All Men Are Brothers: Barack Obama, Officer James Crowley, Henry Louis Gates, and Human Solidarity

I think this image of solidarity, in which two men, Officer James Crowley and Professor Henry Louis Gates, once quarreling, are now holding onto one another, one helping the other down steps, is moving. All men are brothers, yes?

Obamacare Metaphor - It's not pretty

I notice, however, that some conservatives appear to be reading this picture malignantly, as Obama not paying attention to one in need of help, but drifting breezily forward in his characteristically smug narcissism. Okay, fine. But it was, afterall, Obama who invited the two men to the White House for a civil encounter. And the warmth between the two men is one of the products of that meeting. In other words, their solidarity was born of Obama making something happen. The solidarity gesture came from the two men’s hearts, and from their hearts alone, but it was Obama who called for the meeting that set those hearts to kindle to one another. A man helps, and a man has to accept help. And Obama brought the two men together. Amen?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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14 Responses to All Men Are Brothers: Barack Obama, Officer James Crowley, Henry Louis Gates, and Human Solidarity

  1. jonolan says:

    Or…Obama, after stupidity injecting the Presidency into a local matter and making a “racially tinged” or “racially charged” snap judgment, invited the two men to a White House photo-op in order to smooth over the problems his bigotry and stupidity caused for himself.

    Even the White House went to extra effort to say this meeting wasn’t anything significant in terms of race relations.

    Also, please note: My post that you’ve referenced is merely pointing out the PR flaws in the photo that others have jumped on. Personally, I can see the metaphor, but think it’s a bit stretched.

  2. santitafarella says:


    Obama is a lover, not a fighter. His remark about Crowley’s actions at Gates’s house was ill-considered, and in advance of the facts, and he apologized. Good for Obama. I don’t want a president who can’t or won’t correct himself. Obama got a “do over” and got it right (as the above photo testifies). And if Obama hadn’t made his initially stupid remark, the whole scene down in Cambridge would have been simmering in the press today, with both men hardening their positions, and probably lawyers getting involved. But now peace has been made. A tiny victory for human solidarity. In a bleak world, I’ll take it. What’s not to like about seeing two people, once suspicious of one another, hand in hand? It’s wonderful, if you ask me. Hopefully, Obama can get the Israelis and Palestinians together for a similar White House love-in at some point. Good practice for Obama. Find the non-zero sum game. Make love, not war.

    And where, on the conservative side, is basic charity being expressed? Why always the attribution of malign motives to Obama, even after he apologized? I thought the conservative side believed in religion—and isn’t the first principle of all religion “Love your neighbor” and the extension of mercy, and to even love your enemies?

    Where’s the love?

    America has just elected its first black president. What a wonderful breakthrough for racial equality. And conservatives hate the guy. They hate him vicerally. Not smart. History is watching. The world is watching. People notice when you’re not being fair to another human being and exercising basic decency.

    And just look at that beautiful picure again. All you need is love.


  3. jonolan says:

    I am being fair, Santi. I’m holding Obama to exactly the same standard that a White – especially a Republican – politician would be, and has been, held to.

    Pres. Obama made a stupid, racist remark on television. Later he “non-apologized” for it. Admitting to “miscalibrating” his words, but never actually saying he was sorry. later he held a photo-op to smooth it over.

    Since we never allow a White politician to get away with such behavior, why should we let a Black one? Is there a different, lower standard for them?

  4. santitafarella says:


    You lost me. What was racist in Obama’s initial remark?

    And I don’t know what, for you, constitutes an apology. He explicitly said he chose his words poorly, and not properly based on evidence, and that his initial remarks could have left an impression upon people that he was prejudging and maligning the police department and Officer Crowley. Here’s Obama’s words: “I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately, I think, gave an impression I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and (the officer) specifically.”

    He clearly meant to walk back what he said, and regrets saying it. Isn’t that apologetic? He didn’t dig in and not try to make amends, did he?

    Also, he is trying to walk a fine line. If racial profiling occurred in the incident (and it may have; perceptions among people vary, obviously), then Obama has to be fair to the black community as well, and not downplay legitimate concerns about a real phenomenon: racial profiling. Obama, in short, is a man trying to walk the path of racial understanding between people, not polarize. That’s not the behavior of a racist. And I’d add that Obama’s administration has many white people in it—including Obama (who is half white). His mother was a white woman. He spent the first nine months of his life in the womb of a white woman. To call Obama a racist is ridiculous.


