Racism, Sexism and the ‘Beer Summit’ (SECOND UPDATE)

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.

.The White House

(Creative Commons License photo credit: C. Young Photography)

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.


CNN has this report on another white Boston police officer:

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?


  1. Seattle in Texas

    I’m going to with hold my thoughts on President Obama here and agree with the main post that it was clearly a case of profiling, etc. Will not go into whites lying–including cops, or simply their racist minds unconsciously filling in information that’s not there (such as the cop suggesting it was the caller saying it was Black men, etc.), etc. And I don’t take issue with the person making the call in the first place as a truly concerned citizen. Bottom line, the cops did their job until they crossed the line–which was, they should have left when Professor Gates showed proper identification and confirmed that was his home, etc. Anyway.

    There are many issues that can be discussed in the main post as accurately noted by the title–but to save space have to go to Norm Stamper. Got to put up for anybody interested in seeing an interview of Mr. Stamper a few years ago (he’s a retired cop that actually knows what he’s talking about and just so totally rocks all the way around):

    More information on Seattle’s Annual Hempfest in just a couple of weeks for anybody interested:


    As usual, Stamper is on target with the issue with relation to Professor Gates’ incident…sooo, heh heh!!! 😀

    Great post.

  2. Seattle, it’s been a while! How are ya!
    I don’t think the absense of Whalen is as much sexism as it is that the central conflict is between the Crowley and Gates. Also, the MSM isn’t just ignoring social science, they seem to be more interested in reporting on polls than they are in facts.
    Situations like this indicts the whole of white America. I think I read somewhere else, maybe here, that even absent Crowley’s false arrest, the white public has no interest in Gates credentials. To the white public, he’s just another negro. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that a person can accurately describe a situation – that the central issue in the arrest was Gates’ ethnicity; that it doesn’t matter what a black American achieves, s/he is always just another nigga, for lack of better words – and the white public still get in an outrage against the person. The tricks a person has to play with his/her mind . . . wow.
    And I’m sorry, but white folks gonna have to get over being offended for being called racist; and you certainly need get over the fact that racial minorities in America think just about all y’all are racist. This (un)righteous indignation only proves our point! If you wanna stop the accusation of racism, stop the racism . . . eh, duh!

  3. You might be a redneck if . . .
    . . .
    – you think an average white male is as smart as a wise Latina woman.
    – you print an article criticizing the Obama administration’s stimulus plan next to the image of a dead gorilla and two white cops wondering who’d pass the stimulus bill now.
    – you draw an image of Pres Obama as an African witch-doctor to criticize his healthcare plan.
    Last but not least . . . if you call a person of color a “jungle monkey” . . . you might be a redneck!

  4. Seattle in Texas

    Heh No1KState, been around. 😉 Thanks.

    I agree with your points. And what’s funny is Crowley apparently didn’t know who he was? How’s that? Usually precincts have some idea of whose living in their areas. And if he cared so much about profiling you’d think he would have had some awareness of the racial/ethnic minorities living in the area he’s in charge of.

    Whalen’s just being used as a decoy to deflect from the central issues as far as I’m concerned. And the symbolic social status of both Professor Gates and Crowley, while important, are only further decoys from the issues–to inflate Crowley’s credentials and downplay the racism and the seriousness of the issue along with Professor Gates’ position and worth as human being for that matter. It was a racist incident–plain and simple–if you reduce it to the procedures and facts, Crowley was in the wrong all the way around. But they happen every single day to less prestigious people and for things that don’t warrant any type of police intervention/interaction, etc. That’s my take anyway.

    And with all honesty, I was just excited to be able to say something positive about a cop for once (Mr. Stamper). There’s a few good cops and they need recognition too. Good god and all the support they can get.

