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Karen Kisslinger Headshot

Ba(ra)ck to the Word "Stupid"

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Now that the beer moment is over, let's go back just one more time to the controversy over Obama's use of the word stupid (or a related form of that word) to describe what happened in Cambridge on the night Professor Gates came home from his trip and ended up arrested and removed from his own home. I like the word "stupid" in this context, but it's important to look at the actual meaning of the word.

One meaning of the word stupid is related to being "stupefied". By my dictionary definition, to stupefy means to "overwhelm with amazement, astound, astonish"; "to stun, as with strong emotions, to benumb the faculties of as in 'put in to a stupor'." By this definition, I think both officer Crowley and Professor Gates were probably both stupefied by the situation that unnecessarily escalated in Professor Gate's home.

After five years of working for the Cambridge police department, instructing other officers about diffusing inter-racial tensions and confrontation, the officer involved seems to have been so overwhelmed with amazement and astonished by the situation he was actually in that he was stupefied... And therefore, acted stupidly. There's nothing wrong with saying that this is true, even if you're the President. Some might call it an ego problem, or having your "buttons pushed" or some other psycho pop, but the reality is that a man responsible for displaying exemplary behavior in such a situation totally blew it, and getting black officers from the Cambridge police department to say he did the right thing, does nothing to establish that he did the right thing. It's embarrassing.

After many years of teaching about racial interaction and various forms and histories of discrimination, and other racially fraught behavior, Professor Gates may have also been quite stupefied by the actual unfolding of a fairly preposterous situation in his own home, and also acted stupidly, in this true sense of the word.

If I were the police officer whose job it was to train other police officers to handle racially charged confrontations sensitively, I would have done anything and everything I could to be aware that I had become stupefied, overcome my stupefaction, recognize the inherent discrepancy of practical power in the situation, and show model behavior that really walked the walk of diffusing such a situation. Done anything and everything... Which doesn't seem like it would have taken much, to simply say, "Thanks Professor. Sorry for the inconvenience. Have a wonderful night. Welcome home."

So I have only one more question: Next time I get stupefied and do something really stupid, can I get invited to the White House?