Teachable Moments From the Skip Gates Incident

Getting to Honest Conversations About Race

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Pepper Miller Pepper Miller
See. I told you. It's not over. Barack Obama's election as the first Black president of the United States did not make it go away and nor did Obama's election push America into a post-racial environment.

But we owe Skip Gates and Sgt. Crowley a nod of thanks in a way. The arrest of a high-profile Black Harvard professor for trying to get into his own house made national headlines and trumped so many more critical stories that race couldn't be swept under the rug this time, because it speaks to where we are and aren't today.

Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer-winning journalist for the Washington Post, recently made a compelling point about how we talk about race and racism on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" during a conversation about the Gates' arrest. Robinson, who expressed disappointment in Joe's co-host Mika Brzezinski's and others grip on the word "racist," explained that racial biases do not (necessarily) mean that one is racist. Robinson further explained that most of us have racial biases, yet when we brand someone as racist, we either end the conversation or send the conversation in another direction that becomes emotional and makes the person defensive.

This is huge, and I totally get this. Some Big Tent readers labeled me a racist for my interest in giving a voice to Black consumer marketing issues and particularly for my Big Tent post Buying Black Isn't Racist; It's Necessary. In addition to the comments left at the end of the post, I received a number of hate-filled comments that were sent to my personal e-mail account.

We recently learned that the neighbor who called the police to report what she thought was a break-in never mentioned race, yet Professor Gates did. It reminds us that as much as society screams about race not being important, it is. It is a part of who we are and, in particular situations, shouldn't be ignored.

Anti-racist writer Tim Wise, author of "White Like Me," spoke very frankly about the "privilege of obliviousness" on CNN in response to the Gates' arrest and explained that those with this mind-set don't have to know about black or brown in the way that people of color have to know how to navigate through White America. At the same time, Wise attempted to take the sting away from Whites who get upset when they hear complaints about white racism. Wise explained that many Whites view these stories personally and that these accounts are neither "personal nor individual," but rather a "structural or social reality or condition."

"It's not personal, it's business" Wise added.

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