Skip Gates Speaks
Even though Cambridge is the Berkeley of the East (i.e. a very smug enclave where its residents feel as though they are noble, Whole Foods-shopping, ACLU-card carrying good liberals while being in denial about their own racism), I was still a bit shocked this week when Professor Henry Louis Gates, a pioneer of African American studies (his laurels are too plentiful to list here), was arrested for “breaking” into his own home.
After resting for a few days at his home in Martha’s Vineyard, he opened up to his daughter, and was very candid about his experience. The three things that really struck me about the interview are:
- Although he felt that racial profiling played a role in his arrest, he’s hesitant to call the arresting officer a racist.
- His use of the incident of a “teaching event…for black people—don’t step out of your house. Don’t step onto that porch! You’re vulnerable.” Though he believes that this meant he was protected because the officer did not have a warrant, I’m not sure this is such great advice, based on unprovoked shootings such as this.
- This paragraph on how Obama’s victory doesn’t mean that we live in a post-racial society (I particularly like his invocation of Cornel West, we are all “recovering racists.”):
The only people who live in a post-black world are four people who live in a little white house on Pennsylvania Avenue. [laughter] The idea that America is post-racial or post-black because a man I admire, Barack Obama, is president of the United States, is a joke. And I hope no one will even wonder about this crazy fiction again. I am proud of the American people for electing the best candidate who happened to be a black man and that’s a great historical precedent in the United States, but America is just as classist and just as racist as it was the day before the election—and we all, to quote my friend Cornell West, “are recovering racists,” and we all have to fight those tendencies. In America there is institutional racism that we all inherit and participate in, like breathing the air in this room—and we have to become sensitive to it.
Addendum: The part of the conversation that strikes me the most is the concept of “post-racial.” I had a somewhat heated email debate with a friend over the term in relation to the movie “Rachel Getting Married.” I had a very rosy view of the film, and the interracial marriages featured therein precisely because race is never mentioned in the movie. The friend with whom I debated dismissed my optimistic “post-racial” view because she felt the minorities were sidelined in the movie, and that it was essentially a movie about whiney white people made for other whiney white people.
So despite my optimism around intermarriage, perhaps, TNR’s John McWhorter’s appraisal of GatesGate, is perhaps the most appropriate way to sum up our progress on post-racial America:
The relationship between black men and police forces is, in fact, the main thing keeping America from becoming “post-racial” in any sense.