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Friday, July 24, 2009

Race and Class In Harvard Square

I hope the Cambridge Police Department releases the 911 call which reported a burglary in progress at the home of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gate, Jr., and the subsequent radio calls from Sgt. James Crowley. Add to that, all witness accounts, including by the two other officers on the scene, and neighbors who heard and/or saw some of the events.

Based upon the police report already released, the statement issued by Gates' attorney, and various interviews with Gates and Crowley, I strongly suspect that this confrontation will be revealed not to be about race, but about class. A supremely educated Harvard Professor versus an educated but non-academic police sergeant.

This class divide is evident in the blogosphere, including a Huffington Post blogger's observation (italics mine):
I believe Gates did what anyone would do, he yelled at the officer, probably called him a few names and maybe told him he was not too smart. Out of wounded pride, I believe the officer decided to arrest the scholar.
Ah, the proud but dumb cop, reacting to a put down from the Cambridge elite. There may be some truth to that, without the "not too smart" part. We see this class divide in Barack Obama's gratuitous use of the word "stupidly" when describing the conduct of the Cambridge police.

And of course, this class divide permeates our politics, in which academic credentials are used as the measure of intelligence. To quote Yuval Levin's wonderful piece about Sarah Palin:
Applied to politics, the worldview of the intellectual elite begins from an unstated assumption that governing is fundamentally an exercise of the mind: an application of the proper mix of theory, expertise, and intellectual distance that calls for knowledge and verbal fluency more than for prudence born of life’s hard lessons.
The differing perceptions of the events are reflected in this class divide. Professor Gates, having devoted his life to studying the effects of race in America, saw the police approach as a reflection of what he had studied (but in his own words not experienced before) about how the police treat black men. Sgt. Crowley saw the approach to the doorway the way any cop views entry onto a potential burglary in progress.

A simple request to step outside is viewed by Professor Gates as an affront to his dignity and the fulfillment of academic theories. The same request likely was viewed by Sgt. Crowley as a cautious step so as not to be caught alone inside a house possibly occupied not only by Professor Gates but also by a second unaccounted-for person (what did happen to the taxi driver?).

While there may be aspects of the case which reflect a "national Rohrsach test on race," this may be more of a national Rohrsach test on class. A member of Cambridge's intellectual elite viewing the scene from the perch of academic smarts, and a police sergeant viewing the same events from the perch of street smarts. A real class divide hidden behind the rhetoric of race.

This incident, and a full exploration of what happened and why, really could be a teaching moment.

What others are saying:
► A Teaching Moment
►The Officer Didn’t Stereotype Henry Louis Gates — Henry Louis Gates Stereotyped the Officer
►The Gates Rohrsach
►Skip Gates, please sit down

Related Posts:
Et Tu, Lynn Sweet?
Bill Buckley Saw The "Stupid Police" Thing Coming

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  1. True--and I was just drafting a piece about the obvious class warfare myself. I expect we see more of it in this incident and on the Hill from people who in their hearts know they are no smarter or more special than those they look down on--just maybe better connected .

    Everyday I am heartened by how smart and capable and honest average Americans are and disheartened by how limited the elites I live among in D.C. are.
    John Kerry has to know that in a fair world he'd be a middle manager somewhere and Gates has to know that the James Crowley handles more difficult situations more intelligently and adeptly everyday than he could ever hope to.

  2. I posted before, but having had encounters with police officers, they will instantly translate exercising free speech in the proximity of a police officer to "disorderly conduct" or "disturbing the peace"; whatever those ever mean. I saw a segment of O'Reilly where an officer was citing the Mass. statute and I think that is the key. Did Gates actually violate the statute? Did he threaten, by body positioning, etc., or harm, audibly harming via his ears, the policeman? If not, the cop was dead wrong to arrest him; arresting someone is a big deal - mere disrespect of a police officer ought not be the standard however such disrespect speaks to Gates' character.

    The Masked Defender

  3. Yes. It could be a teaching moment. Except that the MSM has already decided what the lesson will be. And the meme is already taking hold...

    Such a shame that we have to have the media elite/ talking heads as our "teachers."


  4. When an officer reports to the scene of a reported crime, his adrenaline is flowing. He has no idea what to expect. In this case the report said two men were breaking in, when Crowley appeared Gates was the only person he saw and he was loud and abusive from the first.Gates behavior was not only rude but imprudent as well. A more socially savvy, empathetic person would understand that.

