So I’m sure we’ve all heard by now about Henry Louis Gates’ arrest on July 16 at his own home in Cambridge, MA. (Incidentally, that Wiki link is woefully inadequate.)

Well, today the news comes that one of the Boston police officers sent an email calling Gates a “jungle monkey” (source article):

A Boston cop insisted he was not a racist as he apologized for calling Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates a “banana-eating jungle monkey” in a mass e-mail.

“I did not mean to offend anyone,” Officer Justin Barrett told WCVB-TV. “The words were being used to characterize behavior, not describe anyone…People are making it about race,” Barrett said. “It is not about race.”

Ok, I’m not sure how anyone can say “it’s not about race” when they’ve chosen to apply a phrase that has long been recognized as a racial slur. And I’m pretty positive that if you’re using language like to “characterize behavior,” you’re a) aware of what it means, and b) a racist.

Hear that, Mr. Barrett? If you use racially charged language to describe someone, especially in a situation that has already been established to be racially contentious, this makes you a racist.

And please, explain to me how it happens that someone makes a poor choice in phrasing, and expects the nation to believe that s/he isn’t racist, and yet I haven’t heard of Mr. Gates “accidentally” calling the arresting officers “crackers,” but people are still accusing him of “playing the race card.”

Barrett went on to say:

“I didn’t mean it in a racist way,” he added. “I treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

Ohhhh, ok. It makes so much more sense, now that he’s explained that he treats everyone with dignity and respect. But I have just one question for Barrett: is that before or after he calls them horribly offensive names?

It’s very clear, kids: we have a problem with race relations in this country. We are not living in a “post-racial America,” simply because we have a black president. We have a large number of people who are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions / language, and instead try to weasel out of it by saying, “Oh, I’m not racist, you just misunderstood my racist language.” What we need is to stop believing that there exists an acceptable level of racism, because there isn’t. And we need to stop victim-blaming and -shaming, we need to stop making people feel bad about calling out someone else’s bad behavior.

And we need to stop pretending that we are not racist when we, in fact, very definitely are.

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