  5. jonolan says:


    It doesn’t matter what constitutes an apology for me, though “I’m sorry” works better than excuses about poor wording.

    What matters to me is that Obama’s statement was at least as racist as many other statements made by White politicians and they have not been and would not be let off the hook by those they offended by a such a non-apology.

    Is there a different, lower standard of acceptable behavior from Black politician? Or a Latino one?

    As for your premise that describing a mixed-race person as racist is ridiculous – Some of the most extreme bigots are those who are neither born “fish nor fowl” and had to make a choice.

  6. santitafarella says:


    I didn’t think you would actually explain to me what was racist about Obama’s initial comment—but simply presume what you were asked to prove, and then run with that.

    The whole notion that Obama hates white people is so absurd on its face that it can only survive as a meme among those already deeply prejudiced against Obama as a human being (that is, those on the very far right). Fair-minded people will not take such a meme seriously. Most people have a sense of proportion.

    And why you would defame Obama like this is beyond me, Jonolan. You may have other reasons for strongly opposing Obama, and they may be philosophically legitimate, but stay in the realm of reality, please. Otherwise you are burning a straw man.

    And I’d just add one thing here about context and proportion: It is very, very difficult to be a black male in America. To expect any black male in our society not to have ambivalences towards the white majority population is an obscenely cruel and very high emotional bar to set before a black man. Obama appears to have done an exceptionally good job of integrating his mixed race past, psychologically, and has made serious, serious efforts to reach out to all human beings in his life, and has resisted easy paths of resentment. When the right jumps on Obama when he slips, or shows the least hint of understandable ambivalence, it constitutes cruelty and an incomprehension of the difficult psychological integrations that are entailed in growing up black in America.

    And Jonolan, you claim to be a theist of some sort (as your statements about atheism have suggested). How do you integrate your impatience with Obama into your religious views, which I presume entail that one should walk in the shoes of others and feel compassion, mercy, and empathy for those who make very human errors?


    • gwillson says:

      Racist obama statement was calling the police “stupid” and making an assumption before checking the facts – he knew Gates called a policement “racist” and that leads one to the conclusion that the policeman was white….obama DID NOT say the words “I’m sorry”. He had an Al Sharpton mindset moment – Sharpton always assumes white police profiling blacks. I liked the comments by a younger girl made comments about Sharpton’s age and the era he formed his opinions, his reaction to the age comment was hilarious – now tell me, is he going to step up and go after age discrimination or is he stuck in his racist mind-set.

    • jonolan says:

      Gwilson’s response was more passionate than my word have been, but he sums up the racism – or racially charged nature – of Obama’s statement about Crowley and the Police.

      Does that mean Obama hates Whites or that I’m saying he does? No to the 1st and emphatically no to the 2nd; that’s your construct, not mine. It means he sounds like he harbors harbors an ongoing ambivalence to Whites and buys into certain racial stereotypes.

      Can a White harbor similar ambivalence towards Blacks without being called racist? No. Can a White publicly further Black racial stereotypes without being called racist? No.

      Is it cruel to hold everyone to the same standard? You seem to think so, Santi. You seem to say that a Black cannot be expected to put aside their behavioral predilections in the same that a White would be expected to do.

      As for my religion – I’m Pagan and neither my God nor Goddess places any great store in compassion, mercy, and empathy – though they do not forbid the sowing of them either, just the asking for them or expectation of them by their devotees.

  7. santitafarella says:


    I appreciate you’re attempt to explain what made Obama’s comment racist. What I think that you are saying is that Obama’s sin was making assumptions about the officer in advance of the evidence. That could certainly be regarded as a prejudicial moment on Obama’s part. I think, in this limited sense, that the right has indeed caught Obama out as having a moment of instintive prejudice towards a white person. When you explain it this way I can understand what you are saying.