  5. Toby

    There you go Kstate, it’s apparently OK for you indict all of white America because of the Gates incident….That is called racism inspite of your insistence that poc’s can’t be racist. Prof. Gates’s response to Crowley was/is also RACIST.
    So you THINK you read that white Americans had no interest in Gates’s credentials! perhaps you meant that you feel that way, but guess what, feelings are not facts. You know-I think that black people commit most of the violent crimes in America is probably more valid than your idle racist speculation.
    It’s realy a simple matter-Gates acted like a fool and Crowley should have kept his cool.
    I personaly don’t care if racial minorities think whites are racist or not. In fact many minorities seem enjoy the racial charge game since it takes away the responsibility of their own miscreant behaviors.

  6. @ Toby – In an attempt to remain civil, let me tell you what I “hear” or rather, what I don’t. I don’t “hear”:
    1 – knowledge or understanding of racism or how it operates on the individual, institutional, and cultural level.

    2 – awareness of the facts of the Gates arrest

    3 – the ability to access what I think and the evidence I use

    4 – awareness that I’ve read and studied a ton of studies and research explaining and detailing racism, individual and institutional

    5 – respect for the fact that I’ve read and studied a ton of studies and research explaining and detailing racism, individual and institutional

    6 – awareness that the moderators here (not me, I have my own blog which you shouldn’t bother posting to since I’ll probably delete it) are professors and graduate students of sociology

    7 – a desire for racial reconcilation
    On the other hand, what I do “hear” is:
    1 – negatives opinions of people of color, especially African Americans, which are based on historical lies and present-day factual inaccuracies

    2 – an angry white man (whether you’re white or male or not) who thinks any government intervention to address racial and gender inequalities will work unfairly against him

    3 – an angry white man who didn’t see the irony in white, male members of one of the most powerful groups of people in the world worrying about a playing field leveled against white men

    4 – an angry white man who doesn’t realize that before the AIG bonuses, this same group of people – that is, big business execs and lawyers – fought against measures to remedy racial and gender inequality, and so thus doesn’t realize that the people who exploit minorities will exploit him too.
    Obviously Toby, you got some personal issues to work out and some books and essays and studies to read before you and I engage in a serious discussion over race, racism, the Gates arrest, and rates of crime. So. What’s gonna happen is this – I’m not going to respond to your comment right away, I’m going to give you time to calm down and study up. 😉

  7. Joe

    Toby, if you were a black man who had suffered much racial discrimination from white men over your life, and you were inside your own home, with a white officer who did not leave after you gave him full identification that you lived there, how would you react to such a stubborn officer?

  8. Melissa

    Toby, you may want to research the institutional racism in the justice system in America and how Blacks are incarcerated at a higher rate than Whites, even for the same crime. Blacks do not commit more violent crimes than Whites.

    I agree with Seattle in Texas. Once Gates was identified as the resident, the matter should have been over and the cops should have left.

  9. OFF TOPIC – I’m curious to thoughts about Orlando Patterson, his stance on race interactions, and his writings, particularly his book, The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s ‘Racial’ Crisis.” From the reviews I read, centrists and politically neutral reviewers tend to find the book intriguing. In general, most radicals find Patterson to “conservative,” but a right-wing review of this book denounced it as not paying enough attention to arguments against affirmative-action and offering flimsy reasoning for its continuance. What do you guys think?

  10. JDF

    Joe, thanks for the link to the blog by Tenured Radical. It’s the kind of read similar to the works of Tim Wise or Paul Kivel that are so important for whites to read, since it seems only fellow whites can get through to them about these issues.

    As for Toby’s post, how can you say that Gates’ response to Crowley was racist?! I would ask you if you’d be angry to be in the same situation, but that’s the point: you wouldn’t ever be. Do white people revel in their ability to be so ignorant of the real world? It’s sickening.

    This whole situation serves as evidence why we need cameras on crusiers and cops wearing wires so we know what goes down during these incidents. They aren’t private citizens; they are employees of the state/county and the evidence is overwhelming that abuse of power etc is widespread in their actions.

  11. Nquest

    JDF… I think someone referenced Stanley Fish’s column where he spoke about Gates being mistaken as a servant when he moved in or had worked done at his house when he taught at Duke University.
    Out of all these White people who have been so quick to talk about what they have or would do had the police came to their house, it’s amazing not one has included a lifetime worth of stories where they were confused as the help vs. the homeowner.

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