WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama portrayed his much-anticipated chat Thursday evening with a black professor and the white police officer who arrested him as nothing more than "an opportunity to listen to each other."
"That's all it is," he said Thursday. "This is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic."
Obama is going to a have a beer - that all-American bonding gesture - with the two men he joined last week at the centre of an uproar over race in America: Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard University professor who is black, and James Crowley, a Cambridge, Massachusetts police sergeant who is white.
A dispute over the two men's behaviour when Crowley investigated a potential burglary at Gates' house exploded into a national debate on racial profiling, fueled when Obama declared in a prime-time news conference that the police "acted stupidly."
Obama invited the two to the White House and said it all could be a "teachable moment" for the U.S. But it will not be that reachable for the masses, since the public will not hear anything that is said or see more than a fleeting shot of the talk.
No matter, said the president a couple of hours beforehand. He pronounced himself "fascinated with the fascination about this event."
"I notice this has been called a beer summit," he told reporters after meeting in the Oval Office with Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. "It's a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. This is three guys having a drink at the end of the day."
Obama said everyone involved - "including myself" - is imperfect and he hoped that "instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, everybody can just spend a little time with some self-reflection and recognize that other people have different points of view."