Archive for July, 2009
It looks like Lucia Whalen won’t be joining the guys for a beer tonight. The White House beer party seems to be a “guy thing.” Why wasn’t Whalen invited? If you’ve been following the news about the arrest of Prof. Gates, you know that Whalen is the woman who set the incident in motion with a 911 call to Cambridge police. There are still a few questions and puzzles about this highly racialized incident.
Whalen had mostly been silent until her press conference yesterday. At that conference she again said that she never said anything racist in her 911 call and that she had been taught by her Portuguese American parents to treat everyone the same. The transcript of her call backs her up on this point, as it clearly indicates she did not suggest black men were breaking in, which means there are very serious problems with the police reports that she told them those breaking in were black. Black men are not mentioned in her call, but she does mention that one of the men possibly looks Hispanic, so she did use that racial identifier, but one not mentioned by anyone else including the police reports.
According to a Boston.com report:
The Gates quagmire began shortly after lunch on July 16 when Whalen, a 40-year-old fund-raiser for Harvard magazine, saw from her office window what appeared to be two suspicious men trying to break in to Gates’ house. According to the police report, Whalen said she “observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch” about 12:45 p.m. “She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry,” Sgt. James Crowley wrote in the police report.
Whalen’s attorney, Wendy Murphy, corrected what she and Whalen view as major errors in the police and media reports this way:
She did not know the race of the men when she called 911 because of her distance and that their bodies were turned away from her vantage point. Criticism was exacerbated when Mr. Gates challenged police to explain why they would believe “a white woman over a black man.” This statement is issued solely to correct the record and to emphasize that the woman is not racist and was acting as a responsible citizen, with appropriate concern for the safety of the community. She has worked in Cambridge for more than fifteen years, about a hundred yards from where Mr. Gates resides, and was aware of several recent break-ins in the area.
Whalen also says in her call and statements that an older woman called her attention to the Gates house, and Whalen then assisted with the 911 phone call, but had only a brief conversation with Officer Crowley. One question here is exactly how a neighbor and university colleague who made the initial 911 call failed to recognize prominent Harvard Prof. Gates in broad daylight at his Harvard house?
At the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson asked some tough questions about that police report:
So why, then, does Crowley’s official report say that Whalen told him she had seen “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks” on the porch of the Gates house? Is it Crowley’s position that Whalen is lying? Is Crowley lying? Or did the sergeant, or perhaps his dispatcher, just assume that if a break-in was taking place, the perpetrators had to be black?
Tenured radical makes an important point about how whites, including callers and police officers, often do not think about what they are doing. Whites in such settings are usually thinking out of a version of the white racial frame, and do not think about the dangers they have created and can create for black people. Indeed, white people
put black people in danger every day, an insight that was crucial to southern women’s activism against lynching as early as the 1930s. I have learned that while many of us believe racially integrated neighborhoods are desirable, and some of us actively seek them out, no one talks to white people about their responsibilities for reigning in the racism that inevitably follows when white and black people come into proximity with each other. There is no doubt in my mind that white people put black people into danger all the time as a result of their good intentions, and that being aware of this is a full time job. I worry, for example, every time a close friend of mine I have known since college — a major property owner in the neighborhood, with an Ivy degree, wealthy, and a football celebrity — borrows my lawn equipment, because to your average cop he is just another _________ (fill in the blank) walking down the driveway and up the street with someone else’s electric mower.
One national poll found that white respondents were much more likely to fault Gates than Crowley for the incident, but black respondents responded strongly in the opposite direction. Why is this? Retired Seattle police chief, Norm Stamper, notes why whites, who mostly have good experiences with the police, generally view them in a different way from black residents:
But if you’re a struggling black mom, for example, whose husband is serving a long prison term for simple possession of pot (when, under identical circumstances, more affluent offenders, disproportionately white, walk), and whose well-behaved male teens have been stopped and frisked repeatedly, called names and/or had guns drawn on them, you’re not so likely to have warm and fuzzy feelings toward the local PD.
