Thursday, July 23, 2009

This whole Gates thing is bothering me.... does class + race = progress?

Apparently I'm not the only one with all the media talk that has been going around.

First, I was bothered that a racist incident like this could take place in an area of Cambridge with which I am so familiar. Then, I was bothered that a black man needs to worry when his front door gets stuck, that he will be arrested when his neighbors call the police. 

I remembered an incident in my neighborhood a year or two ago when I saw two guys, around 20 years old, opening the window of a first floor apartment and climbing in. My street is full of college/grad students throwing parties etc - they fit the profile of college students who had locked themselves out - wearing printed T's and fashionable jeans - it was broad daylight - so I just figured that's what it was. They were white.

When this whole Gates thing came up, I asked myself, if those two guys had been black, would I have acted differently? I have called the police before - though the circumstances were completely different (once a guy was trying to beat down the door of his girlfriend's apartment after sneaking into the building - oh and his face and hands were covered with blood - another time I heard gunshots, screams and then looked out my window to see a man running across the Christian Science Center reflecting pool area with a HUGE gun in his hand - the first case, the guy was Japanese, the second he was black).

After reflecting on these thoughts though, I got more bothered though because something didn't sit well with me and this professor. He reminds me of the famous "Don't tase me bro" kid who got himself in trouble with the police after pushing the limits when at an event where John Kerry was speaking. 

As far as I am concerned, the most important part of this video is the beginning where, upon the suggestion from the police that the shut the hell up and move on, he fights them. I believe that the student's desire to provoke combined with a juvenile sense of superiority over those around him is what led to these circumstances. Did the police need to taser him? Absolutely not, but that is a secondary issue. What did he set out to do when he went to the podium? To reveal dishonesty within the Kerry campaign I assume. Did he achieve his goal? Um, I'm going to go with NO here. In my mind he, and only he, failed his cause.

Here is an interview with him on the Today Show where he admits that he made a mistake. He concedes that he wasn't able to keep his composure and the police where just trying to do their job.

This whole post was provoked by a comment one reader made in response to an online news story regarding the Gates arrest. They said that Gates had set back Black/White race relations by 30 years.

Well, what if this is actually evidence of advanced race relations in United States? It seems there is sentiment upon sentiment that this case is not just about race. This Boston Globe reporter says it's more about "power and machismo on both sides".

Though I don't have the empirical evidence to prove it, I felt early on that the professor was operating under the influence of something other than injustice induced outrage. He was making public appearances so quickly. He is accused of making statements like, "You don't know who you are dealing with" - he apparently didn't want to show his ID. 

That people were so offended a Harvard professor had been arrested made me feel something was amiss. Have we not established that one's profession does not necessarily preclude them from doing something illegal? Isn't that like, really, really obvious? 

Methinks that in a case where race and class are so entangled, the only way to fairly evaluate the situation is to look at the behavior of the individuals involved. Again, I think this is fairly obvious and is the manner by which all individuals should be evaluated but it seems we have strayed in this case.

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