Friday, July 31, 2009

Questions for Benjamin Todd Jealous - Race Matters - Interview -

Questions for Benjamin Todd Jealous - Race Matters - Interview -

Published: July 30, 2009

As the new head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, can you tell us how your organization plans to respond to the case of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who was recently arrested for disorderly conduct at his own home — charges that have since been dropped — after he reportedly chewed out a cop who suspected him of burglary?
Our local volunteers are already engaged with the Cambridge Police Department, as we are with police departments across this country. The next step is passing the End Racial Profiling Act in Congress. Racial profiling is a constant drumbeat in this country. It’s a form of humiliation that strikes like lightning on a daily basis, and that is part of what Professor Gates was responding to. It’s hard to be in your house, told you’re a burglary suspect and then when you are no longer a suspect, told you are the problem.
Skip to next paragraph
RSS Feed

* Deborah Solomon's "Questions For..." Column »

Times Topics: Henry Louis Gates Jr. | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
More Questions For Columns

Even so, many of us were surprised to hear President Obama accuse the Cambridge Police of acting “stupidly.” The president didn’t try very hard to extend his famous capacity for empathy to Sgt. James Crowley, who claims he was verbally abused by Gates.
I would be concerned if the Cambridge police chief didn't feel the same way.

The N.A.A.C.P., which just held its 100th annual convention amid much fanfare, was founded to advance civil rights. Why has the organization failed to take a stand on same-sex marriage, one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our day?
We’re engaged in fighting a whole range of issues of urgent relevance to the gay community and people of color in our country, including school bullying, hate crimes and employment discrimination. But we’re a barge, not a speedboat. We’re not going to repeat the mistakes of so many other institutions that have literally torn themselves apart over this divisive issue.

Exit polling suggested that 70 percent of black voters — the largest by far of any minority group — voted to make gay marriage illegal in California by voting in favor of Proposition 8 last fall. How do you explain that? The bond between black culture and church culture?
You’re looking at this from 50,000 feet. I’m looking at if from the ground, and I know that church leaders are on both sides of the debate. Black voters have been scapegoated — so many pundits blamed the passage of Proposition 8 on them. But it would have passed even if 100 percent of the black voters had voted against it.

Why do you think it’s such a divisive issue in the black community?
If gay rights groups want to change the opinion polls in the black community, they have to invest in it. It’s a long-term conversation. The battle to oppose Prop 8 could have been much better run. They came to the black community late, with the expectation that they were going to get certain results.

So you think gays should mobilize blacks instead of expecting you to?
That’s exactly right.

As the son of a white father and a black mother, do you refer to yourself as black?
Yes, without qualification.

What was it like growing up with the name Jealous?
People tended not to forget me. I embraced it as a competitive advantage.

You're 36; you were born after the big civil rights struggles. Do you think that makes your generation more willing to work within existing channels of power?
You’re talking to somebody who was kicked out of school for organizing student protests and has gone to jail in New York and Mississippi for civil disobedience. So draw whatever conclusions you want.

You’re also a Columbia graduate and a Rhodes Scholar. So you must have done something right.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, so they say.

How were you treated when you were arrested?
They treated me better Down South than they did up North. The North is not always a refuge.


No comments: