Race rage

Stories like the Henry Louis Gates incident make me crazy – enraged, you might say. There’s the incident itself, and then there’s the discussion, dissection, unearthing and finger-pointing. And to what end? When all is said and done, are we in a better place of understanding?

Professor Gates, the African-American Harvard professor, had just returned from a trip to China. He found the front door to his home jammed. Jetlagged and probably frustrated, the last thing he needed was a confrontation with the police. Sergeant Crowley, a Cambridge police officer, was responding to a break-in call, not knowing what to expect upon arrival. Based upon the accounts that I read, my reaction was that both of these men were perhaps, not using their best judgments, and that the situation deteriorated into a battle of wills.

The story has been marqueed as racial profiling, yet Professor Gates wasn’t singled out by the police. But potential racist and/or macho behavior on the part of the officer, and potential arrogant behavior on the part of a Harvard professor are another matter.

The questions begin to swirl: IF Sergeant Crowley saw Gates’ horrified objections as disorderly, then overreacted and abused his power…?  IF Professor Gates were overtired and became upset at the accusation that he could possibly be… then? IF it were an irate white man, how would the Sergeant have reacted? IF it were an irate woman? (For the record, I’ve argued with both a Philadelphia cop and a NYC cop, and while I wasn’t eventually booked, it did not go well.) Does this cop have a track record of racial profiling or issues with race? Was the ego of a Harvard professor bruised? Is it possible that there were expectations, bad judgment and prejudices on behalf of both parties?

As to President Obama’s comments, two things struck me. The first is that Mr. Obama directly addressed a local matter involving a friend. (There are those who consider the Q&A a carefully calculated act by the administration to both address racial issues and deflect the health care overhaul shortcomings.) The second is that the President stated “the Cambridge police acted stupidly.” I question the harshness of implying that an entire police force is represented by the actions of a few men. Also, let’s not pin racism and stupidity solely on the police – wasn’t it just last week that Senator Tom Coburn (OK) joked to Sonia Sotomayor that she’ll have some “ ‘splaining to do.” Coburn expressed both a racist and sexist slur, and he’s still seated.

Who knows what actually occurred in those moments? I’m struggling not to stereotype either party because I’d like to believe that not every police response has to go down this way. If the cop reacted to race, then the department must deal with him appropriately and work to change these behaviors. If Professor Gates misread the situation, then it can’t be considered a racist act.

Either way, we must work hard not to make this episode more divisive. In the end, we’ll all lose.

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Here’s an interesting read in the New York Times Room for Debate column.

2 Responses to “Race rage”

  1. Louis Says:

    Dear curious g,

    Come on, a 60 year old comedic tag line is now racist and sexest? Wasn’t it a male, Cuban immigrant that said that about his American wife? So how does an American using that tag line about another American bcome racist and sexest? This is the same type of thinking that says calling President Obama a socialist is equivalent to calling him the N-word.

    Let’s get over this, and admit that it was a funny and harmless line.

    Best wishes for success with your blog.

  2. janet Says:

    Honey, if that’s your line of logic, then you are as outdated as Ricky Riccardo’s line itself. A Cuban man choosing to parody himself to comic effect in the mid-1950s is a lot different than a white man in 2009 being condescending to a Latina woman who is a pending supreme court judge.

    It wasn’t a harmless and funny line. It was clearly a racial and sexist slur aimed at Ms Sotomayor. I don’t think racist, sexist or ethnic jokes are funny in the least. Never, ever have. They’re cheap shots by cowards who aren’t creative or intelligent enough to come up with anything else. So when I hear one, it’s not something I’d like to get over.

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