Stamper then summarizes his experienced view of what may have happened, and how it could have been otherwise:
I did offer my opinion that had Gates been white he would not have been arrested. This belief was reinforced when Sgt. Leon Lasher, the imposing black officer pictured standing with Crowley and the small handcuffed prisoner on the porch of that cheery yellow home, answered a reporter’s question. Yes, he said, the outcome likely would have been different had he handled the contact with Gates. This from a man who supports his white colleague’s actions “100 percent.” The second thing we must do is strengthen police competence, and come up with a better definition of what it means to play “by the book.” See, Crowley may in fact have “followed protocol,” as Lasher maintains. But I take issue with the all-too-common practice of police officers baiting a citizen into committing an act of disorderly conduct so that he or she can arrest that citizen for… disorderly conduct. However offended Crowley may have been by Gates’s conduct inside his own home, that behavior was not a crime.
Given this veteran police view, and the issues noted above, it is more than odd that Officer Crowley is being treated as an “equal” in this little beer party (which he reportedly suggested) and not as a possible perpetrator of police racial profiling or worse. President Obama’s and others’ “let’s play nice” beer routine ignores the national black anger over chronic police malpratice such as profiling, which police malpractice is extremely widespread in all areas of the country.
Instead of focusing on the substantial data on racial profiling by the police, the mainstream media and most other public commentators are making this into a melodrama story of conflict and polarization. How about looking at the large amount of data on racist police profiling here and here and here and here, just to mention a few sources. One sign of continuing decline in the mainstream media is its failure to bother looking at social science and other important research data on the topics being debated.
A Boston police officer who sent a mass e-mail referring to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as a “banana-eating jungle monkey” has apologized, saying he’s not a racist. .. Officer Justin Barrett told a Boston television station on Wednesday night that he was sorry for the e-mail. “I regret that I used such words,” Barrett told CNN affiliate WCVB-TV. “I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist.”
The ape imagery straight out of the Thomas Jefferson’s racist frame. His lawyer says this was not meant to describe Prof. Gates himself, and his client is not racist. But of course no one is racist anymore just for operating out of that old white frame.
UPDATE 2 (August 3, 2009):
Here is an excellent article by African American author, Darryl Pinckney, who knows Gates and has experienced much racist profiling himself. He makes this point among many other good ones:
The thing about racial incidents these days is that the perpetrator usually denies that race supplied a motive for his actions, because everyone knows that racism is socially frowned upon, like smoking. Yet racism is still around; maybe more covert in some situations. It is not uncommon for a black person to be told that he or she is taking something that happened or was said the wrong way. Often the black person has no way of knowing if he or she has been, say, treated impolitely in a store or an office because of race. Maybe a clerk was just having a bad day. Think how hard it is to prove that one has been denied professional advancement because of race (or gender). Many black people have a conversation with themselves daily, about letting this or that go, about not being paranoid over every little thing. But sometimes you do know and are not in the mood to let the injustice go, even in the age of Obama. I was appalled by an article supposedly sympathetic to Gates that said he had been unwise to get angry with someone in uniform or that a professor with his skills should have calmed the situation down. Are we not frightened members of society if we recommend appeasing the police or showing respect for authority when it is undeserved?
In a recently published article, “Of Race, Gender and Justice,” Linda Chavez, a prominent and influential conservative, reiterates some of the arguments she made before the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. This article is a splendid example of the White Racial Framework running full-blast.
Chavez has blown out of proportion Sotomayor’s statement that the ethnicity and sex of a judge
may and will make a difference in our judging.
Sotomayor’s assertion pointed to events experienced particularly by nonwhites and females that may heighten their perceptions in judicial cases. There is nothing radical about this statement. In an instance of poor thinking, Chavez contends that Sotomayor’s statement clearly indicates that Sotomayor
believes that one’s race and ethnicity should determine (my emphasis) how someone will rule as a judge.
