Tag Archives: Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The one in which Emily admits to making a mistake

Every now and then, I make a mistake.

When it comes to arguments with my husband, of course, I am always right.  However, sometimes when I branch out into the wider public, those not quite as willing to humor me, I actually can be wrong.

And I was last week.  I stand by most of my post on Sotomayor, Gates, and Benjamin.  I do believe that all three of them have learned and will continue to learn from their experiences as minorities in the United States.  However, I regret stating that Gates was racially profiled by the Cambridge police.

Here is my take on it, which is just my take and should not be read as expert opinion (as if there were ever any risk of that happening).  I think that Gates is a brilliant but probably egotistical academic (redundant, I know).  He is also a black man.  Confronted with a cop who probably just wanted to do his job, Gates reacted with that entire history.  Did he lose his cool with a cop who absolutely should have been investigating?  Yep.  Should the officer have asked him to step onto the porch?  Well, let’s put it this way.  If ever the cops come to my house to investigate a possible forced entry, I sure as hell hope they ask me to step outside and talk to them, because then I can get away from the violent maniac behind the door who has the meat cleaver poised above my head.

(What can I say?  I have an active imagination.)

Did Gates feel he was being racially profiled?  I have no doubt.  And he felt that way for damned good historical reasons.  Nonetheless, his ego as an academic and his righteous anger as a black man in a country with a distressing history of racism led him to overreact with a police officer who was responding to a call.

However, Gates ought not have been arrested.  He did nothing illegal, and anyone could have seen that the guy was not a threat to Officer Crowley.  Not a physical threat, anyway, although clearly arresting him was not exactly a boon to the good officer’s career.

Officer Crowley made a mistake.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr., made a mistake.  Most shockingly of all, Emily Rosenbaum made a mistake.

As I said in the original post, smart people learn from their lives as members of racial minorities.  If Gates is the academic I think he is, this experience will deepen his understanding of racial relations in this country.  Officer Crowley, if he is a good police officer, will also learn from the experience.  It is not an issue of right or wrong, as the last week has made so very clear.  There are a hell of a lot of crossed purposes whizzing around the U.S., and even well-intentioned people can explode against each other when race is involved.

This last week could be a teaching moment for all of us.  We could talk honestly about race instead of assuming there has to be a good guy and a bad guy in every situation involving a black man and a white cop.  It would be nice to think that our moment is here.

Race Matters; or, the Judge, the Professor, and the Doctor

These are interesting times.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been taken to task for stating, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”  Her word choice is poor, but her point is that her ethnicity and gender carry with them a wealth of experience simply unavailable to a white man.

Can race, gender, or ethnicity be instructive?  Well, let’s examine the evidence.

In a recent moment of almost perfect poetic symbolism, the fine officers of Cambridge, Massachusetts, racially profiled one of the finest minds in Af-Am scholarship, a man who has been instrumental in creating a space in which the uniqueness of black experiences and voices is honored.  Well, now he sure as hell has had an edifying experience as a black American male that is not available to the white population.  Having been an academic long enough to know how their minds work, one of my first thoughts upon reading of Gates’s arrest was, “Wow.  Think of the article he’ll write after this one.”

Don’t get me wrong – I think the man is a genius regardless of race. But, his experiences as an African-American have shaped him into the type of scholar he is.  And, I’d be shocked if this latest experience doesn’t further shape his academic work.

And then we have Regina Benjamin, the nominee for Surgeon General, who is being criticized as too fat for the job.  Now, setting aside my immediate reaction of “Are you fucking kidding me?” for a moment, I do see the point that we need role models for good health.  However, a couple of photos of a plus-sized woman do not by any stretch of the imagination demonstrate that she is not a good doctor or role model.  Show me a grocery receipt with $78 of Twinkees on it and then we can talk about poor health choices.  For all I know Dr. Benjamin eats well and exercises regularly and would weigh a helluvalot more if she didn’t.  Last I checked, people come with different body types.

Oh-ho-ho-ho, isn’t it fun to characterize black women as lazy, stupid slobs who can’t be bothered to walk their empty tub of KFC X-tra Crispy to the trash can?  It’s uncool to call black women “Welfare Queens” nowadays, but calling them too fat and unhealthy to be good doctors is every bit as much about race and gender.

I don’t know Thing One about how it feels to be discriminated against for being fat, female, and black, but Regina Benjamin sure does.  I suspect that experience will serve her well as she tries to educate Americans on their health choices.

Does race, gender, and ethnicity qualify someone for a job?  Of course not.  Does being black or Latina in American make a person necessarily wiser or smarter than someone who is white and male?  Not last I checked?  Does it provide a library of experience from which to draw?  Absolutely.  To pretend otherwise, to try to simply ignore racial and gender identity, is to attempt to marginalize minorities by erasing the very bodies on which American society has been writing far more negative stereotypes for centuries.