Was this really a racist encounter?

As someone who’s paid to be in newspapers and on the radio it’s sometimes difficult for me to criticize the media. But I feel compelled to comment about the latest living-while-black scandal that played out in San Francisco earlier this month.

I was walking by the TV and saw the story on CNN. Host Don Lemon spoke with the so-called victim in the case after showing the video as the situation unfolded. Essentially a man refused the guy entry to an apartment building because he couldn’t prove that he belonged there. You know what happened next: The cries of racism and cameraphone video to post online and go viral.

As the reporter-narrated news report came to an end, Lemon spoke with Wesly Michel about the situation. Lemon noted the building tenant who called police declined to appear on the show. But ‎in response to the viral video, Christopher Cukor seemed to eloquently express his side of the story and very quickly had Lemon wonder if it wasn’t racism after all.

In fact, as the lengthy segment dragged on (over 20 minutes), it almost seemed like Michel wasn’t getting the sympathy he was hoping for from Lemon, a fellow black man. It looked like Michel was having second thoughts about coming forward with his cries of racism. Honestly, by the end of the CNN piece it practically appeared as if Michel lost the outrage that he first had when the situation played out on July 4. What a difference a week makes, maybe?

Even though Cukor didn’t take the bait to appear on CNN to participate in a debate that would further paint him a racist (you know that confrontation and yelling is what cable news goes for these days), his statement that was posted on social media was read on air.

In it, he said there had been security issues in the apartment and he’s on high alert because of that. He said he would have questioned anyone not familiar to the area and attempt to verify if they in fact belong on the property. He also went on to say his father was the victim of a violent crime and was ultimately killed so he is cautious when it comes to the safety of his wife and kid.

When do we finally stop looking at colours and see the situation for what it could potentially be: about security? Automatically the masses assume it’s racism but why isn’t the go-to reason about the safety of the man’s property and family? After all, the so-called victim wasn’t a tenant and didn’t “belong” there, anyway. There is a certain logic when it comes to being suspicious about someone who doesn’t have access to the building trying to gain access to the building. Isn’t there?

I should add that in the viral video Cukor’s son is seen pleading with him to drop the issue and leave. He’s a little kid, he wanted to go wherever they were headed, he was bored of the lengthy confrontation. Why the kid’s opinion was the subject of the blaring “BREAKING NEWS” banner on CNN is beyond me. The network likes to use that to get attention even though the story isn’t “breaking” in the traditional sense — meaning it’s happening right now. In fact, at the time of airing, the situation played out five days earlier. But BREAKING NEWS captures a viewer’s eye so why not use it?

Now, before the mob jumps on me for being a white guy commenting on a story about race, I implore you to rewind (figuratively and literally) and watch how things played out‎. The go-to reason tends to be race nowadays. Admittedly, sometimes it probably is. But is reading between the lines helping matters? Are there actually lines to read between every time? And does doing so really get society anywhere?

Sure, if there were racist and hateful comments made or things got physical and nasty, I’d say this occurrence would be worth the 20-plus minutes it got on CNN during Lemon’s show. Though I wonder if this is the media fuelling the fire and highlighting a racial issue that wasn’t really there to begin with. I mean, 20 minutes of focus to, what, bring awareness to potential racism happening? Even if that were the purpose, don’t we already know racism (and in this case, alleged racism) exists?

Case in point: What if the so-called victim were a woman in this situation? Is the default to automatically claim this is an example of sexism and a man seemingly having power over a female? Come to think of it, in today’s society it probably would be how it would play out.

Now that I think about it, if something like this ever happens to me I’ll cry foul that it’s because I’m gay. There we go. “You treated me badly because you’re homophobic.” Might be a good defence if I ever feel like playing the victim card. (You see my point here, right?)

I don’t deny that racism exists. And I appreciate you reading this far to ‎understand my point. I also suspect that because you have taken the time to read this commentary that you are mature enough to form you own opinion — whether or not you agree with mine — and won’t simply fire back with name calling and insults towards me. That, like the hopes of posting a video to get 15 minutes of viral fame, doesn’t help further the dialogue and help people understand where others are coming from.

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