While Obama, Gates and Crowley were sitting down to some foreign owned beers, the Gates incident continued to grow.
The latest additions to the incident are the email sent by Officer Justin Barrett in which he refers to Gates as a “banana-eating jungle monkey”, and the fact that Sergeant Leon Lashley has been called an Uncle Tom for defending Crowley.
Barrett is, as to be expected, claiming that he is not a racist and that he is sorry for sending the email. As is also to be expected, he has been placed on leave and might be fired.
Obviously, his monkey remark can be seen as racist because of the long history of blacks being compared to monkeys in racial slurs. If Barrett had instead used a phrase such as “latte sipping, book reading, tricycle riding, ivory tower dwelling liberal”, then there would have been no incident or media coverage, since race was not involved. Making slurs like that are not considered nice, but are seen as quite tolerable, even though they might be motivated by as much hate as a racist comment. Somehow, the racial aspect makes a remark far, far worse.
While his remark seems racist, perhaps he is not a racist. If using a phrase that seems racist makes a person a racist, then I suspect everyone would be racist. This, of course, makes the term almost meaningless. It would be like saying that anyone who has every lied is a liar. While technically true, it certainly takes the force out of calling someone a liar. After all, when someone is accused of being a liar, we mean something more than that they lie at a “normal” level. We mean that they are a serious liar. Clearly, the officer showed bad judgment in using that phrase in an email.
To address the question of whether he is a racist or not, his past behavior would need to be examined. Going back to the liar analogy, while a person who has lied could be called a liar, we normally accuse people of being liars when that something they are inclined to do beyond what is normal. While it would be nice if people did not lie and if people never said racial slurs, that expectation is unrealistic.
It might be the case that the officer was angry and simply used a derogatory phrase that popped into his head. While this might be seen as expressing a deep seated racism, it might also simply reflect the fact that when people are angry, they tend to think poorly and use phrases that are rather insulting. For example, if a couple are having a fight, the man might call his girlfriend a bitch or the “c word.” This does not mean that he is a misogynist. Rather, when people are angry they tend to reach for the meanest words they have on hand. So, before the officer is cast as a racist, more investigation is needed.
As far as the Uncle Tom charge, the sergeant did what was right: he spoke out in defense of colleague who had done nothing wrong. To insist that the sergeant must stick with Gates because they are both black and Crowley is white would certainly seem to be a rather biased view. This charge is the same as attacking a white cop simply because he stands up for a black officer who has been involved in an incident involving a white person. People should do what is right and what is right cannot be determined by looking at the color of the folks involved.