Race and the Gates of Harvard


A Huffington Post writer argues that Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested for "failure of a black to show proper deference to a white police officer." Pop culture journalist Touré, writing in The Daily Beast, says that little has changed since the 1960s and "Malcolm X's 40-year-old quote is still true: 'What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.? A nigger.'" Amy Goodman says that while "W.E.B. Du Bois' color line has shifted…it hasn't been erased."

Surprisingly, The Boston Globe chimes in today with an admirably restrained editorial on the Gates kerfuffle, urging readers from drawing broad conclusions about racist Cantabrigians (which gave 88 percent of its votes to Obama):

The confrontation between Gates and Sergeant James Crowley isn't a textbook example of racial profiling. The Cambridge officer was investigating a citizen's call about a possible break-in at Gates's home. It turned out to be the noted professor and his driver struggling with a broken door. Gates apparently took umbrage at the officer's line of questioning, at one point suggesting that the police presence could be explained by the professor's race. The conversation escalated; the report depicts Gates as haughty and insulting. He was cuffed and charged with disorderly conduct…

Still, confrontations with police seldom end well, even if officers are in the wrong. If Gates believed he was being treated discourteously, he could have filed a complaint with the police department's section for professional standards. Ultimately, though, it was the officer's responsibility to de-escalate the situation, even by walking away. Police are trained specifically to ignore verbal provocations that come their way.

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates is, I think, on target here:

It needs to be said that, though I casually threw it out there, I really have no clue whether race played a role in Gates' arrest. It's important to say that. I don't know what I would have done if I were in shoes (sic), but I don't know that I'd assumed (sic) race. I think the decision to arrest a guy for, at worst, being rude in his own house is shockingly stupid.