Sunday, July 26, 2009

GatesGate: A short note on race and class 

An African-American friend of mine gave me permission to share part of an email he wrote to various friends in the wake of Henry Louis Gates' close encounter with the Cambridge constabulary:

Funny side story: Last summer, I had a couple of guys out on my boat one Saturday... I call them my Jamaican posse... well because they are crazy wild-partying Jamaican guys by night (hedge-fund guys by day). Well here is a small yacht with a bunch of black guys hauling up the East River with a cargo of blond Eastern European chicks [hey those were their dates... not mine... for those who know I am happily married to a brunette], blasting Reggae, gyrating to the beat, and popping champagne all the way [up] the L.I. sound. I thought beyond a doubt we were going to be stopped somewhere along the way - I mean it would just be too tempting to pass up - even just out of boredom and curiosity if nothing else. Nope, not even a sideways glance from the cops or Coast Guard - go figure. So much for my racial profiling predictive powers.

Anyhow, I have to agree with Obama (and we don't agree on much lately) that the police acted stupidly. Was this a racially motivated arrest? I would say its fuzzy, but yes, I think so. The reason I say fuzzy is that the relationship between cops and the elite white population in university towns is always tense. For example, I was on Princeton's rugby team and every year we'd play the town cops and firefighters in one horrific grudge match. This was the biggest legal orgy of class warfare violence I have ever seen or participated in (and still feel the old injuries from those matches). The basic objective of the game (at least for the cops) was to send as many students to the hospital as possible. It was so bad, we kept 2-3 ambulances in the parking lot on standby at the game (and they were kept busy).

Learned a lot from this - Why did these guys basically want to maim a bunch of (mostly) white snot-nosed teenagers. You had to see the shear glee on their faces every time one of us got carried off the field with blood spurting from his nose. It's hard to convey the total barbaric scene. Tells you a lot about these people, their motivations, what chips they carry around on their shoulders. It also showed me that the problem attitude is not all about race - its much much more complicated than that. Gates of all people should have understood the situation and the potential consequences. Either he did and decided it was worth standing up to his antagonist, or he was blinded by his own celebrity.

Of course, in the rugby match, Princeton always won the game - after all the cops might have been big-muscled and thick-necked, but they were old and slow, and we were young, fast and better skilled. I guess risking life, limb, and spine for the sake of defending our Ivy League honor was worth it. Stupid.

Suffice it to say that the Princeton Borough cops go out of their way to bust on the undergraduates, at least according to my between-the-lines reading of the weekly police blotter report in Town Topics.

Anyway, what do you make of my roommate's perspective (picture of the guy here)?


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jul 26, 11:10:00 PM:

So... after giving an example of a failure of 'racial profiling prediction' and before explaining how class rivalries are much more important to the local social dynamic, he still settles on 'this was racist.' But fuzzy racism.


But people see what they want to see...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 26, 11:19:00 PM:

Anyone's guess could be correct, if you ask me, and having seen a lot of scores settled on the rugby pitch I'd say this is certainly a possibility.

Mostly, though, I think this is an instance of a tired guy, fresh off a plane from China, who lost his temper for no good reason. It happens.

All I would ask of Prof. Gates is that since he found this encounter with authority frustrating, he consider how frustrating he will also find it when he tries to buy life-saving medical care and some bureaucrat tells him to buzz off. No beer st the White House will patch over that problem.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 26, 11:20:00 PM:

I don’t think there was any racial profiling; just a Cop getting pissed ‘bout being dissed. The Cops should not have arrested a guy in his own house, no matter how loud and indignant Gates got.  

By Anonymous vigilocanis, at Sun Jul 26, 11:25:00 PM:

You might want to read the actual police report on Gates arrest before forming an opinion for or against the officer .

Then imagine that you are the officer.

You arrive alone at the address of a possible attempted break in by two suspects after responding to an “all cars in the vicinity” police radio dispatch. Your heart beat is elevated, adrenalin pumping, the fear of being shot suppressed by years of training. The owner of the home welcomes you with a personal, racially charged, in-your-face, tirade. You contemplate the irony of how you have been welcomed to the home of this owner, whose life, limb, and property you have come to protect.

