A buddy of mine from Chattanooga must have known that I didn’t watch either the President’s address on healthcare OR Black In America II last night, because he shot me an email immediately after the president’s press conference that said, "can't wait for the blog [Brown Man Thinking Hard] on the final Question & 'STRAIGHT AT YOU' answer the Commander in Chief provided minutes ago."
Where would we be without internet video?
I guess I should have checked out the press conference in its entirety when I watched the video, but since Obama appears to be married to the national health plan he wants, listening to him recite its highlights in a primetime sales pitch at midnight didn't seem like a good career move if I planned to be awake for the final question, so I didn't waste any time on it, fast forwarding through to the final two minutes of the recording.
The first thing that came to mind was a phrase Eddie Murphy used years ago when he was being subjected to a series of questions on the David Letterman show that could only be described as patronizing to black people. Murphy looked straight at Letterman that night and said, "what kind of Negro file questions are these?"
For my money, it was the wrong damn question at the wrong damn time.
Because I doubt any other president would have been asked the same question, even though Henry Louis Gates Jr. is THE MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA, a phrase I have now seen on internet message boards at least a thousand times in the last two days.
Lynn Sweet, the reporter who asked the question might as well have been on CNN's payroll, providing them a lead-in for their much ballyhooed "Black In America II" program immediately following the press conference.
But since it was asked, and he was on TV, President Obama did about what you would expect him to do - reply squarely and forthrightly to the reporter, and by extension, the nation, in the dispassionate manner he has come to be known to display when dealing with an issue that may have some kind of personal resonance for him. Although I imagine, in the grand scheme of things, he had to be a little hot under the collar, after spending all that time trying to look like a Master of the Healthcare universe, to get that sinking feeling as he heard the tail end of Sweet's question that THIS answer would trump all the others he'd worked so hard to give.
The dismissal of the charges against Henry Louis Gates, Jr., THE MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA, helped Obama out tremendously, by allowing the president to make his comments about a matter whose outcome was already knowm. His use of a little humor reduced the tension Sweet had racheted up.
And then President Obama proceeded to recite the same type of sobering facts about BLACK PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT THE MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA that you might have expected to hear from Ben Jealous of the NAACP.
The most powerful quote of the night, the one your trusty New York Times and Washington Post reporters simply ignored in a rush to frame their stories in the familiar yet tired "this is a piece about race, people" format, was the one that Americans sympathetic to Gates plight should tattoo on their foreheads.
"I think its fair to say, number one, that any of us would be pretty angry."
President Barack Obama
"Any of us" was the phrase that paid last night, the one that sought to transform this specific incident that was experienced by a particular individual into a universal incident to which all Americans of all stripes should be able to relate.
The Obama trademark, in everything from his speeches to his books to his public appearances, is to start in neutral territory and then take his audience with him.
But with the MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA still upset, I would hazard to guess that if you see Professor Gates on TV talking about this over the next few weeks, HE will be using the phrase "any of us" in an entirely different manner.