“This is what happens to black men in America”

Alternate title: Jesus H., Fellow White People, Shut Your Mouths and Use Your Brains for Five Minutes, Would You?

So, I can’t stop thinking about Henry Louis Gates, Jr., being arrested at his own home last week. Very short version: He got home from a trip to China, found his front door jammed, let himself in the back, and then worked with his driver (also a black man) to open the front door. A white neighbor* witnessed their efforts to unjam the door and called the police to report a suspected break-in. Cops showed up when Gates was already inside the house, and well, details are hazy — not surprisingly, the police report differs substantially from Gates’s statement — but basically, Gates produced i.d. proving it was his house, he and the cop argued, argument moved outside, and Gates got arrested on his front porch for disorderly conduct. (The charges were dropped today.)

Here’s the thing: Even if every word of the police report is gospel truth — up to and including Gates using the words “yo momma” — the man did not commit a fucking crime. And why was the officer even there long enough for the argument to escalate? How is there any possible response to proof that the resident is the man accused of “breaking in” other than, “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding, sir. Just being cautious. Have a nice day”? That’s even if the guy is being a belligerent prick about it — because I’m sorry, who wouldn’t be a belligerent prick after getting off a long flight, coming home to a jammed door, then finding a cop in your living room accusing you of trying to steal your own shit? I sure would.

There are so many layers to this story and so much we don’t know, which means lots of people are trying to be all devil’s advocatey about it and suggest that Gates bears responsibility for making matters worse. But, even without knowing all the details, I just cannot imagine a scenario in which it was legal or ethical to arrest the man. It seems to me that at the very worst, Gates acted like an asshole, which is not illegal in any state. And I simply cannot imagine how a middle-aged, academic white man in a polo shirt would have ended up in the back of a fucking squad car, short of actually taking a swing at the cop. That’s the issue here. Compare Gates to a white man of the same age, wealth and accomplishments — i.e., someone who would be viewed, without question, as having more power in this society than a white uniformed police officer  – and the idea of the cops arguing with and eventually arresting him for expressing anger at being accused of burgling his own fucking home is simply asinine.

Pam Spaulding offers a few questions for discussion:

  • Would a white professor have been subject to the same suspicion by the woman who called in the report of a break-in?
  • While a white prof wouldn’t have yelled “I’m a black man in America”, say he had said something to the effect of “is there some reason you’re standing in front of my home?” and proceeded to engage angrily in the same manner. Would he be arrested?
  • Would a white prof react as strongly to the police officer’s initial inquiry since he would not be a victim of racial profiling?
  • Did Dr. Gates’s explosion of anger in his own home warrant an arrest? Is this a manifestation of the “angry black man” phenomenon, where the lower threshold of public anger by black men is seen as more threatening than it would be for a white man?
  • Was the fact that Gates threw down the “don’t you know who I am?” card a mitigating factor?

Let’s take those one by one.

1) Maybe, maybe not, in this particular instance. This woman could be a stone cold racist or she could be a watchful neighbor who only wanted to do Gates a good turn, or anywhere in between — perhaps not consciously racist but steeped in the same racist society we all are, so she reacted more strongly to the sight of two black men trying to force the door than she would have if they’d been white. It’s possible that she only had a clear view of the driver, not Gates, and that’s why she didn’t recognize her neighbor. It’s possible she would have done the exact same thing if he had been white. It’s possible she’s already been by his house with a big plate of cookies and a heartfelt apology, and Gates has assured her it wasn’t her fault. Even if all that were true of this one woman, though, it’s hardly evidence that we live in a post-racial society — yet people keep arguing as if it matters to the big picture whether she’s a white supremacist or just Gladys Kravitz. It doesn’t. It’s really not hard to believe these two things at once: She did not necessarily do anything wrong or overtly racist, and yet we live in a racist society where white people call the cops on black people for being black all the goddamned time, which is relevant to this conversation regardless of what’s in this one person’s heart. Why are people so concerned with defending her, to the exclusion of acknowledging that Gates was a victim of racist bullying and a bullshit arrest either way?

2) No. See what I said above. I’m picturing my dad 15 years ago here — not an academic (in fact a high school drop-out), but a successful white businessman, short, medium-build, same age. Now, my dad in particular probably wouldn’t have gone ballistic — he pisses himself talking to customs agents at the U.S./Canada border — but let’s say he did. Let’s say he reacted the way, oh, his youngest daughter — who goes apeshit when asked to produce a receipt on her way out of Best Buy and would end up on a no-fly list if she were ever stupid enough to say what goes through her head while enduring the uselessly invasive pageantry of airport security  – probably would. As in, “What the fuck is this? You’re in my house with a gun, demanding to see i.d.? And now I’ve shown you i.d., and you’re still fucking treating me like a criminal instead of apologizing and getting the fuck out of MY HOUSE? I want your name and badge number. This is BULLSHIT. GET OUT.” My cute little white dad would totally not get arrested for that. The cops might not like it — nobody likes getting yelled at — but even if they wanted to put him in his place, they would think twice about the kind of connections wealthy, middle-aged white men often have, about what would happen if he sued, about whose side their superiors would be on. They would be operating in a culture where wealthy, middle-aged white men who yell a lot and berate people just trying to do their jobs are feared and fucking respected, even when they don’t have good reason for it. Which, in this case — if the officer said anything other than, “Sorry about the misunderstanding” after i.d. was produced — our imaginary white man actually would.

3) Probably not. I mean, as I indicated above, I am a white person who has big, big problems with the attitude that “If you’re not doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t mind being [searched/questioned/asked to show i.d./otherwise treated like a possible criminal].” I can rant for an hour straight about having to show i.d. to buy cough medicine. But then again, I do it. And personally, I’ve never had an unsettling encounter with a police officer — which is a function of both luck and white privilege, as well as my generally law-abiding nature — so I wouldn’t be primed to assume the worst.

So if a cop showed up in my house, I imagine I’d mostly be bewildered. As a woman, if I were alone, I’d be wondering whether he was really a cop and if I was about to be attacked by a strange man in my home. If he had his gun drawn, I’d be scared shitless. But once he explained why he was there, and it became clear that there was no physical threat, I would cease to be frightened. And that part is pure white privilege — I have no reason to be frightened of an actual cop who is actually there doing his job (as opposed to actual cops who drop by to rape you), when I’m not actually accused of anything. This is simply not true for people of color. They have a damned good reason to remain anxious, just as all women have a damned good reason to be anxious when strange men show up at their door — not because all cops are violent racists or all men are rapists, but because enough are that you can’t fucking afford to assume there’s no potential risk to your safety and/or liberty.

But given that I would indeed cease to be frightened once I realized what was going on — oh, somebody thought I was breaking into my own place, I get it — chances are, my good-hostess conditioning would overwhelm the righteous civil libertarian in me, and I’d get my i.d. without a fuss. If the officer did respond with, “OK, sorry about the misunderstanding, ma’am,” I would probably even get fucking solicitous. Oh, no problem, I understand, you’re doing your job! Better safe than sorry! This is because, as a white person, I would have no reason to assume there was anything going on beyond a simple misunderstanding. If someone called 911 because she thought I was breaking into my own place, there would be zero doubt that the color of my skin was not a factor. And if I handed the officer an i.d. showing that I’m a resident at this address, it is highly unlikely that he would push the matter any further, because one i.d. is more than enough proof for most white people to trust that this other white person is who she says she is. If it were a simple matter of a cop doing his job, based on a neighbor’s unfortunate misunderstanding, it would be over in five fucking minutes for a white person.

And if it weren’t, well, that brings us to Pam’s next question.

4) No, it did not warrant an arrest (see answer to question 1), and yes, the “Angry Black Man” phenomenon is certainly at play. And here is where a bunch of white commenters, even at blogs where I expect people to get it, are really making my head explode. As Shark-Fu puts it:

Now, here’s what always happens when a charge of racial profiling-based ig’nance is made – folks will talk about giving the officers involved the benefit of the doubt even though they didn’t give Professor Gates an inch even after he produced two forms of identification in his own damn house proving that they were all standing in his motherfucking house…other folks will blame Professor Gates for getting testy while being accused of breaking into his own damn house even though he was being hassled about whether or not he had the right to be in his own damn house which he proved was his house when he produced two forms of identification whilst standing in his own damn house…and still others will defend the officers involved no matter what evidence is revealed because they think Professor Gates was acting uppity and uppity negroes deserve the wrath of the law when they let themselves get uppity about being harassed in their own damn houses and since when do they let black folk have houses, don’t they know that makes them uppity?!?

The problem (well, one of them) is, too many white people imagine the scenario going pretty much as I described in answer 3. Cop says, “Neighbor thought you were breaking in,” you say, “Oh, ha, it’s my own house, here’s my i.d.!” and the cop apologizes and goes away. Because A) that actually is how it would be likely to happen for us, and B) the words “a neighbor thought you were breaking in” would not, in themselves, be loaded. Your first thought might be, “That’s weird,” or “Maybe she didn’t recognize me because I was wearing a hat,” or “Wow, what a fucking busybody!” But your first thought would not be, “Oh, of course she saw a white person forcing the door and assumed it was a crime in progress. Jesus Christ. Welcome home.” That would, in fact, be a completely unreasonable response for a white person, on account of how NOBODY EVER ASSUMES WHITE PEOPLE ARE CRIMINALS JUST BECAUSE WE’RE WHITE.

But if I were a black person, especially a man? You’re damn right I’d hear “Someone thought you were breaking in” differently; from the word go, the entire exchange would have a different tenor to it. And it is entirely possible I’d go from zero to righteously pissed off in that instant, the same way I do when somebody hits an anti-feminist bingo square and then gets all, “What? Why are you so angry, when all I said was [B3]?” White people need to acknowledge that even if we wouldn’t get immediately testy in that situation, there are some very good reasons why a black man would. And then we need to acknowledge that this culture routinely casts black men as criminals, as apes, as ready to kick ass or kill at a moment’s notice — so when a black man does get testy, white people will often perceive it as a direct threat and (over)react accordingly. Which, you know, doesn’t help the situation. “I would act differently, so if he got that angry that fast, he brought it on himself” is not a sufficient fucking analysis here. You would act differently because you have been treated differently your whole life.

And even if you did act like an arrogant jerk for no good reason in your own home, you would probably not get arrested for it, because that right there is part of the different treatment. This is not rocket science.

5) This one depends on whether Pam’s asking if it actually mitigated the cop’s behavior (no) or merely blurs people’s perception of who’s to blame (yes). I mean, “Do you know who I am?” is always an asshole statement, but A) if anyone’s earned the right to say it, surely it’s Professor Gates; B) as I said earlier, being an asshole is legal; and C) go back to that scenario featuring my dad in the role of the falsely accused. When we look at fiftysomething white guys in very nice houses and very nice clothes, surrounded by very nice things, we see power — or at least, potential power. We see the likelihood of friends in high places, of golfing buddies who are cutthroat lawyers, of his kid going to private school with a senator’s kid. We see entitlement. Which means we see a guy who could fuck us up — legally and financially, not physically — if we gave him reason. Gates, as it turns out, is pretty much that kind of guy — the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to arrest without a reeeeally good reason. But because he’s black, this cop didn’t think, “Hmm, I wonder if he’ll have a disproportionately  good lawyer, and this will end up all over the papers, and it’ll all be a total clusterfuck that’s so not worth the satisfaction of cuffing him to show who’s boss right this second.” However dickishly, Gates was pretty much warning him of just that outcome — an outcome anyone with half a brain could have envisioned if he did, in fact, know who the professor was. Or if the professor had been white.

Gates gave an interview to the Washington Post today that’s well worth a read. “There are one million black men in jail in this country and last Thursday I was one of them,” he says, continuing:

This is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It’s one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it. [Major snip.] I think that poor people in general and black people in general are vulnerable to the whims of rogue cops, and we all have to fight to protect the weakest among us. No matter how bad it was going to get, I knew that sooner or later I would get to a phone and one of my friends would be there to help.

That’s the thing that’s different about this story. Gates knew it was utter bullshit, knew his rights, and knew the right people to get himself out of there and make a huge stink about it. But this sort of crap and much worse happens again and again and again to black men who also know it’s bullshit but don’t have the power to do anything about it. And on the relatively rare occasion when it gets media attention, my fellow white people cling to the just world theory and scramble to explain what the guy did wrong, how he brought it on himself, how different choices would have led to a different outcome, how it’s not a matter of institutionalized racism but individual behavior.

You’d hope that this sort of example would be a wake-up call, but you’d be wrong. If I see one more person saying, “Well, if he’d just X instead of Y, none of this would have happened,” I am going to fucking lose it. A 58-year-old man who’s accomplished more than most of us could hope to in three lifetimes was arrested at his own home for being angry that a police officer walked in there and treated him like a criminal. And even liberal white people respond by saying, “Hey, it happens to us, too,” and Monday morning quarterbacking this specific instance out the wazoo, instead of acknowledging that this kind of bullying — let alone brutality — by the police is fucked up, and it waaaay disproportionately hurts people of color. The people who think “He should know better than to talk back to cops” is an appropriate response here remind me of people who insist the solution to rape is self-defense courses for women. Yeah, it’s nice to know, in theory, how to defend yourself, but the real problem is rapists — and a culture that doesn’t do nearly enough to discourage them – not victims’ lack of preparation. Here, the problem is racism and a culture that willfully ignores how deeply embedded it is in our institutions, in our expectations, and in our analysis of how just this world really is, not individuals getting angry with police officers. And every time we try to reduce an instance of police racism to an isolated incident in which “fairness” and “objectivity” somehow demand that we blame the victim, we’re contributing to that very fucking culture.

*Found out after this went up that she wasn’t a neighbor.

320 thoughts on ““This is what happens to black men in America”

  1. I don’t really have anything to say besides “holy shit, thank you for expressing this so well.” Reactions to this have been driving me spare, and I am proud to be part of a blog with this post on it. (Not that I wasn’t proud to be part of this blog before! You know what I mean.)

  2. Kate, you totally spoke the truth right there, and it was beautiful. Then again, you always do, and that’s one of the reasons why I love this blog.

    The whole situation makes me sigh heavily. :(

  3. I’ve been reading about this sh*t all day and I find it infuriating. A white man of the same perceived stature would have been told to ‘calm down sir’ if he got a little loud at the cops. A black man gets arrested, held, photographed, and threatened with being arraigned — even though any idiot should know who he is, especially if they live and work near Harvard or ever read the news. He’s 58 years old, was sick, just got off an international flight, only to find that he couldn’t get into his house. He opened the back door WITH A KEY, turned off the alarm WITH THE CODE, then he and the driver unjammed the front door. I’d be hella pissed if all that AND valid ID proving it was my damn house didn’t get the apology and QUICK RETREAT of the cop in question. Personally if I was a black man who had worked my ass off my entire life to atain the professional level of a PHD full time professor at Harvard, I’d go crazy if the cops accused me of breaking into my own house!

  4. “Well, if he’d just X instead of Y, none of this would have happened,”

    If he’d just been born white instead of black, none of this would have happened.

    Before anyone jumps, that was sarcasm. SARCASM!

  5. This whole thing is just wacky to me, outrageous as well, but also just wacky because I find it surprising that no one in the scenario recognized Dr Gates. He’s rather famous round these parts.

    I suppose he could have handled it better, but I certainly wouldn’t have. I’m with you on being utterly lousy at holding my tongue when I get pissed, even though I do acknowledge that it’s often the fastest route to actual effective action. My husband is constantly having to plead with me to not make scenes when there are less confrontational ways to get justice. Sometimes I agree, sometimes the satisfaction of watching the whole thing crash and burn is just worth it to me in some twisted way.

    One nitpick… at least one of the arresting officers was black (two were white). The pic is surely on the web by now, but local news had a picture of him being taken from the house and there was a black officer in the foreground. I can’t figure out in my own addled brain if that’s worse, better or indifferent.

    And seriously, three officers to arrest a middle aged academic? Clearly the fine officers of Cambridge need to be given something else to do with their time.

  6. Best comment on Ta-Nehesi Coates blog – a quote by Percy Sutton – “If you wake up and forget that you are Black, by the time 5 pm rolls around, someone would have reminded you.”

    And without comparing oppressions, that is an experience which sounds familiar to my ears, which may be Othered in ways that are not racial, but which are incessantly reminded of just how I am Other. I just usually don’t risk getting arrested or shot for it. (Seriously the fact that this did not end with a gun being drawn or discharged is practically a miracle.)

  7. You know what… I think I’m wrong. I found the pic and though the local news said it was three officers, now I think that the man in the foreground is probably the body guard and the third officer is out of sight. That, sadly, makes more sense.

  8. Thank you, Kate. That was wonderful. I read the (lousy) CNN.com article and thought, uh, what? mostly. Professor Gates is really rather intimidatingly accomplished/educated/brilliant. I mean, not that it would have been OK had he just been a guy who worked as a plumber or something, but it’s exaggerated because of his semi-celebrity status.

    Anyway, infuriating.

  9. Cassi – I believe the black officer in the front is a Harvard University police officer – Gates doesn’t walk around with a bodyguard. I work at Harvard and see him frequently, very nice and friendly guy.

    It was reported in the paper that at least one Harvard police officer witnessed the arrest. His home is just outside of Harvard Square and not on Harvard property so it was out of his jurisdiction. However, many students live on that street so that would respond as back up.

  10. I’m with FJ; I feel proud to be associated with this post.

    If this case doesn’t convince you that racism is a real and harmful force in America today I DO NOT KNOW WHAT WOULD. I can’t even imagine the same thing happening to the same man if he were white, because it wouldn’t. Jesus fucking Christ.

  11. I love your writing.

    I just read the interview on WaPo, and maybe it’s just me but the accompanying picture of Gates with his mouth open as if shouting just made me go “Really, WaPo, Really?” Weekend Update style. They get an interview with Gates and then feel the need to pull even more racist shit? Did anyone else feel like they were yet again playing the “angry black man” meme?

  12. Thank you for writing what I was thinking (only, obvy, not so skillfully and fully fleshed-out).

    You also made me think about, and re-envision, this incident that happened to me a couple of years ago. Short version, I (a white woman) had a horrible downstairs neighbor who was violently opposed to the idea that I could be allowed to make any noise at all. As in, I’m a preternaturally quiet neighbor (slippers-wearing, no-music-playing) and he still would find reason to bang on the ceiling and leave me vicious notes.

    One night, I’m home ironing. A knock comes on the door. It’s the cops. My neighbor had called them on me complaining of a “domestic disturbance” in my apartment. The police were very nice, they wouldn’t even come in to double-check when I said I was alone, for pete’s sake, and was only ironing clothes. And they left after ascertaining that I really didn’t need help.

    What if I had been a black man? What if I were a black man who hadn’t bothered being all nicey-nice about it to the police? Amadou Diallo? It’s unnecessary for me to go into it more, since Kate did such a great job outlining the many factors at work here. But I really shudder to think all the things that come into play when you don’t have a non-”threatening” or “neutral” persona plastered onto you by society, and people don’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

  13. You would act differently because you have been treated differently your whole life.

    Bravo for this whole post, but especially for this. I think a lot of white people don’t understand that this right here is the most basic fact about white privilege.

  14. And also, the idea that anyone who dares to “talk back to” cops, let alone get angry at them, is asking for trouble, well, that’s just a sign of creeping fascism. I don’t throw that word around lightly. The idea gaining ground in this culture that an overweening fear of/respect for authority is a good quality to have and just makes good sense–”come on, of course [some suspect] got tased, he was yelling at the cops! Why take a chance?”–is so very, very wrong.

    Again, it is not a crime. If you don’t have evidence of a real crime, and if in fact you have evidence that there has not been another crime, you shouldn’t be able to arrest someone for not acting submissive. Too much is left up to the judgment of the officer, who is liable to catastrophize your actions.

  15. I find it ironic that I read this story, about a black male professor being harrassed by prejudiced authorities, on the same day that I read about a white female professor, Brigid Kervane (http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=8113294&page=1) being harrassed by prejudice authorities. I am not trying to compare or contrast the stories in anyway, the situations and environments are so very different, but I do think a white male professor would not have been arrested in either situation.

  16. I’m glad you’re discussing this! I heard about it this morning and I could not fucking believe it.

    One little thing- the white woman who called the cops was not a neighbor- she was a passer-by. I heard on NPR that she lives in Malden. Here’s how the NPR site describes her:
    “The woman, Lucia Whalen, is the circulation and fundraising manager at Harvard Magazine, a news and alumni magazine affiliated with the school. The magazine’s offices are down the street from Gates’ home.”

    It’s a small detail, but it actually made me glad to learn that it wasn’t a neighbor who lives near Gates and who was suspicious because “black males” were entering his home.

  17. THANK YOU. I’ve been losing Sanity Watcher’s points all day because of this incident. The commentariat at NPR/other sites have really been eating at my faith in human compassion.

    What really grills my cheese is the underlying assumption that cops are honest, righteous, and unassailable. There’s this belief that the veracity of the police reports cannot be questioned. I mean, really, I can’t picture Dr. Gates (of PBS fame) saying some of the things the police reports indicated.

    But even assuming he did? So what? The police officers felt threatened by a geriatric academic and had to arrest him? Bullshit. As soon as they confirmed his ID (the FIRST time) they should’ve gotten in their little squad car and driven away. I’m just gnashing my teeth at all of the comments where Dr. Gates’ response is criticized. Way to show some fucking compassion. What really strikes me is how so many of these ostensibly un-racist people DON’T GET why this is racial profiling.

    /rant

    In summary, thank you so much for this post. It is fab.

  18. There’s this belief that the veracity of the police reports cannot be questioned.

    Yes! What the fuck? Even places that post the police account and Gates’ statement have commenters being like “didn’t you hear the white man? He was being BELLIGERENT.”

  19. Also, Lu, RE: fascism. Yeah, that’s really what it is. Gates, justifiably pissed [and possibly assholeish, but who knows], had the gumption to talk back to the police, and for that egregious violation of the sanctity of cop0ish righteousness, got arrested. In his own motherfucking home. After being accused of being a thief. After presenting ID, TWICE, when legally he only had to give his name.

    I think that any time a police officer pulls this kind of bullshit with a PoC, it’s not only racism (as if that wasn’t bad enough) but also a good hearty helping of authoritarianism. Cartman-style.

  20. Thanks

    I listen to a lot of NPR and I do not think that they gave this story much play. I hope it was not Dr. Gates next door neighbors that could not recognize him.

    William

  21. You hit the nail on the head about white perceptions of the police especially if they are middle to upper class. The assumption is that all police are honest and there to help. Basically, those people have had very little real world contact with the police.

    It seems the hero worship got worse after 9/11. We keep hearing ‘they put their lives on the line for us’. Fine. But they also have the ability to ruin people’s lives if you don’t fit the right profile.

    Because of my father’s occupation and our family background, I was raised to not trust cops. Gates reaction was reasonable from my perspective.

    BUT I am mystified by the fact people can still play the blame the victim game. For fuck’s sake. The Black Panthers were founded to combat police violence in black neighborhoods. Cases of police brutality have been widely publicized. How on earth can a thinking, reasoning person not know that black men have a reason to be scared of the cops?

  22. THANK YOU! I needed to see this perspective coming from a white person. My black self and my husband had a bit of a debate as to whether Prof. Gates was a victim of racial profiling, or if he “brought it upon himself” by the way he spoke to the police.

  23. Swell, that was going to be my question — the neighbor doesn’t know that the occupant of the house IS a Black man? (Especially the type of racist to automatically assume a Black man is Up To No Good.)

    Because they fear teh gay is contagious, I don’t know most of my neighbors all that well. I probably wouldn’t recognize them at the grocery store, but I do know vague demographics (age/gender/race/basic body composition for many) so that if I see a younger Brown guy struggling with the door at the corner or an old white guy next door or an short white woman across the street, I can be pretty sure they are the people who live there.

    This whole thing just….makes me speechlessly furious.

    Thanks for the great post, as always.

  24. THANK YOU. The commentary on the news sites on this issue has been raising my blood pressure all day.

  25. Thanks for this! I have to say, even though I agree that “Do you know who I am?” is pretty obnoxious (and of course we don’t know if he said it), I’m glad he *did* respond to the harassment instead of being polite.

    What killed me was that on the ‘liberal’ blog I was reading people were concern trolling by saying “it’s dangerous for Black people to talk to cops that way!” As if someone who’s studied Black history their whole life wouldn’t know that. It’s possible that Gates, intentionally or otherwise, used his *relative* privilege to his service, taking a risk that would be much more dangerous for many African-Americans. As a result, maybe, just maybe, some cop will think twice before pulling this shit again.

    Whether or not he was ‘obnoxious,’ folks should be thanking him for performing a public service, not fucking second guessing his every move, as if they know what they’d do in that situation – which, as the post points out, as white people they will never be in. That’s right – as a white person you might get harassed, but it’s not the same fucking situation.

    Grr.

  26. There’s no way to look at this situation and not get upset. It’s true that there’s almost no chance that this would happen to a white man, but even with out the race issue, what right did they have to arrest him?!

    I don’t care what anybody says to a cop with the exception of a death threat, or other threat of physical violence, if you aren’t guilty of another crime, AND you’re in your own fucking yard? They have no right to arrest you. We have freedom of speech in this country, and we also have property rights, both of which should have made this arrest impossible. White or black, once it’s clear there’s no crime the cops need to get the fuck off the property.

    Beautifully written commentary, by the way.

  27. even with out the race issue, what right did they have to arrest him?!

    Part of the point of the post is that without “the race issue,” they wouldn’t have.

    I know it’s a tempting approach to try to pretend like race is immaterial and can be ignored, if you’re white and your race is actually not something you’re forced to be aware of every day. But there is no “without the race issue” here. We have to face up to the role race played in this arrest, even if it’s uncomfortable.

  28. This story pissed me off so much when I first read it last night that I ended up lying in bed ranting about it in my head instead of sleeping. So thank you, Kate, for articulating it so well.

    And YES, FJ. I read that police report, and immediately judged it to be transparently self-serving bullshit. Yeah, right, that’s *exactly* how it went down, mmm-hmm, sure, officer.

    Though I will admit to a bit of a squee when I read in that WaPo article that it has inspired Gates to make a documentary about how the police treat blacks and the poor. Was that wrong of me?

  29. Thank you, Kate! This is the far more articulate version of the blind fury that’s been boiling in my gut all day.

    Mr. Twistie isn’t even black (he’s mixed white and Asian, but has been mistaken for literally every ethnicity on the planet that isn’t white and isn’t black), but he’s faced nearly this level of police harassment on several occasions. Once when he was driving home from a show at a local club, he was stopped by a cop. Why? The cop thought the car MIGHT be stolen. Mr. Twistie asked him if he had run the plates. Yes. Did it come up as a stolen vehicle? No. Mr. Twistie asked why, then, he’d been stopped. Here’s what the cop said: ‘Because you looked like a…but now that I see how you’re dressed, I can tell you’re a law-abiding citizen.’

    Yeah. ‘Cause nobody in a white collar could be a criminal.

    And nobody ethnic had any business driving a classic Mustang, apparently.

    Good thing he didn’t get too ‘uppity’, or I might still be visiting him in prison for driving his own damn car.

  30. I’m starting as a public defender in the fall (well, assuming I pass the bar exam next week), and I want to print this post out and tape it on my walls to remind my why I’ve chosen to go into this work. Thank you for summing up what I’ve been trying to put words to since the story broke. I am so mad and fired up, and I wish it was September already.

  31. Oh Twistie, that reminds me of the story of Miles Davis getting arrested in NY for driving his own car… I believe it was a Lamborghini or perhaps a Ferrari. Of course it was also probably 1960-something. But just recently, a few miles west of this arrest was a sports figure (sorry, I don’t follow sports, but he was a prominent athlete on a Boston team) pulled over in the town he lived in for driving his own car. But how could a black man possibly afford to live THERE and drive THAT?

    And to Ailibele, really that’s the kicker isn’t it? THERE WAS NO CRIME! Standing in one’s own yard making a commotion at people who should not be on your property is NOT disorderly conduct!

    And am I the only one suspicious of that charge? Because to me the fact that the charge was “disorderly” NOT “resisting arrest” means that, despite their report, the police were already convinced that no other crime had been committed. So, if they already knew it was his house and they were wrong… well, we’re right back to “this is what happens to black men in America”.

    @Pendulous, yeah… I was simultaneously writing another post elsewhere involving body guards and spotted my mistake (either that or my boston irish is showing, god knows it’s a daily fight).

    And as a local, I have to say the saddest part for me is that this happened in Cambridge. To Bostonians, Cambridge is supposed to be the bastion of all things left wing. Racism is EVERYWHERE. Even in academic hotbeds of liberalism.

  32. “Well, if he’d just X instead of Y, none of this would have happened,”

    Well, if the cop had just given Dr. Gates his name and badge number instead of being a jagoff, none of this would have happened.

  33. Thank you. I was afraid to read the comments, so this thank you is for EVERY shapeling.

    This shit happens all over the country to all sorts of (dark skinned) people – a prominent local pastor got arrested here for driving too nice of a car a few years ago, and I’ve known people who had crazily out-of-whack police responses done to them (police execute a no-knock warrant on an empty house, break down all the doors, looking for…a few hundred dollars of stolen bike parts allegedly stolen by the ex-husband of the owner, for example. Firebombing a house on a no-knock warrant…and it turns out to be the wrong address anyway. Or, famously, a few years ago they executed a no-knock warrant on a Vietnam war vet who locked his kids in the back bedroom and shot back, wounding one of the cops who had executed the warrant on the wrong address. Officer got a medal.)

    On top of racism, creeping fascism is exactly what is it.

  34. I hope there’ll be a post about Obama’s pick for surgeon general soon!

    Seriously, Kate! Stop posting brilliant, insightful, and important stuff on your own blog; it pushes the post about the surgeon general pick all the way to the bottom of the page, where people have to scroll to find it! THAT IS HARD.

  35. part of me hopes the diminutive, bespectacled academic uttered something as awesome as “yo mama.” The thought delights me, however improbable–and I certainly don’t buy the police report as an unbiased account.

    meanwhile, if he’d been poor and they’d been in a lousy neighborhood, he really could have been shot. And the chances are damn good he’d still be in jail. What I love about Gates is that he gets that. I thought his interview in the post was great. I loved the way he turned from this experience right to his own research, past and future. I have even more respect for him now that I did before.

  36. This whole situation hits a little close to home for me, since I’m a grad student at Harvard and a Boston native.

    Kate, I agree with everything you’ve said. Everything. The one additional thing that’s bothered me from the beginning that I don’t think you mentioned is why did the woman call the cops on her own neighbor? Does this woman not know her own neighbors? A lot of the blame for everything that happened is on her head.

    Finally, I’m glad not to have seen it here (since I have among my friends, especially those who are Southern by birth), but I truly hope that I don’t see or hear any bullshit about how “oh look! Northerners can be racist, too!” There are racist people everywhere and anyone who grew up in Boston should know that we don’t have a particularly stellar record when it comes to race relations. Things are better than they used to be, but it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do.

  37. FJ, FTW.

    I’ve been pissed as all hell since this happened. I have no love for the police despite having several family members and some friends on various forces. I see them as petulant thugs with guns and attitude. And they are somehow never wrong! How amazing! It’s ALWAYS the fault of the victim.

    I’d be feeling pretty stupid right now if I was any of these cops.

  38. FJ, FTW.

    Tea Paladin said it first. :) (Along with the rather delightful expression “what really grills my cheese.”)

  39. Does this woman not know her own neighbors? A lot of the blame for everything that happened is on her head.

    Woah a second. First of all, as Swellanor posted above, apparently the woman didn’t lived there — she just worked on the street, which makes her failure to recognise Gates as the rightful occupant a bit more understandable.

    Second, while racism very very probably played a part in her willingness to phone the police on two black men trying to force open a front door, she might very well have done it on any two men she saw engaged in that behaviour. I probably would have, and I’ll tell you why: because I would assume that if it turned out to be a mistake, the homeowner would show some id, they’d all have a jolly good laugh, and off the cops would go, so better safe than sorry. Her/my white privlege is showing.

    This woman called the cops because she thought she saw some suspicious behaviour. Her racism is up for debate. But if three non-racist cops had shown up we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. She is not the problem. Gates is not the problem. Fucking racist cops are the problem and trying to shift the blame to this passer-by just adds to the theory that their handling of this situtation was anything other than unwarranted, racist, and flat-out outrageous.

    Even places that post the police account and Gates’ statement have commenters being like “didn’t you hear the white man? He was being BELLIGERENT.”

    Newsflash: I will be as belligerent as I fucking like to police officers who are TRESPASSING IN MY HOME and WILL NOT LEAVE even though they have NO REASONABLE CAUSE TO THINK A CRIME IS BEING COMMITTED. (Particularly if I’m 58 years old and just off a plane from China, for the love of god, as which point my Patience For This Bullshit would be at a steady 0.) The differerence is, obviously, that I would not be arrested.

  40. why did the woman call the cops on her own neighbor? Does this woman not know her own neighbors? A lot of the blame for everything that happened is on her head.

    The WaPo interview w/Gates goes into this — the woman was walking by when she saw Gates and his driver pushing in his front door. She has an office near his house. Gates has no problem with the woman and is grateful that someone who thought his property was being robbed took the time to notify the authorities. It’s the “authorities” that gave him problems.

  41. Wonkette is being very funny about the sorta-neighbor: “The point is, you have to feel pretty bad for this woman who probably feels pretty bad herself about setting off this whole awful incident. Because really, you do not want to be the person who dropped a dime on the charming and treasured Harvard professor who rides his adorable red tricycle around Martha’s Vineyard and hangs out with Oprah.”

    (Don’t read comments there, as though that wasn’t what this whole post is about.)

  42. Thanks for the clarification. Frankly, most articles detailed enough to include that information are too long to read as closely as I’d have liked to.

  43. What the flying fuck?! Last I checked, it is not illegal to yell at a cop! Especially if said cop is trespassing on your property! I mean, once that police officer saw his ID, he should’ve ended it with “I’m very sorry for taking up your time, sir. Here is my name and badge number, as you requested,” walked out, and reported the whole deal as a false alarm.

    Sounds to me like that cop was just pissed that this black man dared to speak up, dared to be audibly angry at the Faithful Servant of the State TM, and convinced himself that Yelling While Black was “disorderly conduct”. Because black folks aren’t supposed to yell, duh! They’re supposed to roll over and show their bellies no matter what the Faithful Servant of the State TM says or does, and if they don’t, obviously they are criminals!

    Thank you for the post, Kate.

  44. I’ve been on the other side, being screamed at, when trying to do my job. It’s hard not to lose your cool. I think cops are human too. Maybe it wasn’t a matter of black versus white, but dick professor versus dick cop.

  45. Yeah, I wonder how many white Harvard professors are so gosh-golly-gee-whiz modest that they wouldn’t get all huffy about being accused of being burglars in their own homes suffering from 24-hour jet lag, even after showing proper ID. Newsflash: You don’t get to be a Harvard professor without having a certain amount of hubris. And that goes double if you’re black and hence have to be twice as good as your white competitors to even be considered.

    I love how white people think this couldn’t possibly happen to them just because they are that awesome.

  46. This quote from Professor Gates stands out to me: “I think that poor people in general and black people in general are vulnerable to the whims of rogue cops, and we all have to fight to protect the weakest among us.”

  47. This is fab.

    Re: There’s this belief that the veracity of the police reports cannot be questioned.

    Oh yes. I worked in an education unit of a prison for a while. A year of reading the varied (sometimes rather widely varied) reports of the same incident, written by officers, hearing the same incident discussed by staff, and hearing about from the POV of an inmate… don’t trust the report to do much more than CHOA (cover his/her own ass) for the writer, is all I’m saying. And even then…

    Also, when I first read the news story at the Boston Globe, I thought it was evident that the uniformed finest of Cambridge, MA clearly didn’t see The Wire, Season Four. There’s an episode wherein Officer Herc Hauk arrests a Black minister because clearly a Black guy putting a briefcase in a fancy car in Baltimore can’t be anything OTHER than a drug dealer. Right?

    C’mon, Cambridge PD. When David Simon has beat you to the punch and written an episode of The Wire using your tricks, you KNOW you’re engaging in some serious, archetypical, dubious, racist assumption-making.

    I mean, if you hadn’t figured it out already, what with the TWO FORMS OF ID and all. (Also, why do I have a sneaking suspicion there were probably all kinds of other clues lying around indicating the guy was in his own house. Like, I dunno, luggage. And house keys. And the fact that he answered the door. AND TWO FORMS OF ID FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.)

  48. I think cops are human too. Maybe it wasn’t a matter of black versus white, but dick professor versus dick cop.

    Being a dick isn’t something a white person usually gets arrested for, Cassie. Especially not while standing in his own home having presented ID that it is his own home.

    And Harvard or no, an older black man facing down a cop has very limited power in that situation, and he knew it. The cop had the power in that situation and he fucking knew it. Being a private citizen and being an asshole, you can’t harm anyone. Being a cop and being an asshole puts you in a position of abuse. You can’t equate the two as if the same standard of behavior applies.

    DRST

  49. Great analysis, particularly with regards to how privilege changes the perception of issues like this.

    Regarding point #5, my first thought on seeing this story was “doesn’t that cop watch PBS? That guy is totally famous”, so the “don’t you know who I am” remark doesn’t seem that assholish to me. Just goes to show that even someone who is on tv as a respected authority is still subject to this crap.

  50. White people need to acknowledge that even if we wouldn’t get immediately testy in that situation, there are some very good reasons why a black man would. And then we need to acknowledge that this culture routinely casts black men as criminals, as apes, as ready to kick ass or kill at a moment’s notice — so when a black man does get testy, white people will often perceive it as a direct threat and (over)react accordingly.

    Additionally, even if a black man doesn’t get testy he is more likely to be perceived as testy. And since stereotypes activate behavior, white police officers (and pretty much any other white person) will be more likely to act aggressively themselves when confronting a black man compared to confronting a white man – possibly without being aware of it. Which in turn will make a black man more likely to get pissed off (and since they might not be aware of having behaved in a way that pissed him of, the police officers might think he got testy without a reason).

    For me, this is a another reason why we (= humans) need to acknowledge that we internalize stereotypes to the degree that they influence our behavior unconciously. That’s a very uncomfortable thing to admit, but in order to truly work on any kind of discrimination we first have to acknowledge that we often engage in it without noticing.

  51. If the jetlagged and stressed professor decided that he was tired of being Black In America and that he would deliberately leave his restraint at the boundary of his own property because provoking the officers into making an illegal and obviously racist arrest would raise awareness… I admire him even more. I wonder whether he could think clearly enough to decide that at the time, or whether it all just fell out in an unplanned way. Either way, I suspect it may be useful.

    Starting with the firing of two racist cops, natch.

  52. Cassie the ‘dick cop’ had a gun. The ‘dick professor’ didn’t. The one with a gun has more responsibility to control their temper in altercations with the public.

  53. Ugh, what a horrible story.

    I can say, hand on heart, that if I saw two white men trying to jemmy open a door and I didn’t recognise them I’d phone the police, so I don’t know if racism did play a part in the neighbour/worker’s decision to phone the police or not.

    I can also say that here in the UK police officers regularly start out arresting people for one thing and then end up dropping that thing but arresting and charging for something like public order offences or assaulting a PC or something similar.

    So I don’t know how much of this is down to racism and how much of it is down to police megalomania, if I’m honest.

    All I can say is that this guy did absolutely nothing wrong, was treated very badly, and it’s a travesty that a respectable householder now runs the risk of being further arrested if he dares to show his anger at being humiliated by the police on his own porch in front of the whole street.

  54. My older son has been a police officer for ten years &, while I love my son, I have to say that these years in police work have brought out all his worst qualities, to the point where I wouldn’t want to drop a gum wrapper in his jurisdiction. He has gone from thinking he was supposed to act like a father to his younger brother to thinking that he has a right to act like MY father & as if he has all the answers to everyone in the world. And I have seen how much general contempt he has toward the people he meets in the line of duty. (For one thing, even though he has grown up with me involved in fat activism, he still believes that most fat people are lazy & gluttonous & that the fat people he sees around Portland riding scooters ‘disabled themselves by stuffing their faces until they couldn’t move under their own power.’) So, yes, I am afraid that we are often dealing with arrogant, self-absorbed dicks with a God complex who have been equipped with a gun. Well, it’s nice to know we’re being protected.

  55. Did people responding here actually read the police report? According to the report, Gates initially refused to provide his ID, the policeman tried to give his badge number and name, but Gates interrupted him and would not let him finish, and the police officer tried to leave, but Gates followed him outside, hectoring him. There are two different accounts here, and we just don’t know which one is true. Why is it more OK to automatically assume the police are lying? I’m not saying that what happened to Professor Gates is OK. I’m saying that there are differing accounts, and none of us was there. We don’t know what happened. Kate has given us a lot to think about and I thank her for it, but to assume that the Harvard professor is telling the truth and the cop is lying shows class bias.
    Also, in hindsight, it’s very easy to blame the person who called the police, but she saw two people who were clearly trying to break into the house. If she hadn’t called and Gates had been robbed, we could all start wringing our hands over how terrible it is that no one wants to get involved.

  56. What bothers me most about this situation is that the police were called by Mr. Gates neighbor. It’s a sad fact that many of us, myself included, don’t get to know out neighbors like we should. If she and Mr. Gates were on a first name basis and not strangers she would’ve recognized him on sight and perhaps have lent him a hand to get his door open.

    We all need to get to know our neighbors better!

  57. Wow, I’m truly stunned, Kate. You are the first white person I’ve ever “read” that freaking truly gets it!

    Thank you

  58. Once I was sitting in a park a little outside of downtown San Diego drinking a can of soda and enjoying the company of a friend, when a police officer drove up on the grass and over to me. (I’m a black female and so was the friend). There were plenty people in the little part but we were the only “blacks”. Anyway, this tall white officer got out his car and strolled up to us and said “I’ve had a report you two are drinking, can I see some id?”

    I said “When you find some alcohol I’ll show you my id”. My friend was already reaching for her id. His face twisted, and he started to look around for something, anything to fuck with us. He took my friends id and handed it back. Then he asked if my backpack was my backpack. “Let me see inside.” he ordered. I said “when you have a search warrant you can look inside.” His face turned red…yes, I was cuffed and stuffed into the back of the squad car. He searched my backpack as I sat cuffed in the back seat, when he was satisfied there was no booze he snatched me out of the back seat, uncuffed me and a said “there is no drinking allowed in this park.” A crowd had gathered and I could see them thinking “what did she do?” Of course I was embarrassed for being in the police car in cuffs.

    Maybe I should have given him my id but I couldn’t help myself, I was angry from the moment I seen him driving toward us. I knew, like many people of color knows, we were about to be fucked with. I’ve had about 8 of these type of things happen in my lifetime. My crime “living while black”. I’m a black women I know it’s 5 times worse for black guys. I only ended up in a squad car twice, once being taking down to the station, I didn’t even get smart that time.

  59. For me, this is a another reason why we (= humans) need to acknowledge that we internalize stereotypes to the degree that they influence our behavior unconciously. That’s a very uncomfortable thing to admit, but in order to truly work on any kind of discrimination we first have to acknowledge that we often engage in it without noticing.

    Totally. Excellent points in that whole comment, Sannanina. Thanks for that.

  60. I’ve been on the other side, being screamed at, when trying to do my job. It’s hard not to lose your cool. I think cops are human too. Maybe it wasn’t a matter of black versus white, but dick professor versus dick cop.

    Not losing your cool is part of the job training and job description. Police officers have to do many things as part of their job that are likely to result in other people yelling and acting unhappy/defensive/angry. If they can’t handle it with a cool head, that is the wrong line of work.

  61. Yes, thank you for putting into words every single point I was thinking of (and in almost exactly the same words!).

    What I’m seeing is people slamming their hands tight over their ears and eyes and minds, and screaming “la la la, I can’t hear youuuuuuu, because racism makes me uncomfortable, and I want to go back to pretending it doesn’t exist”, and totally ignoring their privilege in being able to actually pretend it doesn’t exist.

    I hope this poor man sues. Police work tends to attract the kind of person who enjoys wielding inappropriate power over others (I have also seen this in the anecdotes about the guards my husband tells from his years as a captain at a county jail).

    White middle class people simply do not have the same experience of police authority that other people do, but they refuse to acknowledge it.

  62. …I should add the qualifier that I don’t think all or even most of the people who go into police work are doing so to get power, but that the nature of the power given by the job attracts people who want to mis-use it.

  63. Did people responding here actually read the police report?

    Diane, I approved your comment because it’s exactly what I’m talking about, but if you want to keep commenting here, you’re not going to want to pursue this argument.

    My question to you: Did you actually read the post? Like the part where I said,

    Even if every word of the police report is gospel truth — up to and including Gates using the words “yo momma” — the man did not commit a fucking crime.

    It’s not about believing Gates over the officer — though yes, I am inclined to, not because of class bias (nice try) but because this fits well with a long pattern of police playing CYA when it comes to racist bullying — but about the fact that even if you believe every word the officer says, there was no good reason to arrest the man.

    Also, did you read the part where I said that the woman who called the police may very well have been a decent person trying to do the right thing, but in the big picture it doesn’t matter? Because — and this is kind of the whole point of the post — the larger issue here is not just about this specific incident but about patterns of racism that too many white people stubbornly refuse to see? Including white people reporting “suspicious behavior” that often amounts to “I saw a black person where I didn’t expect to see one” — even if that’s not what happened here?

    Seriously, I write like 1500 words on why it’s bullshit for white people to focus on the outside possibility that this particular incident wasn’t about race, to the exclusion of acknowledging how it fits into a screamingly fucking obvious pattern that hurts people of color every day in this country, and your response is to say, “Hey, why are you automatically believing the black guy? Why don’t we give the officer the benefit of the doubt?” COME ON. Go read that quote from Shark-Fu again. And if you don’t have anything to contribute besides, “Well, but I don’t think we can make a judgment call without having been there,” don’t fucking bother, because I’ll ban you.

  64. This entire incident was totally appalling, and your analysis of it is spot-on, as usual. Although it’s easy to ask, “HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN OMG” it really is an unsurprising reality of not just racial profiling, but the incredible obtuseness of the police. The more I read about things like this, and the more I’ve experienced with police officers, it’s as if they’re getting their training on race relations from bad action movies and nightly news and any other place you’d find glaring racial stereotypes. You’d think that when you have a job that involves dealing with varied populations, you’d be required to learn a little about sociology and the evolving nature of communities, right? Of course not.

    Case in point: last year I lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was largely black, with a few young professional white people scattered through and even more coming due to the relatively cheap rent, that had at one point been a serious danger zone. One night I was actually attacked at gunpoint right in front of my apartment. When I went to file a report with two detectives at the PD, after they totally blamed me for being a woman and having the audacity to be out by myself wearing pants and a shirt at barely nine o’clock on a Friday (of course), one of them (the white one) actually asked me, “Why do you live here? How come you don’t live in Park Slope [extremely yuppie, very expensive and yes, largely white neighborhood in Brooklyn]?” Subtext: “You’re white, why wouldn’t you just live with other white people?”

    To which I was like, “Dude, look around- I am hardly the only white person in my age group who lives here. None of us can afford Park Slope.” “What? Why?” he asked. And I found myself not only revealing my annual income to these police officers (to which they were like, “WHOA, REALLY?! That’s ALL you make?!”), but giving them a talk about gentrification and how that works and how even Park Slope at one point was a total slum that got revitalized when young white professionals moved there because of the cheaper rent. They literally had never thought about that, but they still went out of their way to tell me that’s not really how it is, I should live in Park Slope so this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

    So sadly, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that the Boston police could be so baffled by the idea of a black professor living in a well-to-do mostly white neighborhood, and treat him like some kind of outlaw even after he proved it was his house, because that’s all they know how to do when it comes to black people. If they had to actually learn anything about the communities they serve, well, the power trip wouldn’t be as much fun.

  65. I dunno if anyone has mentioned it, but if some middle-aged black guy in Cambridge showed me an ID with a picture that looked like him and a name on it that said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., he wouldn’t have to ask me if I knew who I was. Cause I would. He’s not exactly a nobody, but I guess certain white cops don’t read enough good books about black people. You know, cause the oppressed class has to know a lot about the oppressing class, but not vice versa.

    I mean, fuck, not having heard of him? That cop should have known who he was.

  66. Oh, thank goodness, you broke it down so I don’t have to. Now I can just point people at this instead of going off on a less-well-organized (and less hyperlinked!) rant. I suppose I should count myself lucky that I spend so much of my time in feminist/progressive circles that the first I heard of this was a link of Facebook, titled “There is absolutely no way this isn’t racist bullshit.”

  67. Fatsmartchick wrote:
    “Cassie the ‘dick cop’ had a gun. The ‘dick professor’ didn’t. The one with a gun has more responsibility to control their temper in altercations with the public.”

    This is an extremely important point. It’s really easy to put one’s self in the cops shoes and feel the desire to save face, but that is EXACTLY what police are NOT supposed to do. They are there to represent the law, not their own prejudice. And if they don’t know or acknowledge that their prejudice is there, then they can’t separate the two. Giving power (in this case authority and a gun) to people who don’t seem to have any clear understanding of their own motivations, is a very very dangerous situation for all of us.

    Btw, Cassie with an E is a different person from me, Cassi with no E.

  68. “Do you know who I am?” seems like a perfectly reasonable response if you’re a local celebrity being harassed for the capital crime of occupying your own home while in possession of the ID to prove it.

  69. With others, I’ll say “thank you” for this post. The investment of white readers in finding reasons why this just couldn’t possibly have been about the racial profiling has had my head in a constant state of SPLAT all week. Even if postings like that by, say, Diane were all absolutely correct, it doesn’t change the pattern of police harassment of people of color. Even if any one incident were proven to have no racial connections whatsoever (though it’s hard to see how this could be), it doesn’t mean the pattern doesn’t exist or isn’t a huge problem.

    In unrelated news, I was interested to see this article (URL below) in the NYT yesterday, and wondered if you all were going to address it. It’s an interesting shift from BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA to slightly less booga-booga-booga. Health care professionals actually modify the phrase “obesity epidemic” with “so-called,” and while no one says, “shit, diets don’t actually work,” they ALL acknowledge that that get-thin thing is anything but easy. Interesting. Maybe it signals an incremental alteration in the standard coverage. Maybe if water drips on rock long enough, the rock really does start to erode.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/health/21klas.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

  70. For me, this is a another reason why we (= humans) need to acknowledge that we internalize stereotypes to the degree that they influence our behavior unconciously. That’s a very uncomfortable thing to admit, but in order to truly work on any kind of discrimination we first have to acknowledge that we often engage in it without noticing.

    Excellent point with real life impact.

    Eight years ago I served on a Federal Jury in DC. The defendant was a young African-American man being tried in Federal court under the 3 Strikes statute. We were not told of his previous crimes and were told repeatedly that neither his crimes nor potential sentence were to impact our deliberation. This crime and this crime only.

    The jury was mixed in age, race and gender but predominately African-American which well follows the demographics of DC. During the many breaks when the jurors spent endless time sitting in a windowless room together we got to know each other a bit. When deliberations began it was very clear that all the jurors believed that the police officer who gave the preponderance of the testimony against the defendant was lying. And not just shading the truth, LYING, making things up and covering his ass. Without this testimony there simply was no case.

    When the time came to go around the room and vote a young, white woman who had been in DC about a year pronounced the defendant guilty. The room was stunned. She very calmly explained that even though she realized the police officer was lying that there had to be a good reason. And since the cop and the defendant were both black there would be no racism involved therefore the man must be guilty of something This last line so breezily stated here she was a white women in a DC jury pronouncing where racism could and could not be. Stating cops would only lie for good reasons and having absolutely no idea how absurd she sounded.

    I have to say as the only other young, white women in the room I was mortified. The guy next to me whispered “Is she serious.” I kind of gulped an “I think?” Really it was beyond troubling. Fortunately, there was an older, white attorney on the jury that she would completely listen to and he was able to show her that her duty was to vote guilty only if it was beyond a reasonable doubt. That the entirety of the damning testimony was a lie would have to be reasonable doubt. Thinking the defendant was a bad guy was not enough. She voted not-guilty but was not convinced at all that the cop did the wrong thing by lying.

    This experience was a true eye opener for me. My own prejudices and preconceived notions of people living in urban areas was challenged. And while I knew that police often engaged in CYA I had no idea that blatant lying during a trial was so blithely tolerated. I can only imagine if this trial took place in another part of the country the outcome may have been different. And while I realized there was distrust of police of all races in certain DC neighborhoods seeing this play out in when the stakes were so high was remarkable.

    The inability of this juror to see fault with the police is echoed in some posts here and an enormous amount of posts on other sites. But the Professor was being a “dick”, but we have not seen both sides, but I am sure this would have happen if both parties had been white. No, no and no police have the power, they can arrest you, shoot your dogs, put you in jail and testify against you in a court of law. It is their responsibility to be calm, professional and make good decisions.

  71. Dang! I tried to HTML I really did. I put what I thought were italics tags around the quote. Clearly, I am a dolt. Back to Google for a different set of HTML directions.

  72. Sigh.

    Did people responding here actually read the police report?

    Um, yes? But wait…. you think the answer is no? Gosh, it seems we have two rival accounts here. And we just don’t know which is true. What to do, what to do?

    Ah.

    According to the report, Gates initially refused to provide his ID, the policeman tried to give his badge number and name, but Gates interrupted him and would not let him finish, and the police officer tried to leave, but Gates followed him outside, hectoring him. There are two different accounts here, and we just don’t know which one is true.

    Quite right. Therefore, whenever there’s any uncertainty whatsoever — whenever one has not personally witnessed something – you should EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER raise the possibility of system-wide patterns of racism.

    Hear that, everyone? Unless you directly observe something so blatant as “n-word, go home!” you are JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS if you bring up race!

    Now, of course, if you do see something as blatant as “n-word go home!” then, well, just wait two seconds for a white person to protest that’s the action of a few reprobates with bad individual intentions, see, and not at all reflective of systemic problems.

    Also, presumably, that’s not to say that it’s always off-base to pronounce authoritatively on OTHER things that one has not directly witnessed. Like what people may have read or not read in forming their opinions on a recent news item, for example.

    Hell, my demographic group of nice middle-class white straight ladies in particular seems as a group to have a fucking LOT to say about what other people’s lives are like — people whose lives we have not directly observed — and are pretty sure that many problems in the world only need a Nice White Lady to swoop in and fix them.

    Which is leaving aside the issue of White straight MEN, who just naturally know what everyone should do about everything, because they’re neutral and their judgment is unclouded by being any specific type of person.

    So, to recap:

    1. If you want to suggest that racism’s a factor? You’d better have witnessed an incident so blatant that there is no possible other interpretation.
    2. If you DO witness an incident where there’s no possible rival interpretation then that’s just about somebody being a subhuman racist bad person. Not like nice white people, who aren’t racists.
    3. But that’s not to say that it’s not sometimes fine to speculate wildly about OTHER things that people might or might not know, or their motivations, or what they’ve read. Just not when doing so might suggest this culture has a fucking problem with racism.

    Well, I see we’ve got all we need to effectively squelch any criticism of systemic racism in this country. Huzzah! That means there’s no problem, right? If we can’t criticize it? It’s gone away?

  73. klynn: gah. I’m sorry you got such bad hassle. My (white) bro was cuffed and “introduced to the hood of his car” as he put it once when he didn’t do anything wrong. He said afterwards, “I feel really lucky to be white, because if I had been male and a minority I can see staring down the barrel of that guy’s gun having gone the wrong way really easily.” It’s an awful reality when a guy can say that about encountering St. Paul PD.

    Amy How: That is an excellent and chilling and awful example of prejudice influencing decision making.

    I catch myself doing something prejudiced and harmful sometimes and wonder how many times I have done something prejudiced and harmful and I didn’t notice and neither did anyone else except the person it affected.

  74. Kate, I thought your essay was astute and on target. I was responding mostly to the comments of others here when I asked whether people read the police report. The same goes for the woman who called the police. I think you’re right about patterns of racism in this country, and I’m grateful to you for writing this essay. I didn’t think I was out of line and am surprised that you’re threatening to ban me. But it’s your website, and you have the right to keep my comments off of it if you don’t like my point of view. Frankly, I would prefer it if you’d just delete my post at this point. I respect you, and I’m surprised by your attack.

  75. Excellent post, Kate.

    I teach grad students. I recently had an older, white, female detective in my class. She totally did not understand that she held racist views. I had to talk to her for over an hour in my office to help her start understanding that she behaved in a racist way toward two black students in class. She was under the assumption that “all black people use race as an excuse.” I was tearing out my hair in frustration. This is a woman who carries a gun and posseses real power over others.

  76. I respect you, and I’m surprised by your attack.

    You should maybe go back and read the post, your comment, and Kate’s comment in response a little more carefully, then. I can’t imagine it being spelled out any more clearly.

    By the way, deleting comments because you got your ass on your shoulders and feel embarrassed about it is the privilege of the bloggers here — you’re welcome to try for the position, though I can’t say I like your chances. Deleting comments because you got your ass on your shoulders and someone called you out for it is unprecedented and not going to start now. Own it.

  77. Diane, I am so confused now.

    Well, someone’s confused.

    She was under the assumption that “all black people use race as an excuse.”

    Oh, the mythical Race Card. You know, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a documentable instance of someone “pulling the race card,” but I see people pull the Race Card card all the goddamn time. It’s just a new way of silencing people — when whatever version of “I don’t care what you say because you’re a POC” you’re employing fails, you fall back on the slightly more distanced “I don’t care what you say because you’re only saying it because you’re a POC.”

  78. It’s just a new way of silencing people — when whatever version of “I don’t care what you say because you’re a POC” you’re employing fails, you fall back on the slightly more distanced “I don’t care what you say because you’re only saying it because you’re a POC.”

    It’s not a new thing, it’s been around for decades. And I always wonder what the hell they want me to be because I’m a POC— oh, that’s right, SILENT and in a janitor’s uniform.

  79. As my Dad said last night when we were talking about this:

    “This kind of shit is why God still drinks.”

  80. Thank you so much for putting my basic thoughts out there in a much more organized fashion. I’m sad to say that when I posted this to my facebook I got accounts of how it Gates was clearly being a bigot and how he shouldn’t have yelled at the cops. Oh, and how Gates had a chip in his shoulder. I was dumbfounded, and then spent the rest of the day in a blue funk.

    Seriously? The black man has a chip in his shoulder because he is black, but not because the cops wouldn’t leave after being shown two forms of id, who then call back up, and then get him outside where he is arrested for a totally bogus charge? Not to mention the trotting out of the “angry black man (and African-American studies professor)” trope. Gah.

  81. I woke up this morning to the news that a local officer had fatally shot a man who attacked him with bare hands, wearing nothing but a swimsuit.

    And I thought – this officer who arrested Dr. Gates actually did a lot of things right. To start with, he didn’t shoot anyone. He called for backup. He showed his ID when asked. It’s not hard to find news reports where things go much, much worse starting from the same kind of initial incident.

    It’s sad when “arresting someone for being angry and embarrassing the police” is above-average officer behavior.

  82. “This kind of shit is why God still drinks.”

    And this is what I’ll be saying from now on.

    I respect you, and I’m surprised by your attack.

    Diane, this whole post is about white people trying to find reasons to discount Gates’ account of the incident. How can you not see that your comment is replicating that exact pattern?

  83. Diane, you may know and respect my writing, but you made your first comment here this morning, so I don’t know you from Adam. And said first comment, as others (and I) have already pointed out, was a near-perfect example of exactly what I’m ranting about in this post. So I didn’t mince words. And if you have been reading this blog for a while, you shouldn’t have been surprised.

    Based on your subsequent comment, I am not, at this point, planning to ban you. And as I’ve said to others who have suffered a bit of embarrassment on this blog, if you keep your head out of your ass, it’s likely that everyone — including me — will soon forget about it. But seriously, if you’re still confused about why you ended up the subject of a rant, all I can tell you to do is just keep reading this post — with special emphasis on Shark-Fu’s point about to whom we extend the benefit of the doubt — and your first comment back to back, until it sinks in.

  84. I’ve been stewing on this and stewing on this since I first heard an account of what happened, and I’ve tried to read everything that has subsequently been released about it, trying to root out as much of the truth as possible. And honestly, the whole thing just makes my stomach churn. But much of that is because I think this is a prime example of why we may never get beyond race in this country.

    I always hope I’m not a racist. I grew up amongst minorities, and have had friends my whole life who were minorities. I recognize that historically it’s been a crappy road for these folks. I want to see equality for everyone – unequivocally. I understand I’ve been fortunate to be a white person in America. All these things are true about me.

    At the same time, I can’t help but find myself thinking/wanting to articulate many of the things that would cause people here and on other progressive sites to brand me as a racist without a second glance. I realize that for many people in America it matters whether a person trying to shove open a door on a presumably empty house late at night is white or black (or brown, or any other color). I also realize that we don’t improve our neighborhoods unless we call the police when we see suspicious activity, regardless of who is responsible, and I say this as someone who has called the police about break-ins and domestic disturbances involving people of diverse races. Kate has said this woman may have had good intentions, but… and it’s the but that I trip over. Yes, it’s bad and yes, it’s racist when men of color are pulled over in affluent neighborhoods just because they’re driving through. Even if you knew this was the house where a black man resides, would you take the chance of approaching and finding out if it was his house?

    Okay, so that’s not the larger picture, and I get that, too. From what I can glean, the officer definitely arrived with a closed mind. I know Prof. Gates is a famous person, but who knows if this guy knew him? And even if he did, does that excuse anyone from producing identification if asked? We’d be offended if, say, Brad Pitt refused to produce ID and instead asked if someone knew who he was. Regardless of all that, I believe there was no reason for it to have escalated except that two men felt threatened. Do I think a white man standing in his own home would have been arrested? Yes. However, I think there would have been more calls made at the scene, and he would never have been taken to jail, as Prof. Gates was.

    But this is my rambling point: I honestly struggle with this, unfashionable as it is to admit that. I struggle with the fact that hatred and mistrust seems to be a vicious circle – racism has been a factor for years, so communities are naturally suspicious of police which makes the police defensive which makes the suspicion worse. How do we break that cycle? A lawsuit by a Harvard professor may change how things are done “the next time,” but that won’t change the mistrust and suspicion on both sides, which means the likelihood that things will go poorly is still strong.

    I know I rub folks the wrong way a lot, and I’m sure this will do the same. I’m sorry in advance. I’m not trying to create straw arguments (though I don’t think I’ve done that, and I’ll resist that contention), nor am I trying to inflame anyone. I believe Prof. Gates was bullied, and that race may have been a factor. I also believe, having heard him speak, on this occasion and others, that he wasn’t giving an inch. That’s why I say I believe a white man would have been arrested then, even if the ultimate outcome were different. I believe it was a macho pissing match, and I find myself trying really hard to sort what was racist from what was territorial and face-saving.

    There’s my $2.00 (since I was so long-winded.)

  85. “Oh, the mythical Race Card.”

    I saw the best response to the Race Card given by Rev. Al Sharpton to your friend and mine, Glen Beck. It was in the context of racial profiling in the housing market. When Beck asked him, “Isn’t that just pulling the Race Card?” Sharpton replied, “Before we can even talk about the Race Card, we need to make sure everyone is playing with the same deck.”

  86. Thank you for posting, and for the comments that followed.

    I started the day feeling one way, and now I feel another way. It was really uncomfortable to read what everyone here said because it made me question my own ideas. I started out thinking that the person with the most education in race issues had some responsibility to handle race with more sensitivity, but now I interpret things differently (for all that my interpretation is worth.)

    I still believe it would have been possible for everyone involved to handle this a different way. I do finally get that it doesn’t matter. We didn’t need this example, but now we have it and I am not going to look the other way.

    Maybe Gates could have behaved differently but why should he? He had a tenuous amount of safety in this situation and he used it to make a point for all the people who don’t. That’s courage, and it is beautiful.

  87. When I first read an article about this incident, I have to admit, I had my white privilege blinders on without even realizing it. All I could think at first was “but it’s his house! How could they not realize after he showed ID that it’s his house?!”

    Yeah, then I got to the part where he said something about being black in America, and went, “Ohhhhh, right.” I feel a little bad that it took me halfway through the article to grok the race issue at hand.

  88. Son of Bitch!

    I don’t care if Dr Gates called the cops’ mothers dirty whores and put a pox on their houses.

    If Gates didn’t pull a gun, or a knife, or pose real physical threat – the cop is in the wrong. WHY? Because the cop has a gun and can send people to jail. That’s why.

    What I haven’t seen mentioned here is that Professor Gates was 1- sick 2- walking with a cane 3- in his late 50′s. So basically the cops put a unarmed, sick, old guy on a cane in jail because he mouthed off to a cop. That’s not to take away from the clear racism here but just to show what a complete asshole the cop really is.

  89. And even if he did, does that excuse anyone from producing identification if asked?

    Yes, it does. State laws vary, but in general, as far as I can tell, police are not allowed to demand identification unless they have reasonable suspicion that something illegal is happening. Which puts us right back at the question of, Why did the police assume something illegal was happening? And why might their assumptions about the illegality of a black man being in a Harvard Square home have triggered some rightful anger from that man?

    If you were walking down the street, talking to a friend, and a police officer stopped you and demanded identification, without telling you why, wouldn’t you be upset? If it happened to you on a regular basis, wouldn’t you be even more upset?

  90. I just wanted to relate a story I thought of. I am an attorney and helped out a woman recently from my church who was arrested for trespassing, then for disorderly conduct. The charges changed in between her arrest and the actual filing of charges.

    She was at a mechanic getting her car fixed. This mechanic also serviced the cars of the local police department. She started talking with someone near her about her religion and the manager called the police in since he knew them so that he could get rid of her. While I realize that religious zealotry can be extremely annoying, there is no way this woman was that aggressive. She is 80 years old, walks with the assistance of a cane, speaks kind of quietly. She also happens to be an immigrant and speaks in broken English.

    After the arrest, she was terrified that she would lose her green card. Thankfully, the local prosecutor and the judge were reasonable people and the case was dismissed the first time she appeared in court. But before that she had to go through a month of unnecessary stress and fear while she waited for the hearing. I think she is a perfect example of all of those people who don’t have the clout and the voice to be treated fairly. Thankfully, in the end it worked out. But that doesn’t change the fact that the police arrested her for, I don’t know, being Hispanic, being an immigrant? You choose. So infuriating!

  91. Hmmm, maybe expand my last bit to:

    If you were walking down the street, talking to a friend, and a police officer stopped you and demanded identification, without telling you why, wouldn’t you be upset? If it happened to you on a regular basis, wouldn’t you be even more upset? And if every time it happened, the police officer said, “Well, you look like a criminal, we thought something illegal was going on.” No matter what you were doing, how you were dressed, where you going — you knew in the back of your mind, based on experience, that simply because of the way you looked, the police were likely to stop you at any time, tell you that you appeared criminal, and demand identification.

    I would not fault anyone in that situation for not acting like a sheep and handing over identification, in the same way that I’m *glad* when women are able to speak up when others are treating them poorly because they are women rather than meekly submitting to being stereotyped, in the same way that I am *glad* when fat people are able to speak up and refuse poor treatment simply because they are fat, etc. etc. etc.

    No, speaking up is not always the easiest way of dealing with a situation, and it sure is hell isn’t the way to create the least amount of conflict. But avoiding conflict is not always a great ultimate goal; sometimes other things — including one’s own rightful, healthy anger — are more important than submission to other’s requests, assumptions, and bullying.

  92. occhiblu, you’re right, and I worded that badly. There are certainly times when someone demanding your ID is nothing more than someone being a blowhard. Admittedly, seeing someone standing there with a cane would probably also suggest that he wasn’t truly “breaking in,” but rather trying to enter his own home. Still, I don’t happen to think it was unreasonable to verify that he was at his own address. I think an officer who walked away from that scene without verifying an address ran the risk of being reprimanded later.

    I would be upset if people demanded my ID all the time. I’ve refused to produce mine, on occasions I felt it was unnecessary. I was also arrested for it, once. At the same time, given what seem to be more or less accepted facts here, I wouldn’t find that request unreasonable. (Which I’m sure someone will chalk up to my privilege – and that may legitimately be part of it – but also comes from what seems like common logic to me, “if I show this guy my ID, he gets out of my house.” I sincerely wish that had proved to be the case.)

  93. And even if he did, does that excuse anyone from producing identification if asked? We’d be offended if, say, Brad Pitt refused to produce ID and instead asked if someone knew who he was.

    Dr. Gates DID show ID when asked. FYI. The person who refused to identify himself was the police officer. When Dr. Gates continued to request the officer’s name and badge number, the officer arrested Dr. Gates.

  94. Shoutz, there’s another interesting quote from Gates in the WaPo interview that speaks directly to your point:

    “I’m glad that someone would care enough about my property to report what they thought was some untoward invasion,” Gates said. “If she saw someone tomorrow that looked like they were breaking in, I would want her to call 911. I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That’s what the deal was. It didn’t matter how I was dressed. It didn’t matter how I talked. It didn’t matter how I comported myself. That man was convinced that I was guilty.”

    Emphasis mine. THIS is why it’s not just a pissing contest between two grown men. It’s not a pissing contest when one of those men is an unarmed member of an oppressed group and the other is a white guy with a gun.

  95. At the same time, given what seem to be more or less accepted facts here, I wouldn’t find that request unreasonable.

    1. What OTM said, Dr. Gates did show ID.

    2. You have to remember, Dr. Gates did not have the “more or less accepted facts” at the time he was being asked for identification. He had just gotten home, saw that his front door was broken, had to fumble around with the alarm system and with figuring out how to open his front door, and call the real estate office to get it fixed. As he’s on the phone, he sees a police officer on his front porch, who asks him to step outside and questions him about whether anyone else is in the house.

    Add jet lag to this equation, and I’d be confused as hell. Take away my privilege in being able to automatically assume that the police always had my best interests at heart, and I’d start demanding to know what was going on before giving out any information as well.

  96. While it’s fairly clear that racial profiling was a factor insofar as the cop thinking he would get away with it, I also think you underestimate the everyday belief in one’s own superiority that is prevalent in a small minority of police officers. Abuse of authority by such people us fairly common, even with white people. One police officer even tasered a 72-year-old (white) woman for refusing to sign a speeding ticket. http://www.examiner.com/x-536-Civil-Liberties-Examiner~y2009m6d8-No-you-cant-Taser-an-old-lady-over-a-speeding-ticket

    However, people who would abuse power often direct that abuse at oppressed groups, believing they won’t get in trouble.

  97. “Dr. Gates DID show ID when asked. FYI.”

    I went back and looked at the source materials I’d used – they’d originally stated as fact that he hadn’t, but I see that some are now updated to show Dr. Ogletree speaking for Dr. (sorry I’ve been addressing him only as Prof.) Gates and saying he did. FYI.

  98. shoutz, the police report is here. I am definitely not convinced that it represents reality, but I figure it is the most damning (against Dr. Gates) version of the story, and even there it says, “I asked Gates to provide me with photo identification… Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification but then did supply me with a Harvard University identification card.”

  99. Lila not only was she 72 and tasered, she was walking AWAY from the officer. Her back was turned when the jackhole tasered her.

  100. I also think you underestimate the everyday belief in one’s own superiority that is prevalent in a small minority of police officers.

    No, I don’t think I do. I think that in many cases, that’s tied up with racism. Perhaps sometimes it’s not, but I don’t understand how pointing out that this kind of behavior disproportionately affects people of color means I’m underestimating the non-racist assholism of certain police officers. Can we please have one conversation about racism around here where no one says, “But it happens to white people, too!”

  101. SM, your point is well taken, and in truth I’m not saying that I don’t think the officer was ultimately wrong. (I think I said that from the beginning.) I’m defending neither of these people exclusively; which is kind of my point, and probably what makes it harder to articulate. I’m trying to express the rocky road I’m on in sorting this out.

    I think the police officer was high-handed. I think it shouldn’t have mattered whether Dr. Gates spoke or was dressed well. I think the officer, after a very short period of time, was likely looking for a reason to arrest Dr. Gates. I think Dr. Gates may have said some things – deliberately or not – which inflamed the situation. I think the officer may have said some things – deliberately or not – which inflamed the situation. I think Dr. Gates was at a disadvantage because he was tired and jet-lagged.

    These are the things I’m trying to sort out in my head. Add to it that we still really don’t know where the truth lies and may never, and it’s – to me – a real minefield. That doesn’t mean I still don’t think what the officer did during the encounter was wrong… grrr. I think I’m botching the genuine feelings I’m trying to convey, here.

  102. When I read the story about this in the Globe–and the mostly racist comments posted there–I was very disheartened.

    This post and most of the comments about it make me feel a lot better.

    I am white, and I am a man, and I know that we all have a long way to go before racial harmony rules the world.

  103. This shit is seriously depressing, although I really liked Professor Gates’ statement about the incident. I’ve had some pretty shitty experiences with the police treating me, the victim of a crime, with suspicion, contempt and this air of oh-please-let-me-arrest-you. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to be dealing with arsehole policemen and knowing that your skin colour means they are already looking at you as a problem rather than as a person.

    I don’t even know how we deal with this. I mean, obviously far more needs to be done to curb racism in the police force and ensure all police officers are aware and mindful of the effects of prejudice, including biases they may not be aware they have, but we still have to deal with the fact that the police force attracts a high percentage of dicks.

  104. That and the fact that I have no faith in the police to actually take anything positive from most strategies to combat racism… and the fact that privelege backed up with authority is extremely fucking dangerous.

  105. Seems like both of them could have behaved better, although the police officer had far less reason. I would definitely expect someone to report an apparent break-in into my place no matter what, though (I’m not white).

  106. This is a really excellent post. I’ve been trying to acknowledge my various privileges lately, you know, out loud, to other people, and some of my colleagues act as though I’ve done something slightly embarrassing when I do (which, prima facie evidence much?). Similar to when I call myself a “feminist”, or “fat”, or fart in public. I’m going to print this post out and post it on my door as “White Privilege: Exhibit A” for handy quick reference. I bow before your smarty-pants eloquence.

  107. It’s not a new thing, it’s been around for decades.

    Oh, sorry, that’s not the kind of “new” I meant — I thought the example would clear that up. I meant “new” as in the tactic you move to when your original racism and silencing starts to be questioned.

    “Before we can even talk about the Race Card, we need to make sure everyone is playing with the same deck.”

    Nice.

  108. I believe Prof. Gates was bullied, and that race may have been a factor. I also believe, having heard him speak, on this occasion and others, that he wasn’t giving an inch… I believe it was a macho pissing match, and I find myself trying really hard to sort what was racist from what was territorial and face-saving.

    So let me get this straight… having heard Prof. Gates speak, you think that the reason he didn’t meekly hand over his ID to police and wait to be left alone again was… to prove he was a manly guy? That is what you think?

    I believe you’re having trouble articulating your position because you aren’t sure what it is, FWIW.

  109. I agree with Katy that I think generalized police authoritarianism plays a role in these sorts of incidents, although I am certainly not trying to minimize the disproportionate racial impact.

    As a personal example, I live in an upper-middle-class suburb of a Southern city, the former being heavily white and the latter being majority black. We once had a close friend come to visit for supper and movies and conversation, and the discussion ran late. He left our house at 1, and at 1:20, we were surprised to have him knock on the door with the police in tow. They had stopped him because he looked “suspicious”, and brought him back to our house to verify his story.

    Our friend is a white man who has a beard and long hair, well-spoken but not well-dressed, and who drives an old pickup truck. He also happens to be a hardcore libertarian and gun enthusiast, who (legally) carries a loaded concealed weapon at all times. Police megalomania was sufficient for them to decide to stop him; white male privilege kept them from locking him up first and asking questions later, or possibly even prevented a more serious incident. (Per Rosa, it’s sad that this was a “good outcome” scenario.)

    The tendency of the police to abuse their authority is bad enough even when race ISN’T a factor because they are dealing with white people. Add race to it, and it gets super-ugly. I do think my friend probably would have been arrested if he’d been anything other than super-polite, but I strongly suspect a courteous black man would have been arrested to, and a hostile one might have gotten shot. It may happen to white people too, to some degree, but I don’t think there can be any question that it happens to people of color more often and worse.

  110. This kind of reminds me of a conversation I had, way back in college in my more radical days. A group of women were talking about how, sometimes, they would recount an experience of someone being a racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever asshole, and the (usually white male) listener would respond, “Did that really happen? Wow, that’s terrible.” We posited that, in a similar situation, if someone had said, “I know this woman who always cried to get what she wanted,” or, “These black guys beat up this white friend of miine,” or something similar, there would be no similar expression of disbelief.

  111. I’m going to take a deep breath first, and say, “Thank you for writing the post, Kate.”

    I don’t trust my loud mouth to say much else — I’ve been deep breathing since yesterday when I saw some publications pointedly *not* cover it — and a lot of people here and elsewhere in the ‘sphere are much more eloquent than I.

    Okay, one thing.

    I almost don’t care that Dr. Gates appreciates that the “drive-by” was looking out for the well-being of his house. Given that racism is structural, I personally don’t think her initial motives were that altruistic.

    Know why?

    Because I’m affiliated, albeit loosely, with the university in question, in more than one capacity (C.S.E, family faculty, blah blah blah), and if you are the person in charge — in any capacity — of an alumni publication or facility? Especially in an institution with an international reputation of that magnitude? (Also, coincidentally, when one of them currently happens to be President?)

    You had better damn well know what the professors look like.

    Even when they’re American black.

    *returns to deep breathing quiet hole, pulls it in after her*

  112. … is bad enough even when race ISN’T a factor because they are dealing with white people.

    This still isn’t neutral – rather, the police treat white people differently *because* they’re white. Whites are perceived as deserving the benefit of the doubt; people of color generally are not.

  113. I cannot adequately put the way I feel about this subject into words. I am a Black woman who is priveleged(or blind) enough to not have to deal with racism personally. When I read or see these things happen to any minority it hurts me. And reading the comments following the various newspaper articles and even some here makes it worse, hopeless. I don’t see how there can ever be progress until everyone recognizes the problem. Why does anyone need to quibble over what could have been done, or what other factors might have been involved? Acknowledge the primary issue and move forward from there!

    Thank you, Kate, for your post.

  114. And I’ve lived in Cambridge/Boston, and yes, I’m about to show my class/educational privilege, and anybody with Dorchester relatives who are pissed about living next door to Roxbury can say whatever they want to say about what I’m about to say.

    They would have known who Larry Summers was.

    And it’s unlikely they would have questioned him in the first place.

    If your systems are so sophisticated, BoPo, run an ID on who owns the house, and then run a photo match on the ID of the title owner, since your procedures are so thorough and at that point you should at least have recognized the name.

    The goddamn cops should have known who he was.

    **really* goes back to deep breathing*

  115. As a male POC who is also fat [In this context, read; dark + large = threatening (assume to be violent) X 2], this whole thing just makes me tired. This man is 59 years old. WHEN do we cease to be a threat to ‘law abiding america’ and get a chance to relax a little? 69? 80? Never? IF he did snap, knowing this mans history I kinda doubt it, and you MUST have a possible reason why, this could easily be one There are a whole host of other reasons and none of them are even relevant. Why? Please pay attention this time, it’s been said here and elsewhere ad-infinitum; HE WAS IN HIS OWN HOME. HE NEVER LAID A FINGER ON ANYONE. INCLUDING THE POLICE. THEY DID NOT HAVE A WARRANT. THEY WAITED UNTIL HE WAS *OUTSIDE* HIS HOME TO ARREST HIM. The last two are, I think, telling as far as the cops motivations are concerned and the first four are pretty much contraindications for his arrest. Freedom of Speech is supposed to allow me to call anyone I want to a goat spawned, pedophile, ass licker in the public square if that’s what I choose to do. That anyone Includes police officers. I some states it would be legal for me to blow your head off with a shotgun if you set one foot inside my front door. ESPECIALLY the police if they show up warrantless. Yet this man gets arrested for asking a cop for his ID in his own home. Doesn’t matter if he said ‘May I, PLEASE, have some ID’ or ‘Show me a mutherfucking badge, Pig’ DOES. NOT. MATTER.

    neruotype you obviously still don’t get it. There’s a comment on Racialicious that I feel is a patently relevant response to you statement and those, many others, who make the same-


    White people read black and latinos as “violent” and any irritation or indignation, even when one is angry at having been victimized, is read as “escalation”. If you get angry, or frown, or refuse to be utterly and totally calm, then its taken as a sign that you are about to go buck wild.

    I believe zie meant –
    ‘White people read black and latinos as “violent” and any irritation or indignation, felt by blacks and latinos, even when one is angry at having been victimized. . . . ‘

    But the point is still extremely valid. As a black male, if i don’t exhibit utter and complete control of my outward emotions at all times, then I’m likely to be perceived as a DANGEROUS black male. White cops don’t like, even the possibility, of having to deal with what MIGHT BE a dangerous black male. Ever. Which means that there are only two things that inform this whole affair. 1) Henry Gates is a black male 2) The arresting officer is white. Full Stop.

  116. If your systems are so sophisticated, BoPo, run an ID on who owns the house, and then run a photo match on the ID of the title owner, since your procedures are so thorough and at that point you should at least have recognized the name.

    Now, lets be fair- this was the Cambridge Police. Harvard doesn’t let BoPo sully their doorsteps. (Hell, as I understand it, they barely let Cambridge Police sully thier doorsteps).

  117. The tendency of the police to abuse their authority is bad enough even when race ISN’T a factor because they are dealing with white people. Add race to it, and it gets super-ugly

    Emma B, race is a factor when police deal with white people. White people have a racial identity. A situation with all white people isn’t a situation that you have to “add race” to.

  118. The actual response Gates was looking for when he said “Do you know who I am?” was probably “The homeowner.”

    In seriousness, though – awesome post, Kate. Thanks for making me ponder my white privilege in ways I hadn’t before.

  119. Excellent post, Kate. Thank you for writing it.

    My immediate response upon reading question #5 was “Well, of course they didn’t know who he was. If they had understood any of the following: 1) That he was the owner of the house, 2) That he was not doing anything illegal, or 3) That he was a professor at Harvard, they would not have acted the way that they did.

    I don’t blame the police for responding to the call. They got a call of a break-in (in which we have no information as to whether race was mentioned), and they had to respond. It was the way they acted when they got there that was the problem.

    The bottom line is that if the police had the understanding that some situations require an aggressive approach, and some require a low-key approach, as well as the judgment and discretion to understand that this situation required the low-key (and dare I say polite approach), they could have settled everything to everyone’s satisfaction, instead of landing themselves in the soup.

    I understand that the police see people in their worst moments and the toll that takes on one’s attitude and psyche. But I wish to heaven that police training would emphasize courtesy as a vital tool in police work. The phrases “sir” “could we please” and “sorry for the inconvenience” really do work wonders when dealing with most people. That’s not to say that aggressive behavior is never warranted, or that police cannot switch over from one to the other as the situation warrants (e.g. in this situation, an aggressive stance at the beginning of the situation, switching to politeness when Gates produced id indicating that he was the owner of the house).

    I hate to sound like some kind of etiquette snob here, but the old flies/honey aphorism is true — and the police simply can’t do their jobs without the cooperation of the public. If their default assumption was to treat members of the public (regardless of social group) as people rather than as possible perpetrators, I really think they would have an easier time doing their jobs — and lord knows, society at large and people as individuals would benefit, too.

  120. I’ve been on the other side, being screamed at, when trying to do my job. It’s hard not to lose your cool.

    That’s nice. Did you ARREST someone?

    Maybe Gates could have behaved differently but why should he? He had a tenuous amount of safety in this situation and he used it to make a point for all the people who don’t. That’s courage, and it is beautiful.

    Fuck that’s beautfiul, Arghlita.

    What I haven’t seen mentioned here is that Professor Gates was 1- sick 2- walking with a cane 3- in his late 50’s. So basically the cops put a unarmed, sick, old guy on a cane in jail because he mouthed off to a cop.

    Repeated for emphasis.

    I think the officer, after a very short period of time, was likely looking for a reason to arrest Dr. Gates.

    The officer was looking for a reason to arrest Dr Gates from word fucking go.

    I think Dr. Gates may have said some things – deliberately or not – which inflamed the situation.

    That’s NOT a CRIME.

    I believe it was a macho pissing match, and I find myself trying really hard to sort what was racist from what was territorial and face-saving.

    You mean territorial like being IN YOUR OWN FUCKING HOUSE?

    It may happen to white people too, to some degree, but I don’t think there can be any question that it happens to people of color more often and worse.

    So why are you even mentioning the white people aspect? Why do we have to feature in every single discussion? IT IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT US.

    Man this makes me cappy. Mother of.

  121. Sorry, I phrased that badly. I was trying to express the idea that police abuses occur even to people who are fully equipped with privilege, and that the absence of privilege makes those interactions worse.

  122. not because all cops are violent racists or all men are rapists, but because enough are that you can’t fucking afford to assume there’s no potential risk to your safety and/or liberty.

    Yes, this.

    The whole thing reminds me of that episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air where through some random chain of events or other Will and Carlton get arrested while driving a borrowed car, and when Carlton’s parents [for anyone unfamiliar with the program, they are VERY wealthy, and their children go to a private school, Will on the other hand grew up in Philadelphia and is much more streetwise but now lives with his uncle and aunt] finally figure out what’s happened and come and get them out, “At home, Will is angered as Carlton doesn’t understand that the police officers were racist and arrested them because of their skin color. Carlton instead thinks tht they got pulled over because they went too slow. Carlton then asks his father if he would stop a car if it were going two miles an hour. It ends with Philip telling his son that he asked himself the same question the first time he was stopped.” But obviously, that episode was made in 1990 and there’s no racism any more in America! /sarcasm.

    It also reminds me of a thing I read on the cover of The Voice (http://www.voice-online.co.uk/ one of the two main newspapers aimed at Black Britons and other people of African/Caribbean heritage in Britain who may not actually be British per se) which said that apparently more or less every single black family in the UK has at least one member on the national DNA register thingy. I didn’t read the full article because, frankly, I’m white and it feels a little rude to stand in the supermarket reading a newspaper which is expressly not for me (and I mean that sincerely, not in a snarky poor excluded whitey sort of way) but apparently 77% of young black men have DNA on this database… Ah, found the article:

    http://www.voice-online.co.uk/content.php?show=15859

    Although African-Caribbeans make up less than 2.9 percent of the national population, 27 percent of the black population is on the database, compared with just 9 percent of the Asian community and 6 percent of the white population.

    Funnily enough this never made it onto the front pages of the mainstream papers, a couple seem to have had a small piece on it (one of which looks like it was only online, couldn’t open the other one so no idea about that) but certainly nothing on the cover.

    Oh, and my best friend’s baby brother works for the police (in an inner London borough) and she says he has definitely become more racist since joining the force *sigh*.

    racism has been a factor for years, so communities are naturally suspicious of police which makes the police defensive which makes the suspicion worse. How do we break that cycle?

    Oh, I don’t know, how about the police stop being fucking racists?? Do you seriously want to say that this is somehow the fault of black people for being “suspicious” of the police? As opposed to, you know, being understandably a bit fucking scared that EXACTLY THIS SORT OF THING might happen, if not much worse..?

    I find myself trying really hard to sort what was racist from what was territorial and face-saving.

    Um, he was IN HIS OWN HOUSE! He surely had every bloody right to be territorial when the damn police wouldn’t apologise and get the fuck out of his house ASAP, which if you don’t think is exactly what would have happened if he were white, well, I don’t know what to say to you.

  123. WORD.

    I’m glad you went point by point with the objections, because I get the same ‘tude *every time* I point out the breathtaking arrogance, paranoia, and stupidity of white people. Very often (in the news) white police-officer people.

    I very nearly lose my shit when this happens, but dude – it *is* breathtaking paranoia and stupidity! If I get called names for pointing it out, and I’M white, I can not imagine how infuriating it is for someone who’s *not* white to point this out and have to hear the same bullshit.

  124. I would love to know where you all got your information about the mindset of the white cop (who “was looking for a reason to arrest Dr. Gates from word fucking go.”). I think there are a lot of questions to answer here, and that taking one side’s account, verbatim, is… well, odd.

    I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that Kate has the right to post here what she wishes (like she needs my permission, ha!), and if she chooses not to listen to my attempt at explaining different things that bug me, that’s okay, too. But before everyone leaps down my throat and stomps around on my liver for a while, here’s another thought (which will hopefully link):

    http://www.thegrio.com/2009/07/i-am-not-al-sharpton.php

  125. But before everyone leaps down my throat and stomps around on my liver for a while

    Shoutz, it is so totally beyond inappropriate to describe the disagreement you’ve faced on this thread this way, I can’t even tell you.

    and if she chooses not to listen to my attempt at explaining different things that bug me,

    Oh, she listened. She just disagreed.

  126. Caitlin, the point I was trying to make is that there are two aspects to this situation: abuse of power and racial discrimination. Obviously, there is a synergy between the two, and to be clear, I think racial discrimination is the major factor, here or in others.

    The reason I mention it at all is because the discussion questions quoted in Kate’s post specifically ask how the situation would have played out with a white homeowner. I think Kate’s assessment of questions #2 and #3 (that a white person’s privilege would prevent serious trouble from occurring) are a little too generous. The probability of such an outcome wasn’t zero to begin with, but the fact that Gates is a black man dramatically elevated that probability, with the results we see.

    If you want to prevent police authoritarianism from disproportionately affecting people of color, I think it’s relevant to talk about whether we can stop it from happening at all, rather than approaching it purely as a discrimination problem. I think the racial discrimination at work here should absolutely be addressed, because ultimately it’s the worse problem by far, and it will express itself in other ways. However, if you stop the abuses, it will have the desired effect of making sure that some people are not more likely to be targeted because of their race, because everyone’s probability is equivalently zero.

    I’m not trying to derail and say, hey, let’s talk about justice system overreaches instead of discrimination. I’m saying let’s talk about it as part of how to talk about discrimination, specifically because the two are all tangled up together, and both are threads we can pull at to help untangle the overall problem.

  127. I think there are a lot of questions to answer here, and that taking one side’s account, verbatim, is… well, odd.

    Also, shoutz, the reason that some people here (including me) are getting frustrated with your comments is because what you just said there? Is what this post is about. But you keep focusing on how it makes you uncomfortable while still trying to deflect the discussion of race and racism that’s happening here. You are pulling a classic “what about [the men/white people/etc]“ move here, and frankly I’m surprised you can’t see that.

  128. Thank you, Kate! This black woman applauds your brilliantly articulated commentary regarding this incident. You so wonderfully expressed what I have been longing to say!

    UFC

  129. shoutz, I may or may not share part of a bloodline with you.

    But you are doing the “But What About the White People” dance so hard and fast you look like a Pilobolus blur.

  130. But before everyone leaps down my throat and stomps around on my liver for a while

    That’s like saying “I’m not racist but. . . .. .” and then following it up with some asshat racist remark.

  131. Here is the thing: where I’m from, if this had been a white dude, and the neighbor had told them in the description that it was a white dude? The cops would have gone into the situation expecting it to be the owner of the house. Here is how it would have gone down.

    COPS: *knock knock knock*
    WHITE DUDE: *answers door*
    COPS: Excuse me, sir, we’re sorry to bother you, but we had a report of someone trying to break into your house. Is everything all right?
    WHITE DUDE: Oh, ha ha, yes, one of my neighbors must have seen me trying to get in–the door was jammed.
    COPS: Ha ha, we though it might be something like that. Well, it happens to the best of us.
    (the conversation devolves into chummy white-dude banter about stories of times each of the dudes present has had to break into his own house, and by the way you should have someone out here to look at your lock, you can never be too careful with these things, why my own aunt once came home to a jammed door and a couple weeks later she couldn’t get it to lock at all, blah blah blah)
    COPS: Anyway, we’re sorry to bother you, Mr. Whitedude. Have a nice evening.
    WHITE DUDE: No, no, it’s perfectly all right, you were just doing your job. You officers take care, now! Drive carefully!

  132. I’m not trying to derail and say, hey, let’s talk about justice system overreaches instead of discrimination.

    Trouble is, Emma B … it’s been my observation that when it comes to race, once you give the white middle-class majority an opportunity to discuss anything else, that’s exactly what happens – it becomes all about *their experience* of generic issues, and the experiences of everyone else are just … disappeared.

  133. and if she chooses not to listen to my attempt at explaining different things that bug me,

    As SM said, I listened, I just disagreed. Though I find it interesting you said this, since I’ve pretty much left you alone on this thread. Other people have been doing a fine job of pointing out what’s so problematic about your comments, so I didn’t bother to pile on.

    But this last one? I’d like to point out that you not only pulled “What about the white people?” and “Criticism is like being beaten up!” but “Some of my best friends are…” with that link. It’s the fucking trifecta.

    And look, before you say it, I am not trying to run you off this blog. I’m being straight with you — after leaving you alone all day — because you are a longtime commenter, and I think you’re better than this. Maybe read this post again. And this one. Factor those into the issues you’re grappling with here and see if you feel as conflicted.

  134. People keep saying that white people don’t get arrested for disorderly, and that is just plain wrong. Piss off a cop enough, and they will arrest you. I don’t agree he should have been arrested, but at the same time there is this assumption that the REASON he was arrested was because he was black, and the cop was a racist. That is speculation, not fact. People keep saying that this would have NEVER happened to a white guy, but in this situation I disagree. I think black people, poor people, women, etc. are victimized by the police all the time, but I think in this particular incident there were bad decisions made on both sides.

  135. People keep saying that white people don’t get arrested for disorderly, and that is just plain wrong. Piss off a cop enough, and they will arrest you.

    In your own home? When you’re a very successful, middle-aged man. In his own home. Really? You think so?

    Seriously people, THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THIS POST IS THAT I DON’T WANT TO HEAR WHITE PEOPLE PLAYING “DEVIL’S ADVOCATE” AND INSISTING WE NOT “JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS” IN ORDER TO AVOID ANY FUCKING DISCUSSION OF INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM. CONSIDER THIS A GODDAMNED BAN WARNING FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO KEEP PLAYING THAT GAME.

  136. @shoutz: Even if you take the cop’s testimony as gospel, I don’t see how this isn’t a cop being a super asshole to a black man in a culture where the history of white cops and black men is long.

    It’s like saying the guy who spontaneously calls out “HEY, NICE ASS” to a woman in this society wasn’t intentionally being misogynist. Well, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was overcome by the niceness of the ass in question. But there’s a whole *conversation* of the cat call that’s in there.

    You don’t have to have asshole intent to be an asshole.

    You don’t have to have racist intent to be a racist.

    And the conversation for ALLIES OF PEOPLE OF COLOUR shouldn’t be about “how that guy didn’t have asshole intent”. (Which I’m not convinced he didn’t.) But should be about “That shit is so fucking tired.” Because ASSHOLE happened, intent or no.

    Because IT’S NOT ILLEGAL in a free country to say “Fuck the pigs, man.” In whatever way. If he’d sung it he could be Rage Against the Machine. He wasn’t getting violent, he was, at worst yelling and behaving poorly. And he was ARRESTED FOR IT, just like black people get disproportionally arrested all the motherfucking time.

  137. … And seriously for fuck sakes. I grew up in communes and saw white hippies lip off the cops all the time. I saw cops get macho back, sometimes. I NEVER saw it go to arrest and mug shots, unless as part of protest-arrest.

  138. And the conversation for ALLIES OF PEOPLE OF COLOUR shouldn’t be about “how that guy didn’t have asshole intent”. (Which I’m not convinced he didn’t.) But should be about “That shit is so fucking tired.” Because ASSHOLE happened, intent or no.

    Gawd, thank you.

  139. OH, and Caitlin …

    “That’s nice. Did you ARREST someone?”

    LOL, I would have if I could have :p

    In my limited options, I decided to make their lives difficult when they don’t bother to even bother to listen when I tried to get things sorted out — i’ll admit it, i’ve been a bitch when people (of all races) start screaming at me.

    Cassie (a former billing customer service rep for a large hospital…)

  140. THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THIS POST IS THAT I DON’T WANT TO HEAR WHITE PEOPLE PLAYING “DEVIL’S ADVOCATE” AND INSISTING WE NOT “JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS” IN ORDER TO AVOID ANY FUCKING DISCUSSION OF INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM. CONSIDER THIS A GODDAMNED BAN WARNING FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO KEEP PLAYING THAT GAME.

    Sorry I thought the point of the post was to have an intelligent discussion. Apparently it is to agree with everything you say, and tell you how wonderful you are. I won’t be back.

    BTW, how do you even know if I’m white? You don’t know me.

  141. Intelligent discussion means parroting the same lines that people of color have to hear all the time, which dismisses their experiences of institutionalized racism?

    Thank you Shapely Prose for keeping discussion on track. Nearly *everywhere else* we can hear racist, denial-of-racism tripe. We don’t need anymore spaces for that sort of thing.

  142. cassie–what does your having white privilege or being a person of color have to do with any thing?

    PS There is an intelligent discussion going on in this post. You’re failing to be part of it.

  143. I won’t be back.

    No, you sure won’t. Folks, it’s our first ban of the thread!

    I considered it after the last comment, but I’m so glad I waited until I got an echo chamber/band o’ sycophants accusation AND a “How do you know I’m white?” out of her. My only regret is that now we won’t get to see how many times she would otherwise come back after saying she’s not coming back.

  144. It’s like saying the guy who spontaneously calls out “HEY, NICE ASS” to a woman in this society wasn’t intentionally being misogynist. Well, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was overcome by the niceness of the ass in question. But there’s a whole *conversation* of the cat call that’s in there.

    Oh, nice one, Arwen!

    With how conversation has gone on this issue on nearly every blog I’ve seen, by the way, I think we can be proud of 183 comments and only one person being bannably blockheaded.

  145. re: the it-happens-to-white-folks-too shtick.

    *deep breath, clench jaw*

    Say, you know what doesn’t happen to white people too? BEING A PERSON OF COLOR. That doesn’t fucking happen to white people too, as it turns out! Being othered as a POC, within a system of othering and oppression of POC spanning back for fucking centuries, by a white-dominated society, so as to benefit white people as a group… DOES NOT ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPEN TO WHITE PEOPLE.

    GOD! This is not a complex point. And yet I feel the need to shout, even though most people here get it… thank God. Thank God for SP. I’ve spent too much time elsewhere on the internet today, I think.

  146. *waves bye-bye to cassie*

    Actually, several people here tried very hard to have an intelligent conversation with cassie. Pity she refused to notice that the point was not to fall into line behind her and agree that the victim must have brought his victimization on his own ass.

    Thank you, Kate, for keeping the conversation intelligent and nuanced. Oh, and BTW, your mommy dresses you funny.

    Honestly, I don’t know what’s so hard to understand about ‘it’s not okay for the cops to demand multiple forms of ID from a person in their own home and then arrest the homeowner for not being happy at being forced to identify him/herself multiple times.’

    Yes, white people do get arrested for disorderly conduct…but they generally have to be conducting themselves in a far more disorderly way and IN A WAY THAT INCONVENIENCES OR ENDANGERS THE PUBLIC. Oh, yeah, and in the vast majority of cases, they have to be doing it somewhere other than their own homes.

    Also, being a petite white woman, I could probably talk my way out of a disorderly conduct arrest if I wasn’t actually physically assaulting someone. Dr. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct inside his own home for becoming testy with a police officer who refused to accept that he owned his own house.

    For some reason, I can’t imagine what, I think there would be a difference in the way this went down had I been the one trying to unjam my own front door.

  147. That’s a valid point, Eucritta. Hell, it’s certainly possible that I’m derailing here even though I’m trying not to — it’s not my intention, but per Arwen, it’s not really about intentions.

    Where I’m really going is, OK, we all see discrimination here, so what is the right response? I mean, I certainly hope that police department is a smoking hole in the ground by the time Gates and his lawyer get done. But what can the rest of us do to work toward a solution? What does a solution to the problem of institutionalized racism by the justice system even look like?

    It’s more than just making sure that the percentages of arrests match the population demographics. There are a lot of ways to make that happen without changing the fundamental behaviors. Pressuring officers to misreport, cutting off arrests entirely when the numbers get out of hand, even increasing the number of nuisance arrests of people of other races — all will make the statistics look “right”, while still allowing plenty of pervasive racism.

    Nor do appropriately-divided pie charts tell you anything about whether an individual police interaction is driven by racism, because there’s a lot of room for them to hide inside large population distributions. If you’ve been pulled over for driving while black, does it really make a difference to you that only 10% of the department’s traffic stops last year were of black drivers? What will it take to get to the point where a person of color can trust that s/he really has been stopped for speeding, rather than wondering if the cop sees an incipient drug deal or a burglary or a terrorist?

    I really don’t know all the answers here, but I wonder if it might be helpful if police departments backed completely off the nuisance charges like disorderly conduct and resisting arrest (which we all know are just code for pissing off a cop, whether you do so fair and square or by being a person of color at him), followed clear metrics for traffic stops, and increased transparency and documentation of public interactions (i.e. taping/videoing everything). That wouldn’t help the Amadou Diallous of the world, and it wouldn’t be a substitute for working to root out racism, but I think it could have the effect of heading off some of the harassment that happens to PoCs.

    Bottom line, institutionalized racism = bad. Do we prioritize changing people’s thinking, or should we look harder at preventing them from engaging in the actions where racism most commonly shows up? That’s the question I’m pondering.

  148. Bottom line, institutionalized racism = bad. Do we prioritize changing people’s thinking, or should we look harder at preventing them from engaging in the actions where racism most commonly shows up? That’s the question I’m pondering.

    Why does one have to overshadow the other? As white people, I think the first thing we need to do is read and listen to people of color who have been discussing how to end institutionalized racism forever and a day. And we can sure as shit not make conversations about it all about our feelings and our fear of being called racist — as though that’s equal to the fear of being a victim of racism — which is what’s been driving me bats.

  149. Thank you, Kate, for convincing me I am sane; I just discussed (well, argued about) this with my mother and got the same old tired reiterations of “what about whitey’s side of the story”. My great-grandfather is a retired Cambridge cop; I’m not looking forward to seeing him this weekend when the subject comes into play. My grandparents still say “colored people” and “negro” — and they’re not even ashamed to do it in front of my cousin’s fiance, who is black!

    My parents are less overtly racist, but still happily entrenched in the denial-land of “post racism”. I sent Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to my mom a few weeks ago and she spent two hours on the phone telling me all about how “fucking retarded” it was. Yeah.

    I needed this post, and this thread. If this bullshit drives me as crazy as it does, I can’t even imagine how shitty it must be for POC. At least I can choose to ignore it if I want to.

