President Barack Obama today will meet with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley at the White House, both of them coming from Cambridge, Mass.
Dubbed by the media as the "Beer Summit," the idea at first blush seems smart. Gates, who is black, was taken into custody by Crowley, who is white, after Crowley accused him of disorderly conduct for protesting the officers who answered a call of potential house burglars. Gates, a Harvard scholar, was entering his own house.
The incident raised a cloud of racism, with charges that the officer acted improperly because it was a black man entering a house. The officer said he followed procedure.
Perhaps what fanned the incident into a national case was President Obama -- a Gates' friend -- said during a nationally televised news conference that the police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates.
So now to make amends all around, the three will sit at a picnic table near the Oval Office, President Obama with a Bud Light, Gates a Red Stripe and Crowley a Blue Moon. What the men will talk about we don't know. Will they solve the world's race relations problems? Certainly not.
That's the problem with the so-called Beer Summit. Racial tensions run deeper than sitting at a table and drinking beer. Whether it's with blacks in Massachusetts, Hispanics in Texas or American Indians here in Bemidji, more needs to be done than sit at a table and drink beer.
President Obama should use the occasion to call for a national dialogue. As the nation's first black president, he's in the perfect position to make better race relations a national topic for discussion and action.
Breaking bread -- or in this case, drinking beer -- is a good springboard for people to begin discussing their differences and their commonalities in order to build trust and better relationships.
President Obama should use today's "summit" as such a springboard, and not let it end with a few words over a couple of bottles of beer.