The root of the “problem,” in Chavez’ eyes, is Sotomayor’s “identity politics.” Chavez explains that
Identity politics involves a sense of grievance against the majority, a feeling that racism permeates American society and its institutions, and the belief that members of one’s own group are victims in a perpetual power struggle with the majority.
Chavez can call it “Identity politics,” but I see it simply as an accurate description of what many minority members feel. The perception of a socially-ingrained, pernicious U.S. racism against Puerto Ricans is widely shared by many Puerto Rican people and intellectuals, both in the United States and in the island of Puerto Rico.
As I write these lines, The New York Times reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a 13-6 vote, endorsed Sotomayor’s nomination. It was widely predicted so it was no surprise.
Speaking of surprises, I saw a column Chavez published on April 17 of this year. The topic was “Supporting Family Values.” Although the column is not free of “Chavezms,” it praises the “illegal” family and disputes predictions that the “illegals” will never fully adapt.
This is the side of Linda Chavez that I’d like to see more of, to the point that such columns would not be surprising anymore.
I’ve written here before about Facebook Racism, the rise of various forms of racism at the incredibly popular social networking site (SNS). According to a report from 2008, Facebook currently has something like 120 million active users and is an established feature of the youth culture. While some have touted social media in hyperbolic terms like providing a “new path to world peace and end racism,” there are some stark realities about Facebook that run counter to that sort of exuberance.
In terms of demographics, people are just not “mixing” or intermingling across racial lines in significantly different ways than they do offline. Recently, danah boyd gave a talk that highlighted the sociodemographic divisions between Facebook and rival SNS, MySpace, noting that those on Facebook are “part of what we’d call hegemonic society, [and] primarily white, but not exclusively” while those on MySpace are more often Latino/Hispanic.
Whites who are on Facebook — which was created at Harvard (and once, a Harvard-only space) — often have the illusion that they are talking in the “backstage” in a private, whites-only space. Take for example, a woman named Lee Landor who, until very recently, worked as the deputy press (!!) aide to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (kind of like a mini-mayor). Landon resigned her job due to a series of Facebook posts and comments she made related to the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. (written about here elsewhere extensively). Landor on Facebook said some things that are not that different from some of the comments we’ve seen here at this blog, for instance:
“You know what, I am really getting SICK of hearing about how white people are evil racists. Black people, Hispanic people, Indian people, Asian people, whoever, are being over-the-top racists in recent weeks, as highlighted in the media since the Sotomayor-New Haven issue.”(Screenshots of her comment available here.)
Landon also called President Obama “O-Dumb-a” while saying that Gates was the racist (h/t @Gothamist via Twitter).
And, of course, there are the racist and antisemitic groups that sponsor ‘group pages’ on Facebook, that the owner/administrators seem reluctant to address.
Perhaps more disturbing than all this (and, it’s plenty disturbing), is the way that racism is being built into the interface at Facebook with the help of Microsoft. A few days ago, I received an email from a blog reader. He said that while searching for a friend’s using a last-name-search (the last name was close to the word “RACE”), a racist ad showed up that is powered by the new Microsoft’s new search enging Bing. The reader sent a screen grab, and here it is:
Here, in case you can’t see the circled text, is an advertisement within the Facebook interface to a site that offers visitors “Ni**er” jokes. Here’s the closeup of that ad:
Now, the way these ads on Facebook work is that Bing (product of Microsoft) pays Facebook for the space on the right there. Then, Bing has a collection of advertisers that they will place on Facebook. The software at Facebook runs an algorithm (computer program) to match the ads on the right with whatever terms you type into the little search window space.