  150. My awareness of privilege is newly formed and still growing – and I am thankful to have resources like this to learn from. I did a lot of reading and following links but there is something that I haven’t been able to understand yet.

    Looking at some other articles – it appears one of the arresting officers is also a POC How does that factor into the situation?

  151. Carolyn – Just speaking for myself here, but I’d say that it’s almost irrelevant. In Obama’s speech to the NAACP, he said that the main way racism works now is not through individual intentional acts (though those still exist), but in the structures of inequality that we’re left with even after the most overt forms have become less accepted. (Of course, the media reported the speech as being all about personal responsibility, but that’s another rant).
    We all know that women can act in ways that are sexist, that fat people can take part in fat hatred. In any number of situations, there may be any number of motives – internalized oppression, the need to prove oneself in a hostile setting. We can’t know about this specific case, but the key point is that oppressed people taking part in the system isn’t proof there isn’t racism, sexism etc. It’s a part of how those isms work.

  152. “(Of course, the media reported the speech as being all about personal responsibility, but that’s another rant).”

    Actually, It, IMO it’s very much the exact same rant. And therefore fairly illustrative.

    Sound anything like “Well, Dr. Gates should have known better than to have mouthed off to that cop” — i.e.,“Come on victim! Take some PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for your actions!” — to you?

  153. Oh my gooodddddddd what a great post Kate. Thank you SOOOO much for writing this out so clearly and articulately. I have only been reading this blog for a few weeks now, and when I saw you were writing on this I was initially nervous because I didn’t know whether or not you’d be steeped in privilege… and ok I’m definitely becoming “a shapeling” now (can people who aren’t that fat be shapelings?). I think it is really healthy for white people to keep up with other white people who are engaged in deconstructing their privilege and I will definitely be keeping up with you. I’m going to be passing this on to everyone. And I don’t have anything else to add to the comments but thanks for shooting down the idjits, those who did. yay

  154. Carolyn- Not an easy question if your a black cop. Working with white cops. In a predominantly white police station. In the 70′s there was a NY City cop named Frank Serpico. There was a movie. Al Pacino starred. Anyway, Serpico was set to testify against a lot of fellow police officers in a huge NY City police corruption case. Before the trial, on a drug bust, Det. Serpico ended in a hallway with a number of armed suspects. Alone. None of the officers who accompanied him to that drug bust were there to back him up. None of the officers who arrived with him came to his aid when he was shot in the face. No one called in an ‘Officer down’ on the police radio band.

    The name Frank Serpico is well known in law enforcement throughout the country. So, considering this, let me ask the question back to you;

    How do YOU think being POC and inside the Blue Line might factor into a race based abuse of power perpetrated by a fellow officer?

  155. I agree with Emma B to an extent – you can’t really tease apart authoritarianism and racism. But that cuts both ways. It’s certainly not the case that racism is just a random, opportunistic add-on to some generic authoritarianism that’s just floating around out there. The whole race/gender/etc pecking order is the conceptual foundation of our very concepts of power and authority; if cops didn’t have it bred into their bones that _some_ people are less-than, they couldn’t power trip on _anyone_. Law enforcement in a truly egalitarian society would look radically different in ways that go far beyond percentage of arrests, etc. Mean cops may be at an extreme end of the spectrum, but they’re not as different from the rest of us as we sometimes want to believe. It’s not as simple as “well of course cops are assholes, and they’re bound to be extra-asshole to whoever’s at the bottom of the pecking order” (although that statement is totally true as far as it goes)… where do you think the pecking order comes from? The cops are the people we’ve hired to maintain the pecking order for us!

    I probably didn’t express that well but I speak from my own experience. I didn’t think about cops one way or another, certainly wasn’t afraid of them, until I married a man of color. I have had multiple traumatic experiences while traveling with my husband. Now I’m completely fucking terrified of cops at all times, even when I’m not with POC. I actually make unsafe driving errors when there’s a police cruiser in traffic behind me, because I get so nervous. I’ve had cops in my tiny rural neighborhood lie in wait for me on the highway to fuck with me every time I left my house, just because I wasn’t a native of the area (and possibly as punishment for miscegenation?). That fear has gotten under my skin and I don’t think I’ll be able to shake it. So I actually find it somewhat understandable, in a twisted way, that people who are on the winning side of this system are invested in the status quo. Consciously or not. Otherwise they might have to take an honest look at the institutional shadow side of our collective psyche.

    Most Americans are incapable of even conceptualizing the difference between “what you have to do to survive” and “the right thing.” Ergo, whatever happened in Cambridge the other day MUST be Prof. Gates’ fault. A black guy has to act especially obsequious to avoid arrest? That’s just tough shit; if, knowing that, he didn’t do it, he has only himself to blame. Not fair? Who ever said life would be fair, fool? Power is never wrong.

  156. I sent Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to my mom a few weeks ago and she spent two hours on the phone telling me all about how “fucking retarded” it was. Yeah.

    Jesus. What a charmer.

  157. @Emma B: The thing that’s been helpful to me both as female and fat and someone who wishes to be an ally to others is my sister. Her one method is small, and we can all do it.

    (I’m not saying that it’s the end all and be all, but a conscious way of interacting with the world that has really really illuminated things for me.)

    My sister misses no opportunity to address systemic oppression. But she doesn’t entertain making it into a discussion about some theory; she just shuts it down.

    For example – in regards to my own fat politics, she was FA before I even considered it a possibility. She would often just ask these quiet little questions, or say something like “God, it must be hard to live with those feelings.” Not dismissing me, but not accepting my internalized bullshit, either. She wouldn’t join in body bashing diet talk but she wouldn’t educate me, either. That was my job. She’d just say something that made it obvious she was situated elsewhere.

    So, re: Gates’ arrest, she’d be likely to say something biting, or funny, or quiet, depending on her audience, which just simply reframes the white dominant story here.

    Like: “Well, that’s a depressing story we’ve all heard before. Only a matter of time before some guy arrests Obama for being too lippy in a speech.” Or; “Professors are all genius and temperamental. If it was normal to arrest them for roaring politically, there’d be no classes at Harvard at all ‘cuz they’d all be in jail.”

    Or, okay, those are things I’d say. But I’ve been slowly shaken awake by her simple refusal to by into the dominant discourse, and her look of … studied sympathy and bafflement that you’re talking crazy talk if you go off.

    Sometimes she calls people out more completely – but she simply never lets something go by without addressing it somehow.

    She’s also totally accountable to her own stuff. She’s not afraid of being called out on her own shit.

    We *have* to acknowledge that we live and breathe in this atmosphere. We are people who have prejudice. If I say to someone “imagine talking to a banker on the plane next to you”, prejudice will fill that picture in. If we close our eyes and see a white male, then congrats, we have stereotypes in our heads, like everyone else.

    Mainly, my sister seems to understand that a single straw may seem like nothing to people dealing with one or two, but a billion of ‘em is a weight, and that last one can break your back.

  158. @ littlem: Oh, I totally agree. What I meant by a separate rant was specifically about how mis-reported that speech was – as if trying to inspire success was some how inimical to also fighting racism – even though he’d just talked about racism right before the part everyone quoted. But the reasons behind the misreporting are very connected to the ideas we’re talking about – anything but talk about racism. That’s old news! And then we’d have to do something about it, right?

  159. Sweet Machine: I had the misfortune of going on vacation with her right after I’d given her Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size to read. I was stuck without a car, in the middle of an unfamiliar rural town, for a week, listening to her fat-shaming me at every turn.

    I generally make attempts at educating her and calling her out on privilege once every couple of months; I have opportunities to do so almost daily, considering she loves to talk about “politics”. I just can’t always handle the torrents of abuse that it sparks. I keep trying, but I can’t do it every time. If it was anyone other than my mom, if I didn’t love her like I do, I’d just stop. Lurking at places like Shapely Prose and reading you guys is some of what makes it easier to keep going. :)

  160. @ Bilt4Cmfrt -

    Thank you for your response also. I’m not sure if your question was asking for an actual response or was more to help me think. I’m going to take it as the latter because I don’t think I can provide a response that is knowledgeable yet. I know there are some pretty complicated and serious social issues within the “blue line” you mentioned (My brother in law is a cop and so was my Step Father for 34 years) and I am sure race is a cornerstone to the complication on both sides of the line.

  161. WORD. I just spent hours at another cite plowing through 8 kinds of bullshit on this story. You nailed it.

  162. Um … It?

    Where is your blog that I would like to read and then send several hundred of my closest friends to then read as well?

    ‘Cause you are awful eloquent about this stuff.

    (Also, succinct — at which I tend to fail on these types of topics on account of the mouth-frothing and the spitting with rage and all.)

  163. I’m white and it feels a little rude to stand in the supermarket reading a newspaper which is expressly not for me (and I mean that sincerely, not in a snarky poor excluded whitey sort of way)

    Hm. Really? Our local black paper has a lot of good information I just don’t see elsewhere. It’s never occurred to me, as a white person, not to pick it up. I wonder what black people think; I’ve never asked one and I basically wouldn’t be caught dead doing the “so what do you think of my engagement with black culture? huh? huh?” thing. All I know is that:

    1. NOI missionaries on the street always try to get me to take copies of The Final Call

    2. in my longtime, candid and intimate, familial and marital relationships with Latinos, I’ve never seen negative responses to similar engagement with Spanish texts and cultural products

    3. 99 times out of 100, the only social consequences you’re actually going to get for something like that are other whites going “uh, you know that’s a black thing, right?” in a faux-concern, make you look stupid while pretending to do you a favor way – and they can go shove it.

  164. Oh Sweet Jesus, I loved when asked about the Gates case the first thing Obama states is “Skip Gates is a friend of mine.” Seriously, when the black man being harassed by the police for being black in his own house asks “Do you know who I am?’ You know the cop is not thinking “Why certainly, sir, you must be a friend of the President of the United States.”

    Please, President Obama do not walk back the statement “The Cambridge police acted stupidly.” No matter what Fox News howls, no matter how whacko the whackos become do not walk it back. They acted stupidly, indeed they did.

  165. Oh, our president still makes me swoon, even as he tries hard to be measured and uncontroversial. How weird is it, though, that that article says that Obama has “rarely talked about race”? Because I kind of feel like he gave that amazing speech while he was still a candidate… and then the speech to the NAACP… and now this. How many times did Bush talk about race, might I ask?

    Maybe he just hasn’t talked about it as much as the Times expects a black president to talk about it.

  166. “How weird is it, though, that that article says that Obama has “rarely talked about race”?

    I think It wraps that up pretty succinctly in her (his? hir?) comments above yours.

    Plus, if he talked more about race, the papers would be full of “The economy is a disaster. Trillion dollar deficit. The country is at war. And the President spends his time talking about race?? This is a post-race President! A post-race country!! We’re past all that! Why do we need to talk about it anyway?? Waaahhhh!!”

    I know you remember the Reverend Wright debacle.

    *sigh* America. Can’t live with it; can’t shoot it.

  167. A black man I used to know drove a BMW and he got pulled over all the time….FOR NO REASON.

    This incident saddened me but it didn’t surprise me. Perhaps it will propel more healing…and more change for the better.

    Nice post. Thank You.

  168. wowww. almost the exact same thing happened in my neighborhood near the end of may. except, it involved a white man. and after he showed the policemen his id (there were two cops), he asked them to leave and they wouldn’t. he started raising his voice and he was arrested.

    and i’d also like to note that i live in the south, where, i hate to say it, it’s usually the other way around.

    i’m an african-american teen and i honestly don’t believe the policeman did anything wrong.

    even though his address was listed on his driver’s license, there could have been a number of reasons as to why he was trying to get into his house. perhaps, he & his wife had been quarreling. perhaps, he was attempting to stage something. the cop had no way of knowing. he was right in sticking around.

  169. Amazing the way you spelled it out. Thank you thank you for showing in detail the many different perspectives. It just doesn’t make sense how all this happened, and is still happening in America today. Only good thing is its under the microscope and strip away all the normal noise and BS of the media. Its a older gentleman, college professor with many accolades and accomplishments in his favor. Now we see him going through the same thing. Rinse and repeat its racism and the intolerance of a black man having status and deserving respect as his white counter part. We all deserve respect from our officers, and in turn we respect them for doing there jobs keeping us safe.Simple enough to quickly apologize for the misunderstanding,and welcome home from your long trip Mr. Gates would have been the correct ending to this sad degrading story :)

  170. “A black man I used to know drove a BMW and he got pulled over all the time….FOR NO REASON.

    That happens so often it’s got its own acronym. DWB = Driving While Black.

    Do you only know one black man with a BMW? And no black women? Any other people of color?

    What about a Mercedes?

    Who aren’t drug dealers?

    Or relatives of Sadam Hussein or Al Qaida?

    This incident saddened me but it didn’t surprise me. Perhaps it will propel more healing…and more change for the better.

    *sigh* Please see above.

    I’m not trying to be snarky — maybe I am a little, but I am endeavoring to make it my only snarky comment to this entry, and I don’t think it’s without reason given the *sparklewonder* tone of the last part of the comment to which I’m responding — but PLEASE WAKE UP, ALLWHITE PEOPLE.
    ESPECIALLY YOU “PROGRESSIVE” ONES.

    YOUR EXPERIENCE IS *NOT* THE ONLY EXPERIENCE IN THESE HERE UNITED STATES.

  171. Why didn’t Gates call Obama when the cops confronted him? His fault…

    Yes, well. I guess that’s why I moved to Europe 20 years ago. And it’s great: the former capital of the Third Reich is a little less racist than the U.S.A.. Let that sink in for a second.

  172. can i just say to the author of this blog, THANK YOU!!!

    i was starting to think that white people truly were this ignorant to reality, im glad there are a few, even if its only in the minority, that actually see and understand this.

    but i would like to add, i wish Gates would also talk about black women too.

    you never hear about them. look up Dymond Milburn and Kathryn Johnston.

    Milburn was 12 when she got beaten by police, after they made the mistake of thinking she was a white prostitute even though she is black and a child! and 92 yaer old Johnston, was shot down by police and then they tried to frame her.

    i wish national media would pay attention to that, cause those 2 incidents really highlight how crazy the police are getting out there….

    then tehre were incidents like sean bell and omar edwards.

    but anyways. thank you author. because from what i have been seeing everywhere else, most whites turned a blind eye to the fact that race does play a role.

    i do believe the longer everyone keeps pretending, the worse thigns will get. i just wish everyone would stop pretending, accept what is happening so we could then start to work on the problem.

  173. The way Gates was treated was appalling. What also pisses me off is that these idiot, racist cops have meant that once again ALL (white) cops will be tarnished with the racist brush. I don’t know if a small minority or a large minority of cops in the USA are racist, but this now means that cops who do the job for the RIGHT reasons, who are not racist and power hungry will have a harder time doing their job because people will be likely to believe they are racist even if they are not.

  174. This is about Obama’s reaction to it.

    The president also considered for a moment what would happen if he, like Gates, were unable to enter his home — the White House — and decided to force the door open. He concluded: “I’d get shot.” The audience of news reporters burst into laughter.

    The audience of news reporters burst into laughter.

  175. In my experience cops there days enjoy (ab)using their authority to push around those who don’t have enough power to push back. This is larger than a racial issue, this is also an issue of class, gender, etc. Police authority is simply too great and too infrequently challenged. And don’t even get me started on the use of cops as revenue collections agents for the state…ARGH!

  176. I had a rather fruitless discussion with my mother last month on the subject of “the race card” (wince). I’m still trying to figure out a good way to tease apart the preconceptions to make the point obvious.

    I think when she hears “this is happening because I’m black”, she hears it as the person claiming that they were floating in a void doing absolutely nothing and were targeted out of nowhere solely because they were black. Which is generally not the case and not the argument being made. But because she hears it that way, she feels the person is being unreasonable.

    If someone’s thrown out of a store on suspicion of being a potential shoplifter solely for wearing baggy pants while black, saying “this is because of race” is not saying “I wasn’t wearing baggy pants”, but rather, “This probably wouldn’t have happened if I were wearing baggy pants and white.”

    But I’m not sure how to sum that up in a clear way.

  177. @Steven Augustine –
    Then you live in one of the “nice” parts.

    Don’t got to the UK, where if you’re of Caribbean descent you might end up with a relative on the DNA list.

    Don’t go to France, where you might be mistaken for Algerian.
    Or Oprah.

    @1010 –
    “but i would like to add, i wish Gates would also talk about black women too.”
    That. All I’ll say.
    (i know I fibbed about that the last time, but I didn’t mean to.)

    @Emmy -
    You just did. :D

  178. OMG, the Times is going to give me a coronary at 34. Here’s their lead:

    “Americans got a rare glimpse Wednesday night of what it means to have a black president in the Oval Office.”

    Because you know, it only means something when he’s talking about race. When he’s travelled around the world, undoing a little of the damage of the last eight years, representing a different sense of what America is, that don’t mean squat. And when he’s doing is job on health care, or what have you, and kids turn on the news and see that he’s our president, next to all the racist crap that’s on the rest of the dial, that doesn’t mean anything.

    Also, they keep talking about how he ‘threw’ himself into the issue. He was asked about it!

  179. i’m an african-american teen and i honestly don’t believe the policeman did anything wrong… even though his address was listed on his driver’s license, there could have been a number of reasons as to why he was trying to get into his house. perhaps, he & his wife had been quarreling. perhaps, he was attempting to stage something. the cop had no way of knowing. he was right in sticking around.

    One incident involving a white man doesn’t change the fact that the incident involving Dr. Gates was racist. This is about probability. The chances of an incident like this happening to a white man because a couple of cops are drunk on unchecked power are greater than zero, but they are relatively small. The chances it will happen to a black man are significantly elevated, and as this incident shows, having a great deal of authority and respectable class status are not enough to overcome that disparity. It is fundamentally unjust.

    Your argument seems to be that police ought to be so skeptical as to not obey the law themselves, just in case something bad is happening. But the laws are clear, and are there for our protection. It doesn’t matter if you “believe” the police did anything wrong or not, frankly — they did not follow procedure, and thus did something wrong. Those procedures are in place to guarantee that public citizens are not unduly harrassed, and well, if that means one very tricksy robber gets away with it, so be it; in the vast majority of cases the law will instead protect the public from unfair suspicion and arrest. The cops were way out of line to arrest. period.

  180. This is larger than a racial issue, this is also an issue of class, gender, etc.

    Yes, abuse of authority is an issue that we need to talk about in terms of intersectional analysis. But we should be wary of saying “This is larger than a racial issue” as a means of deflecting discussion from the fact that it is a racial issue — as if racism isn’t enough to warrant attention.

  181. I don’t know if a small minority or a large minority of cops in the USA are racist, but this now means that cops who do the job for the RIGHT reasons, who are not racist and power hungry will have a harder time doing their job because people will be likely to believe they are racist even if they are not.

    You know, I sympathize with cops in that position, I do. But I also don’t really give a rat’s ass. You probably didn’t mean it to come off this way, but this is what I meant above when I said too many white people talk as though being accused of racism is an evil equivalent to racism itself. It ain’t. Non-racist white cops are part of a system that is rotten to the core. But at this point, as the discussion around this incident has demonstrated, not nearly enough people are willing to acknowledge institutional racism. So I am not going to shed a fucking tear for individual white officers coming under suspicion for racism while racist cops are still harassing, beating and killing people of color every day in this country and getting away with it under the protection of a racist justice system — and meanwhile, most white people still stubbornly insist that it isn’t happening in a systematic way, and that it is far more important to give white cops the benefit of the doubt than it is to recognize a blatant pattern of arresting, imprisoning, harassing, beating and killing people of color for no good reason.

    Non-racist cops, especially if they are committed to being anti-racist cops, can suck it up and take an occasional hit to their reputations. Protecting their feelings should be so far down on the priority list here that talking about that at all right now is insulting.

  182. even though his address was listed on his driver’s license, there could have been a number of reasons as to why he was trying to get into his house. perhaps, he & his wife had been quarreling. perhaps, he was attempting to stage something. the cop had no way of knowing. he was right in sticking around.

    You know, he really wasn’t. I see what you’re saying — people do commit crimes in their own homes. People do break into their own homes after being thrown out by their partners, sometimes with tragic results. But cops are not allowed to come in and check for that without probable cause. They are not allowed to knock on your door and say, “Hi, I just want to look around and make sure there are no crimes going on here! If you’re not committing a crime, you have no reason to be bothered by it!”

    Gates’s i.d. proved that he was not committing the suspected crime that brought the police to his house. He could have had a dead body in the freezer, and it still wouldn’t have been OK for that cop to hang around after determining that he was not a burglar.

