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Racey Language

July 24, 2009

Most of us find it difficult to say “I’m sorry” and really mean it when we have unintentionally offended someone, especially if we think we were right. President Obama demonstrated the importance ofleading by expressing remorse when others consider their remarks intemperate or ill-timed, even when what they said or did had merit and was not intended to provoke or cause harm.

The recent arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. by Cambridge, Mass. police Sgt. James Crowley reignited the race debate in America just as many observers were starting to think the president’s election signaled the beginning of a “post-racial” era. By suggesting that Sgt. Crowley had “acted stupidly” by arresting Gates for disorderly conduct after responding to a suspected burglary at the scholar’s home, the President expressed an altogether too-candid albeit probably justified legal opinion regarding the matter.

The President’s conduct in calling Sgt. Crowley today to apologize for his off-the-cuff remarks during a prime-time press conference this week exhibited the kind of conduct in which the sergeant and the scholar should now themselves engage.

Perhaps the right solution is the one suggested by the President himself? Maybe the three of them should get together casually over a beer at the White House and make amends. Doing so would demonstrate not only that anyone can lose his cool, but also that we all have the capacity to learn from our mistakes, put them behind us, and act like grown-ups.

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