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Friday, July 24, 2009

Professor Gates, Race and Class

I must confess. I didn't really pay attention to the case of the arrest of Professor Gates until after the president addressed it in his press conference. That's probably why I didn't notice right away just how explosive his statement was at the press conference. After all, I didn't see why it was such a big deal that a professor got arrested for disorderly conduct. In some places, that's considered a good night out. Call me naive but the issues of race and class weren't obvious to me until after the president turned it into the number one story on television.

Earlier, I spent sometime reading how prominent blacks and whites analyzed the case. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the analysis didn't actually break down along color lines. What wasn't surprising was that no matter what side of the line the analysis was on, the issue of race was the central part of the analysis either way. Here is how African American professor William Leon characterized it.

There has been a rush to judgment by many who should know better. To immediately place Dr. Gates’ unfortunate arrest into the category of “racial profiling” does a great disservice to the volumes of cases that fit the accepted definition.

Sgt. Crowley was not passing by Dr. Gates’ home and upon seeing a Black
man in a White neighborhood
decided to investigate this seemingly strange occurrence. Sgt. Crowley was responding to a reported breaking and entering at Dr. Gate’s residence. Most police officers will tell you, safety first; better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. Sgt. Crowley’s primary concern was to ensure that there were no perpetrators on the scene and that the gentleman that he encountered (Dr. Gates) had every right to be there. It is also important to have some understanding of police procedure in these types of situations before passing judgment on what transpired.

At one point Dr. Gates is alleged to have said to Sgt. Crowley that he (Crowley) had no idea who he was messing with. Is it possible that this question may provide some insight into how this circumstance escalated to the point that it did? It is incumbent upon all citizens, no matter what their status or station in life to obey the legitimate
commands of the police. One must never underestimate the blindness that attends

Here is how African American actor Jeffrey Wright characterized it.

President Obama expressed what many Americans feel regarding the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates -- that the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police responded "stupidly."

Obama is catching some flak for that, but I applaud him for having had the courage to speak his heart and mind.

I wonder if the president himself has ever experienced the blunt end of racial profiling, or if he personally knows of anyone other than Professor Gates who has. Among African-American males in this country, the small minority is those who have not or do not.

Race baiter Mary Mitchell merely hints that racism was at play.

As a homeowner who has had a break-in, I can't get too worked up over what happened to Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Notable African Americans across the country are expressing outrage that Gates,who is considered to be a leading African-American intellectual, was hauled off to jail for trying to get into his own house.

But let's look at this from another angle.

This is a case of no good deed goes unpunished.

I wish someone had been watching when thieves broke into my house and made off with everything they could carry.

But like so many other communities in America, we live in neighborhoods of strangers.

That's probably why the woman who called 911 on Gates didn't simply walk over and ask if she could help.

What she saw was two black men acting suspiciously.

What Gates saw was racial profiling.

Blogger Patterico takes race from the other side.

Racism is simply a form of stereotyping. Stereotyping occurs when one says: because of my past experiences with people from your group, as well as things I have heard about people from your group, I am forming a firm opinion about you.

Racism is simply one form of that attitude, in which “people from your group” means “black people.”

Oddly, however, many black people feel perfectly comfortable engaging in a similar form of stereotyping, in which “people from your group” means “police officers” or “white people” — or, best of all, “white police officers.” Apparently, stereotyping those groups is a laudable pursuit.

The Henry Louis Gates arrest is yet another reminder of how quick some black people are to leap to unflattering conclusions about others based on scant evidence.

I personally think this case has a lot more to do with class than it does with race. After all, would we really be talking about this had Professor Gates been Henry Gates, the blue collar laborer. The only reason that some people's sensibilities were so damaged by this incident wasn't because Professor Gates is black. It's because he's a prominent professor. In fact, Mitchell implies that what happened to Gates happens to poor black folks regularly with no one noticing.

Maybe a better way to look it is that it's the combination of race and class. Those that believe that Professor Gates was wronged believe that Officer Crowley would have treated a white professor differently. Of course, to know this they would need to get into his mind and heart and neither anyone but Officer Crowley can do. Those that defend the officer believe that Professor Gates wanted to be treated differently because he's a professor. Of course, again, we'd need to get into his head to know this.

What's truly unfortunate about this incident is that an ugly confrontation between two individuals has divided the nation on race and class. Worse yet, the roots of the incident had little to do with both. They've been brought to the front because in this country when a successful black person is arrested by a white cop we can't help but frame it in the context of race and class.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Do you know who I am?"

Famous. Last. Words.