  183. The audience of news reporters burst into laughter.

    But, it was funny. And, it was intended to be funny. Because, anybody seen breaking into the White House, white or black, will get shot. I certainly don’t think the reporters were somehow laughing at what happened to Gates or making light of the fact that black people have been shot by police officers without cause by laughing at what Obama clearly had intended as a joke.

  184. What I find most interesting is the fact that this woman doesn’t seem to have known her own neighbour, even on sight…

    I may not be on speaking terms with all of my neighbours but at least I know what they look like. :/

  185. If I hear one more time about how Gates should have deferred to the police, I will scream my vocal cord raw. WTH is with this country and the unquestioning, worshipful deference we’re supposed to give to police, the military and other institutions, regardless of whether they’re denying us our rights or just plain screwing us over? Do people really want a police state that badly?

    Thank you, Kate for this outstanding post. You said it all much more coherently and calmly than I’m capable of doing right now.

  186. “This is larger than a racial issue, this is also an issue of class, gender, etc.”

    Agreed, totally. Blacks are the canary in the coal mine for issues that will eventually hit everyone who isn’t pulling 200k a year. Individual police officers can’t be so invested in their own status as authority figures that “disrespecting” one becomes a crime in and of itself. We’re breeding a centurion class that’s armed to the teeth and very, very touchy.

    “@Steven Augustine –
    Then you live in one of the “nice” parts.”

    I’ve lived in ten major cities in the US and four in Europe and there’s absolutely no comparison: American racism is industrial-strength in its breadth and ferocity and it comes from all sides (including from brainwashed, self-hating blacks). As a Black male in the US, there’s no chance of standing alone in an elevator with a strange white woman and *not* being uncomfortable; if you plan to go shopping in any mall that’s nice enough to have the merchandise you’ll actually want, you’re advised to dress for a night at the opera.

    I’m not against anyone making a snap judgment based on appearance: that can be a matter of modern urban survival. But if the only clue, in my appearance, that I might rob/rape/decapitate you, is the color of my skin, there’s something seriously wrong with the default settings. Dressing like a middle-aged bourgeois in Berlin isn’t enough to stop Germans thinking I must be great in bed (or a basketball fan), but it means I have *never*, ever been effed-with by shop assistants or the police. In fact, I’ve called the police about loud German neighbors (at 2am) three or four times in my twenty years here and the cops responding to the complaint have always been courteous and sometimes even deferential to me. Contrast that with the time I was detained in the Midwest on suspicion of bank-robbing one winter day… because the perp and I shared tastes in parkas.

    When I first hit Berlin, I was walking down a dark side-street one night at about 11pm and two middle-aged white women approached me to ask directions… which blew my mind. And never once whilst approaching intersections in Berlin have I heard a symphony of electric door locks clicking… such a common experience Stateside that I stop noticing it a week after I return for a visit.

    Yes, the Turkish are discriminated against… but if they’re still being discriminated against after being here for four centuries (as opposed to half of one), the injustice of it will be comparable.

    The deeper issue we’re skirting here is the *visceral disgust* that Blacks are exposed to in America… a subtext that no one wants to talk about. It’s not just a matter of rejecting The Other: American Negrophobia is a very specific condition that colors (npi) the whole conversation. It’s the big black (or is it white?) elephant in the room.

    There is racism everywhere on Earth (see Rwanda). But considering America’s self-image, the blatant disconnect of the vastness of the problem there is cause for serious soul-searching.

  187. too many white people talk as though being accused of racism is an evil equivalent to racism itself.

    I’ve heard that described as “white woman syndrome” and read an excellent livejournal post on it a while back. I’ll have to see if I can find it again-I have it bookmarked at home but I’m at work.

    And aside all that, excellent post Kate, and excellent work Kate, Fillyjonk, Sweet Machine, A Sarah, and Shapelings, in the comments. It’s got to be hard work keeping this discussion on track. I had very few moments of “oh no, here it comes” dread reading this and that’s a credit to everyone.

  188. “white woman syndrome”? Wow, I’d love to read where that phrase means and the explanation for it.

  189. oops, bad editing. “where that phrase comes from” was supposed to have turned into “what that phrase means.”

  190. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, Lu… Nice white ladies consider accusations of racism to be some kind of disgraceful low blow. Never mind how much worse racism itself is than the horrible insult of having been accused of something racist.

  191. Volcanista, that’s pretty much it but a little more histrionic. :) Here’s an example from a discussion of the phenomenon.

    “black student: wow, i was at the cafeteria across campus, and while i was getting my food, a cafeteria worker pulled me out of line, demanded to see my id, and told me that this wasn’t a 7/11 or a benefits line while i was digging in my back pack. sometimes i feel unwelcome here.
    white female student: OH MY GOD. your experience makes me SO SAD! ::starts crying::
    class: ::comforts crying female::
    black student: ?????”

    Conversation found here.
    http://community.livejournal.com/ap_racism/10023.html
    It’s very thought-provoking.

  192. Ohhh, nooo, Emma B. Not RaceFail ’09.
    *shudders*

    The similarities do stagger, though.

    Even though the topics are as disparate as “nithings and the Nielsen Haydens” and “what constitutes unreasonable search and seizure on a citizen’s private property”.

    Which is why whenever an allwhite person starts with “Well there were mitigating circumstances” or “S/he (or better yet, YOU) had such an unproductive attitude” or the ever popular “Well, that tone is not conducive to a productive discussion”

    OR

    a POC comes out with “Well I’m a POC and I don’t see anything wrong with” — which, *sstteeeaammmm* — I just want to howl

    “What part of ‘institutional and structural prejudice’ do you NOT understand???”

  193. Yeah, my sense is that White Woman’s Syndrome is more about white women’s compulsion to twist every conversation about race into a conversation about their feelings. Talking about how being accused of racism hurts their feelings is a subset.

    I’ve totally been guilty of it, by the way. Even worse, at the time I thought I was helping by explaining where I was coming from.

  194. I’ve totally been guilty of it, by the way. Even worse, at the time I thought I was helping by explaining where I was coming from.

    Ditto. There are very few things in this world that I am not immediately tempted to make All About Me, but I am at least learning to stifle that impulse occasionally.

  195. “white WOMAN syndrome”? Because everything is always women’s fault? And white MEN can do no wrong?

    Come on. God, I had enough of this during the Democratic primary to last me a lifetime. Racism vs. misogyny is not a choice we’re actually forced to make. At least not if we don’t want to.

    If someone feels guilty for her racism, maybe she should own it PERSONALLY rather than try to palm it off on the fact that she’s a stupid female. As we used to say in junior high, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  196. Ditto. There are very few things in this world that I am not immediately tempted to make All About Me, but I am at least learning to stifle that impulse occasionally.

    You’d think that would make me more sympathetic to people pulling that shit but apparently not. Turns out if you integrate all of my actions and attitudes over the course of my life, I’m quite the hypocrite.

    Elizabeth, white men as a group have their own host of problems and they get their measure of shit here and elsewhere. Certainly it’s a generalization, but in general white people’s interaction with racism and antiracism often has a gender component.

  197. Racism vs. misogyny is not a choice we’re actually forced to make. At least not if we don’t want to.

    And some of us — like oh, say, women of color — couldn’t even if they wanted to.

    Yes, white men do the exact same thing in conversations about race, but in the particular conversations linked above, WWS is a pretty accurate name.

  198. Oh, the critique of racism is gendered all right. White men beat and kill – but white women cry and whine, but that’s obviously much worse. Because, you know, women.

    In addition to gender there also needs to be some unpacking of class from whiteness. Incredible as it may seem, the struggle against oppression doesn’t hinge on what a manipulative bitch you were when a token POC showed up to your fancy college. There is a whole huge swath of white society where crying doesn’t work wonders, either. When you do that breast-beating “oh no, I’m so awful, don’t you hate it when we do that ‘white woman’ thing?”, white women who haven’t lived that life are going to be all, “what do you mean, ‘we’, white woman?”

  199. Elizabeth, I suggest you read that Livejournal thread, if you haven’t already. I felt certain feelings rising up in me at reading that name, because it is really broad and therefore liable to offend, but I refrained from commenting further on my reaction here, which I’m now glad I did. The term WWS refers to something specific, and it is easy enough to exclude yourself from the definition without bringing all sorts of other comparisons into it, such as “what about men.”

  200. Given that most of the posters on this site are white women, and specifically white women who on the whole self ID as at least somewhat Liberal/leftist/progressive, it seems fairly appropriate to talk about white woman syndrome…

    Thankfully, the majority of commenters here haven’t been behaving that way (as far as I can tell, being a white woman myself), but you can’t seriously say that noone has tried to make this (or indeed MAG’s recent awesome post about TFOBWhite) All About The Poor White Women?? Such as, oh, I don’t know, you yourself?

    Re: my comment about not feeling as though I should read The Voice, I don’t know, perhaps I am being overly cautious, but it just seems a little wrong somehow.

  201. Given that most of the posters on this site are white women, and specifically white women who on the whole self ID as at least somewhat Liberal/leftist/progressive, it seems fairly appropriate to talk about white woman syndrome…

    Er. What I mean is “white woman syndrom seems an appropriate term in this context”, not, “we should bang on for a hundred million posts about white women and whether they have a speshul syndrome”

  202. I’m not the one who brought up “white WOMEN,” qua women. I responded to it. If you don’t like my response, that’s obviously your prerogative. But it’s not like I pulled the issue out of my ass. You’re perfectly free to ban me – I’d just as soon not post as change my tune to avoiding banning. The whole banning thing seems based on the idea that people are unreflective assholes and the threat of exclusion will make them suddenly start thinking. In my case, that’s just not it. I’ve thought about this a lot, and lived it a lot. I just don’t sign on to the idea that anti-racism requires me to eat shit about how awful I am as a WOMAN. And for me, not eating that shit includes not remaining silent when I see it – even if I know it will make people mad. As it made you mad. And as a poor person and the wife and mother of POC I particularly don’t feel bad if I don’t measure up to standards of “anti-racist” whites whose primary point of reference for interaction with POC always seems to be the college classroom.

  203. I responded to it. If you don’t like my response, that’s obviously your prerogative. But it’s not like I pulled the issue out of my ass.

    I never said you did. In fact, my response was very much the same as Lu’s above. The phrase made me cringe, too, until I got the context. Which is exactly why I suggested you look at the context.

    You then came back with comments on misogyny and classism with regard to white people, which are both subjects we’ve discussed a lot around here, but are not appropriate on a thread about institutionalized racism, given A) how easily such threads become All About White People, and B) how few there are on this blog, since it is a blog written by white feminists who admittedly love to talk about themselves, with about a million other threads where your comments on misogyny and/or classism hurting white people would be on topic.

    Indeed, the last 10 comments on this thread have been referring to your hurt over the phrase “white women syndrome,” instead of about the pattern that phrase describes, which is… THIS.

  204. When I find myself getting angry or uncomfortable around discussions of racism, sexism, ablism, etc, I have learned over time that usually means, for me, I’ve got some unpacking and examining to do. YMMV, of course.

  205. Wow, Elizabeth. How can you not see that everything you just said is from the “What about the white people” card? Or rather, how can you not care?

    “White woman syndrome” is a term that is not about how awful it is to be a white woman. It’s a term about how many white women are culturally conditioned to behave in a patriarchal and racist culture — just like Stuff White People Do is not actually about how white people really just suck.

    For instance, right now you are playing a Who Is The Best Ally game, and thus still trying to make this thread all about your pain as a white woman.

  206. “Elizabeth, I suggest you read that Livejournal thread”<

    The way her comments are coming out, one wonders if it isn’t Elizabeth Bear come to wave and say hi
    *scooches down in bunker*

  207. You’re perfectly free to ban me

    Ok, since that’s what you want.

    The whole banning thing seems based on the idea that people are unreflective assholes

    Oh, we don’t need to make assumptions like that. Banworthy people, like you, make it patently obvious.

    Thanks for the illustration of white woman’s syndrome! Bye!

  208. Kate, thank you for the sane and appropriately scathing coverage of this issue.
    The more I see posts/articles about this in other places (and especially the comments, mygod the comments!!!!) the more ill it makes me how much people will grasp at any tired trope to avoid acknowledging the racism in this situation.

    The latest? we get the lovely “but he’s a gooooood man, just trying to do his job [so there can't have been any racism involved, dontchaknow?]” from the cops’ union. Oh, and phrases like “he will regret the remarks he made” are generally taken to be at least somewhat threatening. except, apparently, when addressed to the President. blech.

    also, did you know that POC are arrested more because they commit more crimes? It’s so simple, right? everyone knows it, so it must be right. *headdesk* thanks ever so boston globe commenters.

  209. You’re perfectly free to ban me – I’d just as soon not post as change my tune to avoiding banning. The whole banning thing seems based on the idea that people are unreflective assholes and the threat of exclusion will make them suddenly start thinking.

    No, the ban stick is not at all for remediation. The “whole banning thing” is about not needing to make this particular corner of the internet hospitable to everyone who comes this way. We’d just as soon have an overzealous ban policy as change the blog’s tune to avoid offending the most offense-prone.

  210. Gads. I did not mean to spark a cascade of consternation about the “WWS” thing. I thought it was pertinent to the conversation especially since part of the point is how OMG offended some white folk are at the allegations of racist actions and how that tends to derail conversations about racism.

    And that derailed a conversation about racism.

  211. Good fucking point, AS. Banning, like everything else about this thread, is not about you and your brownie points, Elizabeth. It’s about what kind of space we want this to be.

  212. Reading this was just a huge BRAVO moment for me. I am in awe.

    I am also kind of still scratching my head as to why the neighbor didn’t recognize Professor Gates. It was a really nice neighborhood, right? So you’d think people don’t move in and out a lot. It’s not like the neighbor lived next to an apartment complex where tenants were always coming and going. Are rich people really that oblivious? I have this mental image of the neighbor being informed of the result of her call and going “Holy shit, there are black people in this neighborhood? Time to sell!”

  213. And that derailed a conversation about racism.

    No, Elizabeth derailed a conversation about racism.

  214. I think the relevance of “white woman syndrome” is specifically important because white women tend to use their gender as a defense against accusations of privilege, and because it’s a common derailing tactic. “I can’t be the oppressor — I’m a woman! And that’s just like being a PoC, so I can’t be racist!”

    littlem, RaceFail ’09 was the event that really made me start rethinking some things about race and privilege, and doing some Racism 101 reading. Not that my own personal enlightenment somehow justifies its existence, just saying that’s why the similarity has popped out at me.

    I actually found it helpful to realize that the fear of being accused of racism is relatively small potatoes, compared to actual racism. (And that in itself is privilege right there, because I have the luxury of constructing that hierarchy…) In RaceFail ’09, some white female SFF writers publicly refused to even consider the possibility that they might be racist, with the subtext that there’s no difference between saying “this character of yours perpetrates a racist stereotype”, and OMG I BET YOU HAVE A KLAN HOOD IN YOUR CLOSET. That all-or-nothing attitude is ultimately damaging, because if you’re wrapped up in the idea that you’re not A Racist, you’re probably blind to some actual racist things you do. If you’re not afraid to admit that you’re capable of being racist, it’s easier to check yourself and ask, hey, is this thing I’m doing racist?

  215. Yeah, I saw some headlines earlier today, including one where the policeman in question has apparently stated that he is “not a racist.” I was like, lol your jay smooth, nice switcheroo there.

  216. If you’re not afraid to admit that you’re capable of being racist, it’s easier to check yourself and ask, hey, is this thing I’m doing racist?

    Or even just “is this thing I’m doing complicit in and helping to perpetuate a racist culture?” That helps keep your intentions out of it — any inkling of “you’re being racist” shuts certain people down, but even beyond that, it doesn’t matter a goddamn bit whether you’re racist or not, overall or in this particular moment. You can have a head full of multiracial kittens holding hands and still be perpetuating racism, if you don’t choose to analyze it and explicitly oppose it.

  217. buttercup, on July 23rd, 2009 at 6:38 pm Said:

    When I find myself getting angry or uncomfortable around discussions of racism, sexism, ablism, etc, I have learned over time that usually means, for me, I’ve got some unpacking and examining to do. YMMV, of course.

    This. I think that’s the hardest lesson for a lot of us to learn, but, damn is it ever the most important one. Well, that and “Shut up and listen.”

  218. Well, I’ve certainly had my bracing dose of irony for the day.

    Logging into WordPress I see a blog about the Gates affair being highlighted; having a strong opinion on the topic I click over and leave a supportive comment along the lines that I was actually so tired of American racism that I moved to Europe 20 years ago and alleviated the problem. The only response to which is a patronizing captain-obvious-type comment that there is racism in Europe (from someone who has spent 30 brown years in America and then 20 brown years in Europe and can make nuanced comparisons?).

    My second (non-troll-y) response (as one of very few black males on the thread) is in great depth, carefully-considered, and introduces an interesting new angle to the discussion (ie, racism is deeper than politics). I am thereafter ignored.

    Black comedy? I guess.

  219. Steven A I’m really glad that you found comfort and peace in Europe. I’m so sorry that you had to leave your home country to find that (assuming you thought of it as home you may not- I don’t know).
    One thing I really appreciate about this blog is how comparing oppression is generally frowned upon. I’m really struck by how you kind of brush off the very real hatred and discrimination that Arabs and Turks experience in Europe. I know an 18 year old Arab-Canadian who was cavity searched in Madrid. This kid has lived his entire life in Canada and is an ethnic Christian but they just had to check in ass to make sure he wasn’t a Muslim hiding a bomb. Plus, you seem to forget that those Arabs and Turks come from places that have been dealing with racism and religious bigotry by the Europeans for almost four centuries as well. That experience as relayed by Franz Fanon, for example, were highly influential in the Black Nationalist movement here in the states. Besides, when did duration of oppression become a criteria for adjudicating what is and isn’t bigotry? Or bigotry worth calling out? I’m also troubled by your assertion that its ironic you that you feel comfortable in the home of the Third Reich. Well, you don’t identify as Jewish (AFAIK) so you probably wouldn’t feel all that uncomfortable in the home of the Third Reich. While there are similarities between racism and antisemitism they’re not the same thing and need to be considered separately. More importantly, the ongoing battle against antisemitism in Europe is scary. And then there are the Roma who have never experienced equality in Europe and are ‘non-citizens’ almost everywhere they go.
    I’ve rewritten this three times because I didn’t want to threadjack but I also don’t think that the generally good discussion that’s gone on here should overlook these issues.

  220. Steven Augustine, I’m sorry. I appreciated your comments, but about 99% of my comments on the second half of this thread have been trying to keep people from going down the rabbit hole, as opposed to expressing gratitude for the people saying smart things and adding value to the discussion. And of course, we did, in fact, go down the fucking rabbit hole since your last comment.

    So yeah, the whole thing about how white women discussing white women tends to silence the voices of POC? Exhibit A, folks.

  221. Well certainly, the history of race relations in Europe is just all around different than in the U.S. I think it makes sense that your experience there is very different, and that the kinds of racism you experienced might have been easier for you to live with than what you dealt with in the U.S. I don’t think it takes away from how others have experience racism in Europe for you to point that out, either (but neither does it erase their experiences).

  222. I had an interesting conversation with my s/o last night on this topic. He said that he had read an autobiography on cops and why they become cops. The author (and I apologise for the lack of specifics) said that cops essentially see themselves as hunters, not enforcers of justice. They are hunters, and they catch their prey. The book said that the cops do, for instance, wait on the Florida line and pull over any Latinos driving the speed limit, because they consider it basically as easy hunting for drug traffickers. Regardless of the fact that the majority of the people they pull over have nothing to do with the drug trade.

    Is it any wonder that, having been raised in a culture where a POC is considered “prey” by armed figures of authority, that there would spring a natural suspicion and/or hostility towards the “hunters”? The most obvious evidence of institutional racism is when innocent until proven guilty is suspended at the most basic level, but only for a select few, and only based on the color of their skin.

    Some people want to leap at one or two anectdotal examples of fair play, just so they can have the privilege of not thinking about it. But hey, so what if that particular and personal panacea is just an illusion? As long as you can sleep at night, right?

  223. Steven, I’ve actually been giving a lot of thought to your comment about visceral disgust. It was a real eye-opener to me mostly because it reminded me of how people react with disgust to fatness. I think there may be a whole different set of complicated baggage attached to racial disgust that has roots in shame and fear more so than fatphobia. Do you suppose that (white american) shame and fear is why you don’t sense the visceral hatred in your part of europe?

