Racism - So Easy A Society Can Do It
I have been debating the past few days on whether to even post something on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, MA last week while in his own home. But as the discussion continued piling in, and then as I read criticism after criticism of President Obama for speaking his mind on the situation, I felt that the thoughts in my head had become a cacophonous roar that only through writing this could I sort them
Post-racial America. Haha what a cruel and derisive joke. I think the criticism of Obama and Gates stems from the fact that people would rather ignore race. Its like bringing up the word "race" makes you an "agitator". Remember, in the 1960s, the mentality was similar - ignore the race question, give into the things you could "afford" to concede, and label black civic leaders as agitators when they didn't accept what they were"given". Well the race question did not go away then and it is not going away now.
Obama is "stupid" for commenting before the facts. What facts? The police report? Here lies the problem. The entire situation is circumstantial - he said this, he did this. Why does the officer earn society's benefit of the doubt but Gates does not? Interesting question to ponder. But my theory? Subconscious judgments on credibility are being made based on race. The only "fact" is that Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct. The progression of events between the two stories and the order of events differ beyond that. I don't believe that Gates was a perfect gentleman in the situation, but if you can be arrested for non-violent gestures and speaking your mind to an authority figure then I guess I have much to learn about this freedom of speech thing - especially after Gates was identified as the resident of the property. Yes, Gates did show his FIVE IDS according to the officer. I will not say that officer had no reason for being at the property - he followed protocol up to that point responding to a break-in - but beyond that, this situation was a matter of abuse of power because the officer got "the wrong one". This potential suspect decided to talk back and challenge the officer's judgment and authority and I guess that's a big no-no. I just don't understand - if the police officer didn't report Gates barring his way, threatening him physically, or running around in the street yelling into neighbors' houses, I do not see where this disorderly conduct charge arose from.
Gates should be happy the cops responded to a possible break-in. I know neighborhood watches are wonderful, but the bigger focus shouldn't even be on the officer. He received his info from a "passer-by" that reported two black males who appeared to be breaking in. Now like most of my points, a quick rebuttal will come in the form of a PLE (Perfectly Logical Explanation) and this is no different. I guess we should thank the passer-by for her vigilance in reporting neighborhood crime - but if it was two white males that were pushing up against the door in that neighborhood, would it have been so suspicious? My critics will tell me yes and that she would have called the cops just the same and in theory that is what should happen consistently - yet in practice...
He should have done as he was told. Oh yes, do as you are told, boy. Listen to the law, because they always have your back. I could publish an entire site on just the history of police and authority as enforcers for racial inequality since the days of the Dredd Scott case where black folks weren't even citizens with rights but were things to be owned. But I will just say that history has shown, especially within Black and Latinx communities that officers are not always officers of the peace. I am not calling all cops crooked, all incarcerations of black individuals wrongful and I am not just referring to white officers as perpetrators of unconscious biases when "fighting crime". It is racial profiling as a method to predict and prevent crimes from happening. And blacks among other minorities can find themselves being in the wrong place at the wrong time pretty often when the "law" is around.
Using the race card. What does that even mean? Gates was an opportunist looking to promote his documentary and film? He thinks he is subject to special privileges because he belongs to a class called the "black Harvard professor"? Give me a break. This returns me to what I mean when I say critics of this situation just don't get it. First, as a 58 year old man in America, do you think this is his first time dealing with racial profiling? To critics he may come off as indignant and self-righteous, but to me, I sympathize because even after all he has achieved in his life, he knows that he lacks the benefit of the doubt his credentials would normally bestow upon a figure with less melanin. Why do I sympathize? Because I have been called a "nigger" to my face as early as middle school. Because I have seen chat room posts from kids attending the same college as I saying "the coons don't belong here" and "affirmative action is the nigger's meal ticket". Because I have been "observed" by officers as my group of friends and I were saying long goodbyes in the parking lot of late-night eating spots. Because I have sat down to be served at a restaurant and had to wait 30 minutes before I was acknowledged by the waiter while they continued to serve the white family of four directly across from me. I could elaborate for days. Is everybody racist? No. But does it exist? Yes, and it exists enough to be talked about more than it does, but people get offended when you suggest a discussion about it. If "race card" is what critics want to call it, then fine. But this "card" I play is no less legitimized simply because it is seemingly "played" often. Instead, it seems this spade of a race "card" gets habitually trumped by another spade called "justified excuses." Occasionally, someone may renege by throwing a racial card when it is not meant to be, but when it comes to the essence of the game, it doesn't change the fact that a spade is a spade - and you cannot ignore it when a spade is played correctly.
Dialogue. What upsets me most is that it seems that there is this sudden spark of dialogue - such as CNN's Black in America - but even as this is airing, critics deny the problem, because I guess some situations seem too small or too ordinary to be tainted by the seeds of racism. But when the subjugation of darker people has been a storyline since the days of voyages, discoveries, conquests, and colonization, I often wonder how critics can believe that centuries of racial stratification can be erased by seeing a black president in the White House, or seeing the achievements of blacks, however great they are? Society has seen progress - but truly embodying progress means embodying the concept of consistency and accountability. This situation proves to me that as a society on race relations, there is much work to be done in spite of the progress that has been made, and the fact that some critics do not get how Gates could actually have a grievance drives it home for me.
Gates was arrested in his own home for allegedly being "disorderly." Disorderly in this case seems to be talking back to an officer. He showed his ID, so uncooperative doesn't factor into this. I respect Obama for speaking out and drawing attention to the fact that racial issues could be improved in the U.S. rather than tiptoeing around the issue, or pretending it is a local news story when the implications are clearly larger.
Because if you actually consider the fact that Gates is overreacting as valid, then his overreaction is a learned behavior fed by generations of oppression and inequality passed down from slave to sharecropper to Jim Crowe-era grandfather to unequally-treated mother to stereotyped black child. Gates's arrest is just one instance of a story that has played out all too often for the less prominent, unknown, and average black
American who is just trying to honestly get by.
Finally. a moment of sad humor. The officers in Cambridge are so quick to support Officer Crowley. The superintendent of the police department says "his actions show he is clearly not racist. He even taught a racial profiling course at Lowell Police Academy." Crowley also talked to the Boston Herald about how he gave CPR to dying black Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis back in 1993. Sounds a lot like that whole "I am not racist, I have 3 black friends" joke. Tallying up racially sensitive interactions and training does not
eliminate the fact that in the heat of the moment, racial bias played a role in how Officer Crowley "chose to take caution" and what "proper procedures" he chose.
Racism is not only donning a white hood, burning crosses in someone's yard, and yelling nigger. I think critics forget that it often comes in the most unassuming forms. But then again, I am just an "agitator", and am completely throwing reason out the window.