    BTW, in D.C. when we have an emergency and the authorities ask that only essential personnel go on the roads, that definition includes those the elite look down on--cops, EMTs, nurses, firemen--it never includes Congressmen, pundits or professors.

  5. Yes, this is really all about a class confrontation involving a "supremely educated" "intellectual elite" and scholar on race (which we all know is a highly specialized topic, requiring the utmost academic rigor, subject to exacting methodological standards- it's not like just anybody can sit around and spout views on race) whose reaction to the confrontation, as befitting one of his elevated class standing, was to scream "your mama."

    One of the individuals in this confrontation was an officer of the law who is trained for these type of situations, and in fact teaches a class on racial profiling, which position he was selected for by a black police commissioner.

    The other was warned "multiple times" by the officers that he was engaging in disorderly conduct (according to the arresting officer, Gates was given more warnings than the average person would have received). His response to these warnings was to follow the officers out of the house and engage in further disorderly conduct, leading to his arrest.

    There is a term for Gates's behavior. It is called "Public Relations." Gates makes his money by discussing racial issues and is now planning a documentary inspired by this confrontation.

  6. Speaking from personal experience, when you verbally abuse a cop, you generally get a free ride downtown. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, green, purple, or a DQ swirl-cone with cherry dip. And despite what you would think, at the time things like these happen, "right" or "wrong" and nuanced thought on possible public opinion ramifications don't come into it...

    Sgt. Crowley will be demonized by many and will be defended by many, and both camps will be doing so for the wrong reasons: they have their political axe to grind or their own racial bias to promote.

    He will eventually retire to a small town and star in his own TV show, complete with his very own deputy sidekick and a whole slew of funny-townie characters, all of them white, but none of them racist.

    Professor Gates will continue the talk-show rounds, the pictures with Al Sharpton and Spike Lee, and generally become a revered Black Culture Icon, kinda the anti-Bill Cosby.

    He will write a best-selling book on the experiences of Black Males in America - no more "publish or perish" for this guy.

    He will also get a self-explanatory Tommie Smith-John Carlos tattoo on his forehead, so that he doesn't have to pose like that all the time. Plus, the tat will look real cool at the sold-out Harvard lectures.

    Our President, the esteemed 0-Man, who surprised many by jumping the traces of his Teleprompter and jamming both feet into his mouth (just like he puts his pants on), will have very little else to say. However his press secretary and other minions will be making multiple rounds of the bloviating talking-head shows, back-tracking, obfuscating, and generally trying to smoke screen the 0-Man's way out of a predicament he should never have been in; he comes out of this the worst, looking not-very-smart; blind-faith worshipful cult notwithstanding.

    White women in Cambridge will still call the cops when they see two black guys breaking down the door of a house.

  7. Doesn't the O-Man have enough fingers in our pie without getting involved in a city incident? The professor player the race card and Obama picked it up instead of walking away. O has singled handed undone what took our forefathers 200+ years to accomplish. If he keeps this up a full blown race war is imminent! Hail to the chief - ya right!

  8. I'm surprised that no one, thinks it odd for a man to be arrested in his own home (on the front porch at least) for nothing more than being emotionally excitable. What about the sanctity of home? What about private property? I understand that the officer was investigating a crime, but once acknowledging that the alleged burglar was the home owner, why not turn and leave despite the harsh words that may have been said?

    Yes this has a class element to it, but arrested for gaining entry to your own home! Arrested for having a few choice words for a cop. I mean really. Normally conservatives are all about the right to free speech, especially when it benifits them, but in this case a Black man, who happens to study people conservatives don't like, isnt allowed to express himself.

    The racial component to this story is not what happened between the officer and Gates but the subsequent discussion of what happened on blogs like this. Rosita, thinks studying race, and by that I assume she means studying African-American history is stupid. Yes because those stupid blacks have made no significant contribution to this country worth studying, except save for more black babies, crime, and urban terrorism. Jeffreylynne thinks that because a black man is in the White House and he dare have an opinion on the matter at hand he has single handedly set back race relations 200 years. Of course I suspect Jeffreylynne's ideal society would still have blacks in chains.

  9. Rosita, thinks studying race, and by that I assume she means studying African-American history is stupid.

    It is stupid, "Black studies" that is. Studying American history, which includes the transport and involvement of Africans into our society is not stupid. However black studies is a sham that is filled by non-academic, race hustling, affirmative action charlatans whose sole purpose is to instill white guilt and afro-centric revisionism into our psyche. I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep, if by chance, that "discipline" was erased from University offerings.