  224. Steven I hope you didn’t think I was dismissing what you were saying with my post. Volcanista’s last post reminded me that I was assuming certain things didn’t need to be said when they did. So what I was thinking in my head and what I should have said was ‘Hmm yeah, I guess his experience would be different. Most European countries outlawed slavery 150 years before we did. They essentially defined the descendants of African slavery as humans before we did.’
    But, I honed in on the comments about Turks and Arabs because, well truthfully, as an academic I get tired of hearing my colleagues talk about how much more superior Europe is… so I have a personal grudge against the whole continent of Europe. And I’m also knee deep in post colonialist literature. So I’m not trying to dismiss you or ignore you. I just have a bone to pick with Europe. :)

  225. Yikes, I was just so relieved Steven wasn’t a troll that I figured we could let the interesting and substantive parts of his comment stand on their own. Sorry for making you feel neglected, there, Steven. It’s Good Kid syndrome — you get ignored for being informed and polite while everyone scrambles to contain the chaos that bad kids can create.

  226. Definitely a first to get not one but a gazillion apologies in a thread like this. Deeply appreciated. I’m not high-maintenance or anything but I was starting to feel about Twilight-Zone-ishly invisible there (like: am I dead?)! Laugh

    And, of course I wasn’t saying that there’s no racism in Europe. But, for example, my friend P., a British lawyer of Nigerian descent, told me that he was actually *terrified*, for the first time, being black, during his first State-side visit: it felt as though the police had a mandate to execute him for the slightest offence. He never felt that in the UK, as bad as things are there

  227. Steven Augustine, if it helps, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when someone who isn’t white is talking about racism I need to shut the fuck up and listen. It’s not often that I manage that in any other arena, but I’m getting better in this one ;). So I paid a lot of attention to your comment, but I didn’t have anything useful to say back that didn’t sound like “Yes! And here is how I feel about that as Nice White Lady! You’re welcome.”

  228. Steven, that quick through-the-looking-glass snapshot of your British friend’s experience here is … I don’t know how to express it. I won’t say it opened my eyes, because I’m not notably oblivious, but I think it was its brevity that just flashed another kind of light here.

  229. Also, this

    it felt as though the police had a mandate to execute him for the slightest offence.

    is fucking terrifying.

  230. And continuing the comment-leapfrog with Caitlin ;), I agree with her comment that appears just above mine at 8:41.

  231. Steven Augustine, if it helps, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when someone who isn’t white is talking about racism I need to shut the fuck up and listen.

    This.

    Thanks Steven, your comments were really interesting.

    When I went on school trips to France, Germany and Italy, [about 10-13 years ago] as part of groups who were in the first instance around 15/16 and mainly black/Asian [Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi] and in the second and third instances around 17/18 and still a fairly high proportion of students who were of colour, there was a very different feeling in Germany as opposed to the other two countries, partly I suppose because the French and Italian trips were to relatively rural towns as opposed to Hamburg and Berlin.

    In France, except when we went on a day trip to Paris there was a strong feeling that wherever we went we (and specifically the black girls) were being watched in a suspicious sort of way. In Italy I was stopped, along with two girls (one black, one Chinese) and told that, I shit you not, “you look like a Benetton advert!” I mean, you know, points for trying, I guess, but jeez. In Germany, I honestly don’t remember a single incident (and the group I was with was at least as politically inclined as either of the previous ones, so it’s not like it would have gone unsaid…)

  232. A story: a very old friend of mine was in a middle class, two-job family; she owned a house in a nice neighborhood, with her husband, and it was with them that I stayed on a trip to the States in ’95. She had a prosperous pet-watching business. One evening she asked if I could help the next morning by taking a few of the chores on… which would involve letting myself into about half a dozen houses, at the crack of dawn, in a tony (98%-white) neighborhood in order to feed pets while the owners were vacationing in Tuscany (or wherever).

    Well, exploiting their hospitality as I was, I felt like a total shit saying “no” to the request. And she accepted my “no” but told me I was totally wrong (and paranoid/hypersensitive/behind the times, etc). She assured me that people just weren’t like that any more… certainly not the NPR-listeners in that lakeside enclave. And it was terribly frustrating for me that I could *not* convince her of the rationality of my concerns. And to this day (they now live on a splendid 50 acres in a fairytale house about an hour’s drive from a “liberal” city), she probably still thinks I’m a paranoid.

    Unbridgeable gulf? Sometimes feels that way. I won’t even go into my recent experience of trying to explain my ambivalence towards the figure of Michael Jackson to white friends… (laugh)

  233. Anwen-with-an-N:

    “In Germany, I honestly don’t remember a single incident (and the group I was with was at least as politically inclined as either of the previous ones, so it’s not like it would have gone unsaid…)…”

    Well, that’s the irony, isn’t it? They’re on their best behavior now… after what happened last century. Not that they’re Post Racial, or anything, but I kind of like the fact that, for the Germans, plenty of “whites” are other “races”, too. And they actually often consider Persians (for example) superior to Germans.

    Another tale of my friend P. He walked into a Berlin bakery soon after the inauguration and the guy behind the counter goes, loudly, “Hello, Mr. President!”

    Still, it’s better than being Tasered.

  234. If only the mainstream media weren’t so goddamned predictable. You gotta love the Boston Globe. With newspapers dying a quick death, they’re keen to jump on this story and milk it for all it’s worth. I especially love the coded language in this opening paragraph.

    “BOSTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama plunged his presidency into a charged racial debate and set off a firestorm in one of America’s most liberal bastions by siding with a black Harvard scholar who accuses police of racism.”

    It must be nice for the average white person to not have to think about race. How squirmy it must make them when some radical POC brings it up to make them feel all uncomfortable about their privilege. Didn’t you know, that’s what we POCs live for?

    GRRRRRRRRR.

  235. On the other hand, I learned about several non-white grad students having a very, very hard time getting apartments in Hamburg. I know, anecdata and all that, and I can’t remember if any of the students were black (these were classmates of a good friend of mine, not people I knew). The impression I got from those stories was that racism was much less overt in many arenas, but it did crop up very obviously in certain situations. (Of course, I’ve also heard stories about non-German European whites being unable to get jobs in Germany, and non-French European whites unable to get jobs in France, etc. etc., so some of that is clearly not just race. There is some crazy nationalism shit there, too.)

  236. From very limited experience with European racism (a year abroad in France), I noticed that as an outsider, it was often difficult for me to visually identify someone as being of a minority ethnicity. People of southern European and Maghrebi or Middle Eastern heritage often have similar features and hair/skin coloration (which is totally logical given that we’re talking about areas separated by no more than a couple hundred miles, with historical population overlap). Of course, there are French people of African heritage, who are obviously black, but the absolute numbers are much smaller than of Maghrebi heritage.

    Do you think that the “viseral disgust” common to American racism might have something to do with how easy it is to peg someone as being Other?

  237. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/research/

    I wanted to re-post this link for emphasis. Minerva posted it above and it went under the radar. It’s this project that’s been around for about 10 years. It tests people’s unconscious decision making in regards to identity and its very eye opening. It turns out I prefer Arab and Jews to white folks, have no preference for Asians or whites, and a moderate preference for whites over blacks- that’s changed for me since 2000 which was the last time I took it. It used to be a slight preference for whites over blacks. I don’t think its an accident that in 2000 I had been living with African Americans in the dorms and the last ten years have been in a pretty segregated city and a very white grad program.

    The point is that people can see the way in which the cop might have made the kinds of snap judgments that he did with Professor Gates. And in the privacy of your own home you can see some of the things that may be operating in your own perception of the world.

  238. Emma B:

    (we’ll see if my daughter stays asleep…)

    “Do you think that the “visceral disgust” common to American racism might have something to do with how easy it is to peg someone as being Other?”

    Oh, without a doubt. After centuries of blacks being livestock, essentially, in North America, there’s no way that the physical reality of so-called blackness will be accepted, on all levels of the psyche, across the board there, as truly “human”, any time soon.

    Whatever the attitudes of the strangers I interact with, superficially, in Europe (even the skinheads), they don’t seem to have a problem *looking at me*. Whereas, in North America, in even the best circumstances, being black feels like having a weird birthmark. There’s the aura (subtle or not) of embarrassment and taboo attached to it. And this is a heavy thing to experience every single day… I didn’t really notice it until it had stopped.

  239. (In case anyone is confused: my avatar is a joke; my favorite photo of a close, 34-year-old friend at the age of five. It could be worse: I have a black friend who refuses to give up her Homer Simpson avatar)

  240. fatsmartchick:

    (first I feel ostracized, now you can’t shut me up; I promise I’ll fade away soon):

    “The point is that people can see the way in which the cop might have made the kinds of snap judgments that he did with Professor Gates.”

    But if you look closely, you can see how reading H.L. Gates as any kind of criminal presence, or physical threat, goes beyond snap-judgment and slips into the realm of fantasy narrative. If Gates were huge and inarticulate and 20 years younger and dripping with gold chains, the profiling might still be rather unfair… but not entirely absurd. But H. L. Gates? He’d look like a harmless academic in his underwear. Where are all these fantastical layers of projection coming from?

  241. I agree with you. If you’ll see from my posts above, I think the whole idea of Gates being seen as a criminal is nonsense.

    The study that Minerva linked to allows people to essentially see what they prefer among headshots of white and black faces. Then they have another that tests how much you associate dangerous weapons with black or white faces. It gets some people past that point of “I’m not racist because I have black friends.” or thinking racism is something people consciously, purposefully do and thus ‘I don’t have to examine what attitudes I have because I don’t use the n word.” The cool thing is that it also allows POC to test their own perceptions and even see some self-loathing tendencies that come from living in a racist society. There’s also a test on there for fatphobia. I prefer fat people to thin people. hmm.

  242. fatsmartchick:

    I’ll be perfectly honest and admit that I have a lookist allergy to certain *dress styles*; I pre-judge the hell out of guys my age trying to dress in “with it” fashions (and wraparound sunglasses). But if they open their mouths and junk doesn’t fall out, I’m pretty sure I let the prejudice go.

    But my family/heritage is very, very mixed and I just don’t look at dark people or pale people and assume I know a thing about them. My range of friends is almost impossible… but I’ve constructed a fragile bubble of Post-Gender and Post-Race that I can only maintain by staying put. In many ways, it’s just a simulation.

    I don’t want my daughter to deal with that ugliness (she’s 3) but I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep her in a bubble about it.

  243. Stephen Augustine –

    As a Canadian and in a somewhat different racial culture – although not without racism, by any means, but with *differing* racisms – one of the things that hits me every time I venture into the states is that class and black/latino/white stratification seem really intertwined and obvious. The same can be said for Canadian society and our serious systemic oppression of the First Nations folks. I tend to see race and class intersect a lot.

    My impression was that Germany was a little less desperate on the lower economic rungs but I have no real sense of whether race and class are heavily intertwined with that. Have you felt a difference in class assumption in Germany?

  244. i cant help but wonder if the media is intentionally trying to make gates look like the villain instead of victim.

    does anyone else feel like the news nowadays is intentionally trying to trigger emotions rather than report facts?

    i mean they dont have to say “i think” to really get their opinion known.

    i know the target audience is white people….it feels like when they talk about black people on the news, any kind of injustice they have gone through, they try to mock it by making the victim look like the villain.

    its sad in this day and age, people think based on what the media tells them.

    people dont realize just how powerful the media really has over us.

    ive come to the conclusion, the media is nothing more than propaganda….

    i guess this is why europeans say dont trust american news outlets to talk truthfully about war or anything for that matter.

    i do think the police are resembling the gestapo…..they are starting to abuse their power, and you are right, black people are probably the main target…and its even worse when you are just a poor average person on top of that.

    it seems like the stories of true injustices go unheard in the media…because it might spark in peoples brains, that something sinister is happening…it might make them question everything they know.

    i just wish the media would just list facts. keep anything emotional out of it. and dont report it when you dont have all the facts. a boring news is a safe news.

    right now both conservative and liberal…any kind of media is playing off peoples emotions.

    like i said before, the target audience is white….i guess that is why you hear more bad things about other races…they want to appeal to the target audience…and the target audience doesnt realize they are being tricked, brainwashed and used….

    the media has control over society….they use certain words that will always trigger emotions. they always conveniently forget to mention important parts. and if the media doesnt report something, or report it accurately, most wouldnt know, because they trust the media….and like i said, the media and tv have become most people’s brain in society….

  245. Arwen:

    It’s my sense that race and class are *always* intertwined; especially if you substitute color for race where necessary (in places like Brazil or India). The difference between the US and Germany is, I think, again, down to the North American slave trade. And the whole people-as-cattle thing. You can’t treat people like literal cattle for longer than a place has been a country and suddenly start thinking of these “cattle” as people with the flip of a legislative switch. It just won’t happen. And so many of those antebellum tropes are still with us, in the form of popular entertainment… what’s a “gangsta rapper” but a modern embodiment of the Mandingo riff?

    Assimilation has always been the way for a subculture to ease its way out of these discriminations (no one considers the Irish or the Italians inferior or even non-white, in North America, any more). In the case of blacks, I think, assimilation is harder because of the sheer physical Otherness of being black. Even Asians, otherwise physically other to “whites”, have straight hair. Which could lead us to a discussion of hair-straightening in blacks (and Michael Jackson)…

    My theory is that the only hope is “reverse assimilation”… the rest of America getting a little browner, and curly-haired, as in Brazil, as lead by small vanguard of race-mixers. It’ll take a bit longer. And by then, of course, it’ll be something else: religion (as in Muslims) or class.

    I’ll go weirder here and say that it’s my theory that Negrophobia is a case of projection. The Nazis projected essentially German (or human) traits on the (German) Jews in a paroxysm of self-hatred and tried to wipe them out.

    I think it’s the same with Negrophobia in North America; I think whites, for the large part, live a fantasy life in which they identify themselves with impossible avatars of whiteness on movie screens, and find blacks repulsive by projecting their own rejected (human) traits on them. Blacks are looked-down-upon for being human (sweaty, sexual, smelly, violent, lazy, fat, etc) and whites think they’re Brangelina (sp?).

    Not all whites do this, of course; I’m talking about a Zeitgeist like, say, Bushism, in which it may only be the case that 52% of the people are doing it. But it’s enough to cause all the problems.

    Finding an enlightened thread like this one certainly helps to give me hope.

  246. I’ll go weirder here and say that it’s my theory that Negrophobia is a case of projection.

    It’s interesting that you say that whites are essentially asking blacks to accept their projected/abjected humanity. I would have interpreted it in basically the opposite way: as a literal scapegoating, transferring your sins and fears to (what you perceive as) an animal and then casting them out. Certainly that’s how I’ve interpreted Nazi xenophobia. I feel like the “animal” part is crucial there, since there’s a (symbolic or literal) sacrifice involved.

    Though I guess disagreeing over whether racism involves seeing people as “too human” or “too animal” is sort of moot… since humans are animals, and it sounds to me like when you talk about blacks being looked down on for “being human” you mean the particularly animal parts of it, which some people might want to abject in favor of a more… deified version of humanity, for lack of a better word.

    To get back to the main point of the thread, I’d put a finer point on your last graf: it’s not even that 52% of people are (necessarily) doing it; it’s that the culture is a priori racist (we’ve never had a zeitgeist where that isn’t the case) and only some percentage of people question and challenge that explicitly. Racism in this country doesn’t have to be something you perform. It’s something you’re already steeped in, and choose whether or not to resist.

  247. FJ:

    In total agreement. I think we can reconcile our last two comments if I clarify by saying that the abhorred “human” I’m referring to is the Animal reality, and that the etherealized version, up there on the screen in the form of Brangelina, is the Angelic that the viewer identifies with. It’s the difference, too, between the average “white” person’s vague notion of history as a Merchant and Ivory flick of pale sylphs flouncing around grand old English estates… and the reality of smelly, sometimes chancre-ridden humans taking dumps in lidded buckets kept in the wardrobes overnight. Laugh!

    As a child of the 1960s, I was well aware of white children taking pride in an imaginary patrimony that stretched all the way back to British actors mouthing plummy orations whilst posing in pristine togas in front of various landmarks of ancient Rome… while I was asked to imagine my great great great great great great grandparents squatting naked in bushes and ooh-ohh-ohhing like chimps. The mechanism of which is all just a fraction of the problem of racial self-image, and projection, we witness in a cop’s inability to treat HL Gates with “white” respect.

    “Racism in this country doesn’t have to be something you perform. It’s something you’re already steeped in, and choose whether or not to resist.”

    Right. On.

  248. “Racism in this country doesn’t have to be something you perform. It’s something you’re already steeped in, and choose whether or not to resist.”

    That’s about the most apt thing I’ve heard all week. It deserves to be stitched into a sampler, made into a bumper sticker, printed on a tee shirt, and written by skywriters all over the world.

  249. Thank you, Kate, for this excellent post.

    And thank you, Shapelings, for an awesome discussion in the comments. (Steven Augustine, haven’t seen you ’round these parts before, but you rock, and your comments have been very, very interesting to me. Thank you.)

    I’d comment more substantively, but everything I feel I ought to say has already been said. :)

  250. Incredible post!!
    So much to think about, so much to re-think!!
    Once again, I spend my friday at work with Shapely Prose and my brain on fire and my heart tranforming

    Thank You!

  251. you know, its angering me. Crowley wont apologize for his wrongs, yet he wants Obama to apologize for making an accurate statement.

    and now a republican wants to get a resolution passed that would force him to apologize when he isnt sorry.

    seriously, if republicans arent going to apologize for racists like ann coulter and rush limbaugh then why should the president apologize for pointing out something that is the truth?

    has society gone this down hill that people want forced apologies to tend to their wounded egos? if obama apologizes, he will be giving power to republicans to control him more than they already do.

    one of the biggest problems i have with democrats, is the apologize for saying the right things….while the republicans always say hateful and wrong things but never apologize.

  252. I have been trying to get my privileged white husband to understand the very things you talked about in this entry. He simply refuses to see that it is a different world for people of color. The situation brings me to tears. I can only imagine how irrational I would be in the same situation, combined with the fact that I am afraid of police (formerly poor, rural, petite female who has known two too many police-people who abused their power.)

  253. The thing I find so ironic about this is that the very same people who have been stockpiling guns since Obama was elected so that they can make sure the government doesn’t infringe on their rights now turn around and believe that, if we don’t show police officers complete deference in our own homes when they are not investigating a crime (which they weren’t at the time that Gates yelled), we can be arrested? Or, perhaps, it’s that they believe that white people have every right to resist the government but that black people must show appropriate deference to authority at all times.

  254. they believe that white people have every right to resist the government but that black people must show appropriate deference to authority at all times.

    Well, exactly. Because white people are righteously defending their homes and families, but black people are dangerous.

  255. WORD. I’ve been trying to explain why this has made me go so completely ballistic, and you nailed it, in every single respect. Idiot white people, please do not implicate the rest of us in your complete and utter cluelessness, insensitivity, and defensive backlash.

    I’d just add one hideously depressing reaction: my well-meaning but clue-limited mom, who said, “It’s so awful what they did to him. It makes me glad I’m not black!”

    Um, yeah, because injustice to other people always makes me feel really grateful for my white privilege. Sigh.

  256. Lori, when I heard about that resolution to force Obama’s apology, I was so disgusted. It’s a white man trying to force a black man—even if he’s the frickin’ President of the United States of America—to apologize to another white man. Yes, although the president is, in a sense, the ultimate authority figure, in principle no one should be above the obligation to apologize when it’s called for; I’m not arguing that. But that’s not what’s going on here. It’s using this incident as an excuse to knock President Obama down to size, and race is a huge factor in it. And I declare the burden to be on the congressman to prove me wrong.

  257. OK, sorry I’m double-posting, but I re-re-read Lori’s comment, the part Steven Augustine quoted, and it sunk in even further. Whoa! That is some pithy remark.

    I was in an airport on Friday, and they had CNN or Fox or something on, and they were playing the press conference where the Cambridge police were blabbing on about this incident. I had to walk away. When I came back, they had callers on the line to give their opinions. There was a woman from, I think Utah or Nebraska?, and she was of the opinion that Gates was in the wrong and it wasn’t racist to arrest him. Then she gave her hand away by going on about how “there are black colleges, but no white colleges,” and so forth, so obviously race couldn’t be a factor (because dontcha know that black people have a lot of special rights that white people don’t, so what are they complaining about?).

  258. I read your article and I completely agree with everything you said. However, there is one time when you can break into your own home. Many women file restraining orders on men who live with them. The person with the restraining order could potentially break into their own home. I’m not saying that was the intent of the arresting officer, but that situation would be a possibility.

  259. Right, Meg, but that goes to what’s been said upthread. Gates, or anyone else in that sitch, could have been committing a crime, but the police have no right to hang out just to see if maybe there’s a non-obvious crime going on. Presumably, they ran some kind of check on the address that would have turned up a restraining order. In the absence of one, there was no reason on earth for them to stick around and argue.

    [edited for clarity]

  260. I suppose you know by now that the woman who made the call did not mention anything about race in the 911 call until the 911 operator asked her about it. Never did the woman reporting the incident say anything about “two black men with backpacks.” We have Crowley to thank for that distortion.

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