The owner increases the decibel level of his attack. With great difficulty, given his loud rantings inside the small foyer, you finally determine the stranger’s identity. His rants continue. “You don’t know who I am! You don’t know who I am!” He yells.

You tell him that if wants to continue the conversation that he must follow you outside so that you can understand him better.

As he begins to folllow you outside, tenured Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates,Jr.; Ware Street; Cambridge, Mass; the now identified owner, sounding nothing like the erudite classroom lecturer, disses you and your momma with his urban styled, “I’ll follow your momma outside.”

As you walk onto the porch, you notice that a crowd has begun to gather outside, tensions mounting. The Harvard University police have shown up.

Instead of defending yourself against the charge of racism, your years of police training has instilled in you with a discipline to keep quiet and follow procedure. You refrain from telling this screaming homeowner about the time when you administered mouth-to-mouth resusitation to the dying black basketball player years before, and that you have taught anti-racial profiling classes in Cambridge.

Concerned that the situation could further escalate, you warn Mr. Gates to restrain from creating such a commotion. He refuses to calm down and continues his commotion. You follow extablished protocol and procedure, and slap the cuffs on him and read him his rights.

A few days later, as you listen to the national broadcast of the president, who, after admitting that he didn’t know all the facts in the case, accuses your department and thereby you, of acting “stupidly”. You wander if you could have handled the situation differently?

As we peacefully sit inside our comfortable apartments or homes, sipping our morning coffee or evening wine, and reading the blogs, many, including President Obama forget that this peace, security,and freedom to enjoy our surroundings, is provided by the protection provided by a 911 call to a law enforcement officer, who will respond to your emergency, and risk everything he has to protect you and your possessions.

So, instead of joining the president in second guessing the reactions of the police, let’s wait until all the facts are out. Consider the question, “WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE IN OFFICER CROWLY’S PLACE?

At that split second moment in time, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE IN HIS PLACE?

Time will tell if there was any racial injustice administered to this black tenured Harvard professor, who lives in a city with a black mayor, a state with a black governor, and a country with a black president. Racism? Are you sure?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 12:28:00 AM:

For example, I was on Princeton's rugby team

From the pic, that looks to have been some years ago. Suggest your friend recalibrate their calendar to 2009 rather than the 1970's  

By Blogger Escort81, at Mon Jul 27, 12:42:00 AM:

Anon 12:28 - cut 'em a break, it was the 1980's not the 1970's.

Is there such a term as "privilege profiling?" That's what this story sounds like.  

By Blogger Gerard, at Mon Jul 27, 12:47:00 AM:

"Fuzzy racism" sounds like the new phrase that pays to me.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 01:09:00 AM:

Who knew that Chambers could reasonable it up?  

By Anonymous filbert, at Mon Jul 27, 01:55:00 AM:

From what I can tell, sitting a thousand miles away, is that it was Gates who dragged skin melanin content into the discussion in the first place.

Human beings naturally self-select into tribal units, no matter how "advanced" we think we are. Race, class, home town, last name, it doesn't matter. Us against them. It's what we as humans do--it's how we're wired.

But, it's how you define "us" that matters.

IMHO it should be considered a virtue to define "us" as widely as is--er--humanly possible. I think that is what Martin Luther King was trying to say with his "content of his character" speech. I find that to be a virtuous attitude.

Evidence in hand seems to indicate that it's Gates' character which is currently called into question by the incident at his house, with his unruly behavior. There may be extenuating circumstances to this behavior. I don't know for sure. But it appears to me that Gates may have self-selected "his" tribe in a possibly regrettable way, which exacerbated an already tense situation.

I, however, reserve any final judgment, because I do not know all details of what actually happened.

It is to be hoped that such details will be forthcoming.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jul 27, 05:45:00 AM:

Anon 1:09 -- That's not Chambers. I've had more than one black roommate in my life.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 07:56:00 AM:


Your ex-roommate's rant doesn't support a fuzzy racism conclusion -- quite the contrary. Tell him to wake up ... he is The Man ... cc Prof Gates and Obama too.

