really is no small beer

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

Barack Obama was this week forced to call a “beer summit” amid controversy following the arrest of a black academic, Professor Henry Gates.

The professor had arrived home to find his front door jammed. As you do, he then tried to force it in. It was his house. He was entitled. We have all been in such a situation.

The police however, were called by neighbours who, unable to be sure what was going on, suspected a break-in.

Despite Professor Gates making it clear it was his own house he was attempting to gain entry to, he was arrested. Police maintain he was lifted for being abusive.

The cop in charge of the operation is reportedly not considered racist.

And the President who had accused the police of “acting stupidly” later decided that a better way to handle the fallout would be to get both men in the White House for a few conciliatory drinks. (How the late Boris Yeltsin would have warmed to such a style of diplomacy!)

However, even before he got them in (in every sense) the row took another twist with a vile racist email allegedly sent by another cop to a US newspaper.

What began then as a minor dramatic incident is now developing into a full-blown mini-series.

Meanwhile not invited to the drinkarama was one Lucie Whalen. She is the concerned resident who made the initial call to the police.

Despite the police initially claiming that she described the suspect as a black burglar, the now-released 911 tape shows she did not.

She feels aggrieved that she has been accused of racism.

Her solicitor says that actually the entire drama was down to the three men at the centre of the story — the President, the academic and the officer — all over-reacting.

The public-spirited Mrs Whalen, he maintains, is the one who actually deserves a pint in the White House.

Mrs Whalen, however, is seen as just a bit-player in a saga that‘s more about America’s ongoing wrangling about race than it is about what happens when neighbourhood watch goes wrong.

In the politics of a beer summit, she’s very small beer.

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