Info Gluttony

Skip Gates Speaks

Posted in Uncategorized by echan on July 22, 2009

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:

  1. Although he felt that racial profiling played a role in his arrest, he’s hesitant to call the arresting officer a racist.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


10 Responses

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  1. ToastyKen said, on July 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    From your link in 2:

    That is how it should be, responded Russell Mills, Homer’s police chief, who noted the high rates of gun and drug arrests in the neighborhood.

    “If I see three or four young black men walking down the street, I have to stop them and check their names,” said Mills, who is white. “I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might get arrested. We’re not out there trying to abuse and harass people—we’re trying to protect the law-abiding citizens locked behind their doors in fear.”

    Holy crap! I can’t believe he so brazenly just says that out loud! :\

  2. zygote said, on July 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    all this talk about america being post-racial since obama’s election has made me so angry. just b/c a biracial black man was elected president does not mean that america is now, or is anywhere, near, post-racial. what morons out there actually believe that a single election in which just over 60% of eligible american population voted, could have completely turned the tide against a history of racism, discrimination, subjugation, cruelty, hatred, and intolerance that have always been the underpinnings of our culture and civil society since before we were a nation? i would like to meet such morons and hear them say that america is post-racial and then punch said morons in the face.

    the only thing surprising about this whole skip gates incident is how goddamn surprised everyone has been that it even happened. my impression is that people are playing it off as if they are surprised that this kind of thing could still happen to a black man in america (which, as i have already noted above, is just plain stupid and worthy of a face punching), but that in actuality what they are surprised about is that it happened to someone as friggin famous as skip gates.

    • eflan said, on July 22, 2009 at 10:04 pm

      I don’t think people are surprised that this happened to Skip Gates, I think people are amazed that a cop could have been stupid enough to arrest Gates in the first place, considering the ruckus that he would make.

      For some reason, I can’t stop thinking of this very special episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air (Mistaken Identity) now that this story has come out:

  3. ToastyKen said, on July 22, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    The big eye-opener for me with regard to race relations in this country was my last jury duty, when it was clear that the defense was only concerned about getting a black person on the jury, and the prosecution was only concerned about removing all black people from the jury. And the defendant was Latino!

  4. ToastyKen said, on July 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    They’re not wearing their seat belts! 😛

  5. ToastyKen said, on July 22, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    That was a good episode, and I liked the way they handled the ending, especially. (Btw just so it’s not misconstrued, ever since I got into an accident and was really glad I was wearing my seat belt, I’m always very aware of when other people aren’t.)

  6. zygote said, on July 23, 2009 at 5:34 am

    i totally remember this episode!!

  7. Keith Tivon Gregory said, on July 23, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Great to see an in depth conversation happening around the world, it’s fairly sad to know that no matter how much one accomplishes or inspires, there are systematic institutions in place that will continue to hold back true progress. If those institutions are never COMPLETELY removed, its no different then chopping the head off a weed, and leaving the root. It will peek its ugly little head again in due time, now matter how much work you’ve put into your beautiful garden.

    Things need to be tackled at the root, and completely removed to successfully ensure they do not come back. This country/world isn’t ready for that sad to say. It would require a lot of people being displaced from prominence and power positions in life that a system has placed them in.

  8. eflan said, on July 23, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Woah, here’s a new wrinkle to the story, the officer who arrested Gates teaches a diversity class on “Racial Profiling,” or rather “how not to profile based on race” —

  9. ToastyKen said, on July 25, 2009 at 10:59 am

    So this inspired me to finally write up my thoughts from jury duty a few years ago, when I discovered that our criminal justice system is a joke, and that all the lawyers care about is whether or not there’s a black person on the jury:

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