  10. When addressing a comment it's a better idea to quote what the commenter said rather than writing, "So-and-So thinks" followed by a characterization.I agree that studying African-American history is legitimate, although if fairly considered it would not be the centerpiece but a part of the American story. I also agree that there is a lot of race-hustling and charlatanism that goes on in African-American studies departments but also in any other Humanities departments, undergraduate and graduate. It's institutionalized at this point.

    In my experience of it, studying "race" consists of dwelling on perceived wrongs and slights and cultivating resentment, and it doesn't prepare you for any useful work. It's this self-perpetuating phenomenon where either you can become a professor of African-American studies or maybe a "diversity" consultant (which is a political device) or something.

    Another aspect is that any questioning of these policies or politics gives rise to a "racism" witch hunt, so people are afraid to speak about it.

  11. American Thinker has a great article on Gates. "All the Eurocentric stuff about facts and truth is just racist when applied to the African experience." http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2009/07/the_distinguished_gentleman_an.html

  12. Moderator - This is HQ audio of the 911 call and police dispatch audio from the Henry Gates arrest.



  13. Both Cyd and Rosita believe that African-American history must be subordinated to American history. Cyd goes so far as to describe this as the "transport and involvement of Africans into our society." I'd like to note just a couple of problems. First, the pronoun "our" causes great confusion. It makes it difficult to know what time period Cyd means. If he's talking about the era of the Atlantic slave trade and US plantation slavery, "our" seems inappropriate as I'm sure he doesn't mean to suggest that contemporary American society is even remotely similar to early slavocracy.

    (I'm going to skip over the euphemisms of "transport" and "involvement" as descriptions of the hazardous slave ships and forced labor and deprivation of the rights to one's body and one's children).

    The term African is equally confusing. Cyd does not mean to say that the subject of "black studies" should be restricted to that of imigrants from the continent of African joining contemporary American society, does he?

    This brings us to a second, largre problem inherent in Cyd and Rosita's pieces. It's more obvious in Cyd's piece with its possessive pronoun... "our society." I suspect that's equivalent to Rosita's "if fairly considered it would not be the centerpiece but a part of the American story." One wonders why that must be so. Is it because Rosita does not consider there to be enough of merit in African-American history to warrant separate study? Is it because she thinks centering the study of African-Americans outside the United States is improper? Certainly, histories of the Early Republic include the European roots and influences of the founding generation. Why can't African-American studies accurately reflect lives and travels that did not begin in nor remain within the thirteen colonies or the United States.

    But most important of all, how can we have equality if the dynamic is always that African-Americans are being incorporated into an America that is perpetually not theirs but, instead, one must assume, the property of some other group that is already American? In other words, what way of telling our national story could avoid recreating the old pattern of a two-tiered system?

  14. Rosita --

    I am curious to know what "experiences of studying race" led you to your current beliefs.

    I am in the academy myself, and I would agree with some aspects of your characterization. For example, you call academia "self-perpetuating." This is true. But it seems to me that's true of all training; one is being educated to do what the training teaches. In the case of African-American studies, I suppose that is to study aspects related to the sociology, history, economics, culture, and arts of African descendants in the Americas. It is wrong for academic departments to suggest they do much more than teach one how to do what their field is, but that also doesn't prevent one from marketing oneself to employers outside of academia. It seems to me that's up to the student, as it always has been.

    As for the accusation of race-hustling, I would like to point you to a funny novel from the Harlem Renaissance _Black No More_. In it, George Schuyler suggests that not only the NAACP, but the Klan, the art world, and the cosmetics industry are dependent on racial difference, even racial discrimination. Applying that logic to today, I would say that if Gates makes his money of the race-problem, he's not alone. In fact, it seems that the Right has just as many well-paid minority commentators on race as does the Left. Here, I'm thinking especially of John McWhorter. That's not to mention conservative whites who make their money this way as well. I'm thinking especially of Heather MacDonald, who is as sure to write an article debunking racial profiling as an Al Sharpton would be to allege it. I don't know McDonald's and McWhorter's salaries from the conservative think-tanks they work for. But, as someone in academe, I am certain that it's more than what I'll be likely to make as a starting professor in the university system. Moreover, the think-tank scholars have much more access to broadcast media. Gates, to my knowledge, has primarily been on PBS, a much more limited audience than a McWhorter or a Michele Malkin can reach on Fox.

    I welcome your comments. I think this is a fascinating conversation.