    I do believe, however, that Obama walked it back and tried to make amends. If you want to keep running with it to score political points, I think it is ugly of you to do so. I think it is uncharitable. And I think that the larger claim, that Obama is a racist in general, and this shows how he really feels at his core, is a symptom of maliciousness on your part. All human beings have complicated emotions and ambivalences, and Obama is human, just like everyone else. To expect his deepest emotions to be all air and sunlight towards issues of race is a ridiculously high bar to place before Obama as a human being. That Obama has achieved the psychological integration that he has is admirable. Would that all of us, regardless of race, overcame our racist impulses to the degree that Obama has managed to. The right’s pummeling of Obama about this incident, and its resistance to forgiveness, is itself a symptom of its willingness to sink to the bottom in racial resentment. Ironically, the one resisting racist impulses (Obama) and attempting to correct them when they manifest in him is being criticized by people who are happy to submit to them, and obviously don’t do much to really attempt to resist them in themselves (as evidenced by their lack of empathy and forgiveness towards Obama).


    • gwillson says:

      if the “right” is doing that to Obama, so be it, that’s exactly what the “left” does all the time and did to Bush. That’s the nature of politics and when people say “show compassion” to a Democratic president (don’t matter if he’s black or white) THEN they should show compassion to a Republican president (don’t matter if he’s black or white). Both sides are complicated and you just assumed “maliciousness” on my part – very compassionate of you. I recognize there is “racial profiling”, but it is done against whites, too and all other groups. let’s start with Jackson who talked about “hymie town” in reference to jewish. I don’t have to be charitable to the president – he could care less about what I think. AND I don’t want to show empathy to someone who calls a fine policeman “stupid”. The policemen and women didn’t think that policemen did anything stupid. Obama has a great personality, BUT I know he is “just human” – he also has the power to obliterate us all. Obama has his finger on the atom bomb and I want him to think for all of us before he acts or makes really stupid comments (oops, only the “right” does that?) And If Obama does his job right, then he is just doing his job, like the officer did his job. – it doesn’t matter if you are black or white or green or yellow or blue….

  8. santitafarella says:

    I’d like to add something here. As a white male, on hearing the story of Gates’s arrest, I drew exactly the same initial inference as Obama (that the officer and the dept. probably did something “stupid” and made an assumption about Gates based on his race). Is it meaningful to designate me a “racist” toward white people—or a self-hating white person—because I drew this inference? Or does it just mean I’m a liberal? Obama, drawing this inference, need not lead to the conclusion that Obama is a racist, or was tapping into a deep racial resentment. It may simply be that, like me, Obama is a liberal and recognizes the concept of racial profiling (a concept that conservatives might find dubious). In any case, both Obama and I drew a hasty inference in advance of the facts, and it was wrong of both of us to do so.


    • jonolan says:

      Since you ask, “Is it meaningful to designate me a “racist” toward white people—or a self-hating white person—because I drew this inference? Or does it just mean I’m a liberal?”

      I’m not sure it’s meaningful to make the distinction. A certain amount of ethno-guiltism seems to be a prerequisite for meeting the modern definition of Liberal, just as a certain amount of racial insensitivity seems to be a prerequisite for meeting the modern definition of Conservative.

      Note: What you just said at the end of your comment was essentially what I thought President Obama should have said by way of apology.

  9. gwillson says:

    walk in the shoes of other and feel compassion – that sounds like something you need to do yourself. Did you know that others are hurting – not because they are black – but because there is sexism, age-ism, blacks who don’t give a rip about blacks or whites and shout racism, there is current day slavery in Dubai, there is sexual slavery, there are people who are disabled and still do things worthy of note. Feel sorry for the plight of a black man just because he is black, what a joke. Life is hard for people who have had childhood traumas including abuse and are any color including non-blacks, life is hard for cancer patients of any color or people who are lonely. Why are blacks screaming racism and equality not noticing anyone else but blacks who are hurting. That’s not compassion for Humanity – that’s wearing their black glasses and only seeing black and white. and screaming “po’ me”.

  10. santitafarella says:

    Jonolan and gwillson:

    I certainly admit that you’re both making me think. I’m off my high horse a bit on this issue. I think Obama was more wrong than I initially was willing to admit, but I also think there is room for forgiveness and allowing people to walk back things. Had Obama not made the error, he would not have had the opportunity to generate the harmony of the beer meeting. As for Bush, I certainly admit that the Left can be every bit as relentless towards its political opponents as the Right. I know that I have been. I guess I just feel the love when it comes to Obama. I think his presidency is historic and I don’t like people calling him a racist (or implying it).


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