The point is, the racist text there is not just something that Facebook and/or Bing accidently “turned up.” This ad was payed for (by the people that run the “Ni**er” jokes site), and the companies of Bing and Facebook profit from that. Bing actually gets money when someone clicks on that ad, and they have a clear responsibility there. Someone at Bing (or Facebook) either approved or, at the very least, failed to block the ad (thanks to David Brake for this point).
The reader who sent this to me is diligently trying to track down someone at Bing and/or Facebook to take responsibility and take action, but that turns out to be a daunting task. So, here’s my bit to help out – posting this here. You can help by linking to this post, sharing it with friends, and spreading the word.
If you wish to gaze upon the depth and breadth of America’s racial divide–particularly the canyon-like gulf between white folks and black folks–you need look no further than the recent incident involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cambridge police officer James Crowley, and now, President Obama who weighed in on the matter a few nights ago, when asked for his reaction to Gates’s arrest on charges (since dismissed) of disorderly conduct. In this case, as with so many other news stories that have touched on race–the O.J. Simpson trial and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as just two of the more obvious examples–whites and blacks, generally speaking, and with obvious exceptions on both sides, see the story and the racial component of the story in fundamentally different (often diametrically opposed) ways.
To hear most white folks tell it, Gates was to blame. Yes, he was only trying to enter his own home when a white woman saw him (as well as his driver), assumed they were burglars and then convinced another woman to call the cops on her behalf. And yes, he produced identification for the officer when asked, indicating that he was indeed the resident of the house to which the officer had come to investigate the initial call. But because he became belligerent to Sgt. Crowley, and because he unfairly called Crowley a racist, he is guilty of escalating the situation, and thus, is the bad guy in the scenario. Meanwhile Crowley, according to the dominant white narrative, spread by media far and wide, is a wonderful and thoughtful cop, who is hardly a racist–after all he teaches a diversity training class and once gave mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation to a dying black athlete–and who was inappropriately smeared: first by Gates who accused the officer of asking him for proof of residency only because he was black, and then by Obama, who said the police had acted “stupidly” in arresting the esteemed professor in his own home.
Though they get little attention, antiracist organizations are very important today in struggles against white-generated systemic racism. (Photo Source: National Resource Center for Healing of Racism)
Typical of the range of current antiracist organizations are the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PI) and Antiracist Action (ARA). Located in New Orleans and created by African American activists, PI is a community-oriented group that sets up “Undoing Racism” workshops mostly to train people in community and nonprofit organizations. These multiracial workshops have now trained thousands of people, including many whites, since the 1980s. They are designed to help officials in various organizations and community activists to better understand white racism, to understand and value cultural diversity, and to show people how they can “undo racism” in their own lives and organizations.
Taking a somewhat different tack, the substantially white ARA groups, about 200 as of now, have worked aggressively against racism in numerous cities in the United States and Canada. Originally established to combat neo-Nazi and Klan-type organizations, ARA groups have developed other antiracist programs. For example, their Copwatch program has attempted to reduce police brutality by having members take video devices into the streets to record police actions in their dealings with citizens of color. Eileen O’Brien has a very useful book, Whites Confront Racism, in which she compares members of these two important antiracist groups, from field research interviews.
In addition, dozens of groups called the “Institutes for the Healing of Racism” regularly hold seminars and dialogues on issues of racism in numerous U.S. and some overseas cities. These multiracial groups work locally to heighten the awareness of racism, educate citizens about how to fight racial hostility and discrimination, and provide dialogue across racial group boundaries. These groups have dealt openly with racist framing and institutional racism in their own lives and areas. Check out the National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism.
While their objectives have varied, yet other antiracist organizations have also pressed for changes in systemic racism over the last few decades. A brief sampling includes the Dismantling Racism Program of the National Conference (St. Louis), the Anti-Racism Institute of Clergy and Laity Concerned (Chicago), the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, the Southern Empowerment Project, and the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence.
Note that a number of these antiracist organizations, as well as established civil rights groups like the NAACP and Urban League, have played important roles in openly countering the racist accusations and racist attacks that have been made against President Barack Obama and in helping to secure his election as president in 2008.
