Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Being a world-renowned professor while black

Prof. Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr. -- Harvard University Professor, editor of the Root, etc. etc. -- was arrested on his own front porch after it was determined that he was, indeed, the legitimate homeowner as far as I can tell. Writer Samantha Henig of Slate and the Double X Factor comments on this and links to some other good commentaries:

Just as upsetting to me as the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest, Emily, is the way that so many people have been responding, including in our own comments section. There’s this reflexive defense mechanism that so often kicks in with white people (of which I am one) in situations like these; an urge to stand up for the white person accused of discrimination because hey, I’m white, and I’m not racist. I’ll admit, I feel that pull too at times—I cringe at people who fling around groundless accusations of racism [and other hot-button issues].

But this is not a case where people should get all smug about being “brave” and “honest” enough to question whether race was a factor; to suggest that maybe it was Gates who was out of line, not the cop. In all the steps of this story—the neighbor who called the cops, the way the officer spoke to Gates, the fact that the kerfuffle between them, no matter how much it was instigated by Gates, led to an actual arrest—it is just so hard to imagine that not one of them was influenced by Gates (and his driver) being black.

Blogger Kate Harding has a thorough explanation of why declarations that race isn’t a part of this arrest are coming from a position of white privilege. And to “people are trying to be all devil’s advocatey about it and suggest that Gates bears responsibility for making matters worse,” she offers this: “I’m sorry, who wouldn’t be a belligerent prick after getting off a long flight, coming home to a jammed door, then finding a cop in your living room accusing you of trying to steal your own shit? I sure would.” Ditto that.

Read the rest here.