There's more on this in other posts below. By all accounts, Crowley isn't a rogue cop. Prof Gates went over the line -- he asked to be spanked and he was. This should have been a nothing event that ended with dropped charges -- but Obama made it a cause célèbre. It then backfired on him -- the faux indignation cost Obama some of the cracker vote. Which is why Obama did a quick 180. We suspect that if Gates wasn't foaming at the mouth -- as verified on the tapes -- Gates' legal team would be bringing suit and Obama would still be righteously indignant.

This incident isn't worth the ink, except that Obama made it so. Many voters thought voting for Obama would get us past petty bullshit on race ... hardly. What many have learned from this teachable event is that Obama is a stealth Al Sharpton. Wait until we wake up to find that much of Obama's spending plans are actually reparations.

I know a few NYPD. One guy -- a big tough guy at that -- confessed that he was happy to retire after 20 years. As a "line" cop he said you always saw people at their worst, and they often took it out on you. He called it a steady drip of acid on your psyche.

p.s. I played rugby for 20 years, and even played a few matches as a fill-in on the NYPD side. If you think a local cop side is bad, try playing Old Blue. Two of the three guys in the famous 9/11 flag picture play for the Far Rockaway Fish Heads and the FDNY. I played with them in a match against "British Lords and Commons" here in NYC -- they came over to express solidarity. Gordon Brown was on their drinking team. We won the match, but they won the party.

Link, over  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Mon Jul 27, 09:34:00 AM:

taken at the scene depicts a poor black cop standing stoicly on the front walk as this guy screams at his back and another cop trying to calm the professor down.

I certainly hope the guy's house never REALLY gets robbed. If the police don't show up instantly and save the day...then THAT will be racist as well.

This silly victimhood really is getting a little boring. Gates is one of the most highly paid professors in the country who finds himself in a situation where a trained "multicultural" police team arrives at his house almost instantly after being called, in a town with a black mayor, a state with a black governor and a country with a black president.

Yet he still finds the high dudgeon in his soul to justify his inappropriate and rude behaviour as being emblematic of "racism".

Personally, I think Gates is an ASS.

Looking at Obama's approval numbers, it would seem that a whole lot of other people agree with me.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 27, 10:13:00 AM:

I think there was profiling - Gates just presumed that the officer was a racist, without anything having pointed that way. He's the first one, but not the last one to bring race into the situation.

Then Obama jumped to the same bigoted conclusion - the cops must have been wrong.  

By Blogger Diogenes, at Mon Jul 27, 10:28:00 AM:

Sgt Crowley, his department and his union said there was nothing to apologize for.

Sgt Crowley should not go to the White House.

Doing so gives Obama cover for his own racism.

Tribalism is the exact opposite of MLK's prayer that we be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

Obama is the one who should apologize to Sgt Crowley and the American people for his racism (oops identity politics)!  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Jul 27, 10:35:00 AM:

JPMcT: Gates's house had already been broken into once before, thats how Gates managed to break back in, and why the police had trouble securing the door when they left.

Rugby: I guess I need to update the old T-shirt I have in my closet to read "Age and Treachery will always overcome Youth and Skill---Except in Rugby"  

By Anonymous JSF, at Mon Jul 27, 10:56:00 AM:

I think we have all learned a valuable lesson from this post TH. Orange is not a good color for clothing.  

By Anonymous Dave the Kapampangan, at Mon Jul 27, 11:35:00 AM:

Regarding your friend: he says it's about race, but his explanation is all about CLASS.

Regarding Gates: Upper Class 200K earner Gates gets upset at a lowly cop and starts a tirade-- that gets Gates arrested by the ticked off cop for "contempt of cop." Bigshot Harvard PhD portrays the tirade as "defending society against racial profiling." I guess PhD shouting is different and more principled from the inane yellings of normal, tired, irritated people.  

By Anonymous Billy Bob Corncob, at Mon Jul 27, 08:16:00 PM:

Your roommate writes well.

And after some gestation, my view is that this about 100% the cop feeling dis-respected - and being the guy with the badge and gun at the same time.

That's it. Indeed, the only racial element probably is that the cop, who views himself as non-racist, had his pride hurt when the Harvard professor called him a racist. It probably made him a lot more defensive.