CNN’s Don Lemon speaks with a panel about racial profiling in America. The panel includes Prof. Andra Gillespie (Emory University), Tim Wise (antiracist writer and activist) and James Andrews (social media entrepreneur). The conversation is only available in two clips from CNN, I’ll post them both. The first one here is about (4:45).
And, here’s the second part from CNN (7:36) which is where Prof. Gillespie and Tim Wise discuss the difference between ‘having a racist moment’ and working on one’s own individual issues of prejudice and racism:
We’re often critical of mainstream news coverage of racial matters, but I thought that this was a step in the right direction, even if it was all too brief and necessarily superficial. The panel seems to agree that the Gates’ arrest represents a ‘teachable moment’ in American culture. What are your thoughts?
President Obama seems to be setting records as a black elected official for the number of hyper-racist attacks on him that are spiraling around the web, including many racist photos and images. We have discussed several of these here before. Now there is one photoshopped photo circulating of him as a witch doctor, part of an attack on his health care reforms.
One of the weaknesses in most conventional social science analysis of racial matters in the United States is the neglect of the power of such visual racist images. The mainstream analytical concepts are racial stereotypes, biases, prejudices, and bigot-generated discrimination. These are useful but quite inadequate for getting at how broad and deep the dominant white racial framing actually is — a major reason I have been developing the concept of a broad white racial frame, which accents the importance of such elements as racist images, racist emotions, stereotypes of sounds, and myth-narratives of whiteness as well.
Visual images often capture much attention and get deeply imbeded in minds and brains, and thus they may well be harder to counter than other types of racist material that gets imbeded there. Over at Ronald Shone’s clinical website he discusses the power of images thus:
The most important thing about visual images is that they can influence the body. This does not apply to all images, but only to those images in which you are involved. The image, however, does not have to be about reality, it can be a totally imaginary (unreal) image. … A strongly formed image will lead to an emotional response or some other bodily response. . . . But it is not only the body that is influenced by images; images also influence behaviour…. A strong image leads to behaviour consistent with the image being formed in the mind’s eye. It does not matter whether the image is one of reality or unreality.
There is also discussion of the power of visual images here, in a scholarly paper by Claire Wright at judicialview.com.
TalkingPointsMemo has a story about a very vivid and very racist photoshopped image of President Obama as a supposed African “witch doctor” going around the web, one that was forwarded by, among others, a prominent Florida neurosurgeon and AMA Delegate, Dr. David McKalip, to a Google listserv with links to the Tea Party movement. The doctor wrote that he thought this image was “Funny stuff.” TPM comments on McKalip’s activism against health care reform:
McKalip founded the anti-reform group Doctors For Patient Freedom… Last month he joined GOP congressmen Tom Price and Phil Gingrey, among others, for a virtual town hall to warn about the coming “government takeover of medicine.”
TPM called and talked with him about this racist image:
Asked about the email in a brief phone interview with TPMmuckraker, McKalip said he believes that by depicting the president as an African witch doctor, the “artist” who created the image “was expressing concerns that the health-care proposals [made by President Obama] would make the quality of medical care worse in our country.” McKalip said he didn’t know who created it. But pressed on what was funny about an image that plays on racist stereotypes about Africans, McKalip declined to say, instead offering to talk about why he opposes Obama’s health-care proposals.
Actually the photo is built on a photo of a person in Papua New Guinea, not in Africa. TPM suggests that it was unlikely that
McKalip himself was aware of this when he forwarded the email. It was he who first used the term “witch doctor” in our phone interview, and he didn’t quibble with our suggestion that the image played on stereotypes of Africans.
The AMA responded to one blogger’s protests with a message condemning such racist stuff:
Delegates to the American Medical Association are selected through their individual state and specialty societies, and their individual views and actions do not, in any way, represent the official view of the AMA. We condemn any actions or comments that are racist, discriminatory or unprofessional.
