Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Shared Burdens and Shared Responsibilities? Harvard's Review of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Arrest Concludes that He Was an "Uppity" Negro
Officer Cowley was surprised and afraid of Henry Louis Gates Jr.? Wow.
After Henry Louis Gates' arrest by a Cambridge police officer we had an obligatory "national conversation" on race and a beer summit where all of sins and hurt feelings were washed away. In keeping with the synergy that occurs when the bureaucratic culture of the U.S. government and the conference culture of academia meet, a blue ribbon panel was assembled to review the arrest of Professor Gates.
I have looked through their very well-pedigreed report (a mix of theory and meditation on such concepts as "legitimacy" and "procedural justice"), so you will not have to. Its conclusion in lay terms: Professor Gates was uppity and that police have a broad range of discretionary power...which Officer Cowley chose to exercise in the harshest way possible.
Some choice excerpts from the report (make careful note of how asking questions of a police officer in your own home can be perceived as belligerence):
I for one do not know how an elderly academic recovering from pneumonia and who walks with a cane can be such a threat. But then again, maybe Professor Gates is a Zatoichi? Ultimately, and as I said months ago when this story first developed, the real fruits of full citizenship in America are the right to be angry, upset, and not on your best behavior...and to still get a pass from the powers that be. As demonstrated here, white privilege isn't all high theorizing and academic double talk. In practice, it is the freedom to be a jerk and to still not go to jail.
Sadly, Professor Gates seems to have forgotten that practical lesson of how race is (still) lived in Barack Obama's America.