That's the best reading.  

By Anonymous IndispensableDestiny, at Tue Jul 28, 06:01:00 AM:

I noticed in the Fox pic that Gates' hand are cuffed in front. That says a lot. A racist cop certainly wouldn't do that.  

By Anonymous Keating Willcox, at Tue Jul 28, 11:00:00 AM:

1. Gates lost his temper
2. Why is it illegal to lose your temper in your own house, without threatening anyone?
3. IN NYC, most street stops are of people of color, and only 8% end in arrests. Why should cops be able to pull people over for nothing and ask for their "papers"? I thought that was something that the Nazis did?

I think too many cops have a rotten attitude and no clear idea of the limits on police power. If we need safer streets, simply keep convicts in jail for a longer time. No need for rousts. No need for arrests due to lack of subservient behavior.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 28, 12:20:00 PM:

From Link,

Do we all agree that Sgt Crowley didn't start out that day looking to create an incident, as he was responding to a possible breaking and entering and didn't know from Prof Gates?

Now let's play an exercise in role reversal.

#1: First, change everyone's color. Sgt Crowley is now black. Prof Gates is a white neo-con professor. George W Bush is still President.

#2: When Sgt Crowley shows up at the house Prof Gates immediately loses it, calling it every white man's nightmare, throws in some racial epithets and maybe even an n-word or two. Sgt Crowley bears an ongoing tirade for minutes, and then finally slaps the cuffs on. White officers on the scene support the move.

#3: Pres Bush -- while on national TV the next day -- defends his white neo-con professor friend and says that Sgt Crowley acted stupidly.

#4: Realizing there's been some backlash, Pres Bush offers to have Sgt Crowley and Prof Gates over to the White House for a malt liquor drink-up ... everyone to get a 40 and a blunt. He makes sure through back channels that Sgt Crowley knows to show up and to have a smile on his face when he does.

Now check your own personal hypocrisy meter. Would you still defend President Bush? Would you still give Prof Gates a pass, or say he's the victim here? Is this even conceivable in America 2009?  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Jul 28, 08:23:00 PM:

Your friend is trying to be evenhanded, but there is a flaw in his reasoning. He didn't know Gates was a Harvard prof when he went over. If he assumed Gates was a professor for some reason, that would speak against Crowley's believing in stereotypes, at least.

When one considers this tidbit, another possibility emerges. Gates assumes that the cop thinks he's just an ordinary black nobody, and wants to let him know that sometimes a random black man is actually someone powerful and important. That would fit with his "You don't know who you're messing with" comment. If that is true - and I stress that this is a bit of mind-reading, and thus potentially hogwash - then Gates's actions, though mostly driven by standing up for the Race, has a tinge of black stereotype in itself. I'm not going to the lengths of Gates trying to show he is better than those other AA's, but maybe 10% in that direction.

They teach actual reasoning at William and Mary, BTW.  

By Anonymous JT, at Wed Jul 29, 03:49:00 AM:


Crowley would've known who Gates was, if he just showed his passport, which he'd have with him (even if he didn't have keys), having just returned from China. A US issued photo ID, imagine that.

The cop didn't know that Gates feels powerful since he's a Harvard professor who is pals with the President. Or powerful because he assumes he's smarter, or makes more money, or lives in a nice house, or thinks his is better, etc.

Assume the cop had no idea who Gates was, nor should he have given a damn. He could be an 'important' person. Or a lawabiding guy who locked himself out. Or he could be a criminal. Or he could be there against a court order to beat his wife again. He could be walking away from the cop toward a sawed-off shotgun, or to flush a couple 8-balls down the toilet.

For an educated man, who writes about race issues (sounded to me like he was looking for a fabricated incident to support the thesis), he's not a very bright guy. People get shot, or an ass whippin' for stuff like this. Not just black guys.

The bigger damage here, that the WH is trying to 'whitewash', is that Obama showed HIS prejudice, and his racism. White man bad. He really screwed up, and people noticed. The media's been soft on him, not pointing out how He and Holder haven't even prosecuted blacks (voter intimidation, etc.) Folks talked about this during the campaign, and it was poo-pooed ...  

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