Most recently McKalip apparently resigned as an elected official with the AMA. I wonder if the AMA will use this as a teaching moment as they say.
I might note that my one experience in giving a talk on racial issues at a major medical school, one that was having major problems with racist actions by white medical students, was that they cancelled my talk when two professors at the xerox machine saw my handout dealing candidly with white-racist thought and actions. I do not see much interest in historically white medical schools or in the AMA in dealing with racism in the medical profession. Maybe someone else has seen something I have missed?
(image from here)
News about the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates seems to be flowing out of the news-machine-spigot at full force these days. At least part of the story seems to be shifting toward Crowley, the Cambridge cop who was centrally involved in Gates’ arrest. Here, I’ll go through a few of the main links to various parts of the story, and then – as we do here – draw on some social science research to see if that can illuminate what’s going on here.
Several people are defending Crowley. Some of these defenders are not surprising, such as this blogger who sees Crowley – a racial profiling expert for the Cambridge police – as being treated unfairly because he is white. Other Crowley defenders are somewhat more surprising, such as Dr. Boyce Watkins, an African American professor at Syracuse University and often ardent critic of the racial status quo, who writes:
After my battles with Bill O’Reilly made me the most hated professor on the Syracuse University campus last year, I always thought I was the radical guy in the room. But in this case, I must encourage temperance and fairness. Whether it has killed slaves in the past or destroyed careers in the present, the mob mentality has never been good for America.
From a centrist perspective, the Christian Science Monitor has a piece called, “Gates Arrest: Racial Profiling or ‘Tempest in a Teapot,’” and the staid CSM comes down decidedly on the ‘tempest in a teapot’ side of this. The CSM emphasizes “bad behavior on both sides,” as in this quote from a representative of the Cambridge Police:
“It wasn’t Professor Gates’s best moment, and it was not the Cambridge Police Department’s best moment.”
Then, the CSM includes this line which is the heart of their argument in this article:
Law enforcement analysts are inclined to agree, suggesting that the incident may have been only a “tempest in a teapot.”
Unfortunately, the evidence from the ‘law enforcement analysts’ – one crim professor a radio talk show how and a legal blogger – is pretty thin. The evidence they glean from quote by the crim professor tend to be critical of Crowley’s actions, as in:
“The best motto for a police officer is that sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” says George Kirkham, a former police officer and now a professor of criminology at Florida State University. “People wind up venting, and you have to let them vent.” “We are a country founded on Jeffersonian ideals, and people don’t like government in their lives,” says Professor Kirkham. “[Police] need to be aware of that.”
So, here, Kirkham is basically saying that Crowley should not have arrested Gates no matter how “tumultuous” his behavior. The key phrase here is the use of “Jeffersonian ideals.” Now, I’m assuming the ideals to which Kirkham is referring here are the ones about government not interfering in people’s lives, and not the ones that Jefferson wrotes about in Notes on the State of Virginia in which he argued for the inherent inferiority of blacks, including (presumably) Sally Hemmings, the woman he enslaved, raped, and her children by Jefferson. Still, I think Kirkham is right here, it would be a good idea to keep these latter Jeffersonian values in mind when dealing with anyone and particularly with African Americans. My point here is that even the *expert* in this case is so completely steeped in the white racial frame that he doesn’t even realize the multiple connotations of what he’s saying to this CSM reporter. And, for their part, the CSM reporters and editors never step outside the white racial frame to evaluate this case even though this is supposedly an “analysis” piece.
