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An epidemic of stupidity spreads across the nation


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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

An epidemic of stupidity is spreading across the nation. At the president's news conference recently, a reporter asked a stupid question about a stupid incident, and stupidly, the president answered.

Predictably, the stupid among the press compounded the stupidity by making it the lead story when such things as health-care reform and a war in Afghanistan, to name two items, carried greater importance to their viewers and listeners. They, of course, were pandering to what they think the American people want to hear, confirming their opinion that we are stupid enough to want to know more. It is sad that they might be right.

The president was right in what he said; the Cambridge policeman acted stupidly. The president did not say that Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was acting stupidly, which, of course, he was. The police department meets the stupidity threshold, too, in its unwillingness to drop the issue after the brouhaha broke out.

A police officer always holds the power in any situation like this, and simply walking back to his car after establishing that Dr. Gates was in his own house, even amid the alleged tirade of verbal abuse, would have been smart. Instead, he arrested the professor for Contempt of Cop. That was stupid.

The president empathized with Dr. Gates, who faced a situation bound to annoy; arriving home tired from a trip, his front door didn't work. Having managed to get inside, a policeman showed up at his door questioning his presence in the house. I'd be annoyed at that, too, and I am a 62-year-old white guy. However, I don't mess with police officers, ever since my ex-brother-in-law was arrested in the late 1960s for refusing to produce identification when he was walking in a public area (he was bearded, long-haired and an artist). So, I would have cooled my responses to the police officer. The professor is probably temperamentally different from me, and any response to prolong the interaction with the police officer, no matter the tone of voice or the words spoken, was stupid.

The president went on to cite the facts; that black and Hispanic men are more likely to be stopped than white men. How stupid is it that we still live with the legacy of the mass stupidity of slavery and discrimination? But, we do, and it would be stupid to pretend that we are past the impact of that legacy.

We don't know much about the passer-by who called in the report. If the people trying to get in the jammed door had been white or women, would she have called?

The honest answer to the question of whether or not race was a factor is, we don't know. That we even need to consider this as a question is a stupid but brutal fact.

To recap: Two men acted stupidly toward each other. A reporter asked a stupid question, the president stupidly gave his honest opinion which should have remained private. Others in the media stupidly gave the story legs, assuming, perhaps correctly, the stupidity of their audience, and the Cambridge Police Department is helping. Racism is still alive in the land, and that is stupid.

There is no vaccine we can develop against stupidity. We might try shutting up, before we do or say any more stupid things.

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Daniel E. White lives in Kapolei.