A better source for “law enforcement analyst” might be Lowry Heussler, who has worked on police-misconduct cases in Massachusetts, the state where the Gates arrest happened. In a post for the blog The Reality-Based Community, Heussler provides a meticulous analysis of Crowley’s actions based on Crowley’s own words (the report he wrote about the arrest):
Read Crowley’s report and stop on page two when he admits seeing Gates’s Harvard photo ID. I don’t care what Gates had said to him up until then, Crowley was obligated to leave. He had identified Gates. Any further investigation of Gates’ right to be present in the house could have been done elsewhere. His decision to call HUPD seems disproportionate, but we could give him points for thoroughness if he had made that call from his car while keeping an eye on the house. Had a citizen refused to leave Gates’ home after being told to, the cops could have made an arrest for trespass.
Heussler goes on from there, offering a thoroughly devastating critique of Crowley’s actions as police – apart from the racial context – and based on Crowley’s on words. Basically, what he finds is that Crowley gets pissed off that Gates has accused him of racism, then works to escalate the situation by “inviting” Gates out onto the porch where he is arrested.
Now, to the social science. Henry Ferrell at Crooked Timber has a nice post called “Discretion and Arrest Power,” in which he discusses the relevance of Peter Moskos’ book, Cop in the Hood. Moskos, a sociologist and a CUNY professor at John Jay College, spent a year as a beat officer in Baltimore. In his book, Moskos discusses the “zone of discretion” that cops have and the ways that they try to expand their authority beyond that which they are legally authorized to do (Moskos, p. 117-118). In Moskos’ account of being Baltimore police officer (as Farrell recounts it) he both (a) uses a verbal invitation to induce the targeted individual to leave the building, and (b) then uses the attention of bystanders to generate a charge of disorderly conduct.
Crowley, for his part, maintains that he is “not a racist” and refuses to apologize. And, I think it’s quite possible that Crowley did not have any intention to racially discriminate against anyone when he showed up at the house on Ware Street responding to a call. I do, however, think that the confluence of events and factors shaped his response to the situation so that it played out in ways that are consistent with centuries of racial discrimination in this country. First, there’s the white racial frame that shaped Crowley’s view of what was happening and what kind of a “danger” Professor Gates posed. Second, there’s the “cop in the hood” mentality in which police are often forced to use their discretion to decide what to do in a situation that may seem unclear. Third, there is Crowley’s “reputation” as a “racial profiling expert” and Gates charge of “racism.” This, according to one experts’ speculation, pissed off Crowley and that’s where the escalation occurred. Now, Crowley – and his defenders – seem entrenched in the effort to shore up Crowley’s “racial innocence” and thus redeem him as a ‘good’ (read: not racist) white person.
This will, I predict, continue to be a huge news story. And, much of the coverage will be focused on Crowley and his supposed “racial innocence.” I find this a disappointing focus on this story because by making it a story about Crowley, it completely individualizes – and ultimately trivializes – the problem here. I hope that others – possibly Professor Gates leading the way – will use this incident to rerfocus our attention on efforts to change the racial inequality at the heart of our criminal justice system, and indeed, at the heart of our society.
Last night, President Barack Obama answered a question about the arrest of Professor Gates during a press conference about health care. The President said that police acted “stupidly” and despite racial progress blacks and Hispanics are still singled out unfairly for arrest. Here’s the short clip (2:10) in case you missed it:
While it’s hard to imagine any of the previous presidents speaking out in this way about a “police matter,” the fact that President Obama would speak out should not, in fact, be that surprising. For Obama, racial profiling was a major issue for him as legislator in Illinois. He was the chief sponsor of a bill, which became law, that requires police to record the race, age and gender of all drivers they stop for traffic violations and for those records to be analyzed for evidence of racial profiling.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell provides an excellent analysis in The Nation both about Gates’ place among black intellectuals in the U.S. prior to this and about the significance of Gates’ arrest for what she calls “the post-racial project.”
Yet, for all this outrage (I believe I referred to it as a ‘tsunami of outrage’ originally, and it is certainly turning into that), James Crowley, the cop who arrested Gates, says he won’t apologize. And, lots of other white folks are lining up to defend him (starting with comment #8 at that link). This could get even more interesting.