Race in America

What do you see in this picture? Diversity? Reality?

A friend of mine wrote a lengthy response to this post. I thought I would try to discuss why I think he is so far off base. His words are blockquoted.

The case of Professor Derek (Derrick) Bell, his supporters, and his passionate belief in Critical Race Theory simply proves that racism and prejudice are as alive and well in some black folks as it is in some white folks and some in other races.

It is important for us to acknowledge that both Whites and Blacks have issues with race. We all do. We all have stereotypes and prejudices that we need to fight against in order to attempt to see people as they are and not as we want them to be. Now, Professor Bell’s Critical Race Theory has nothing to do with the fact that racism exists throughout the United States and can be found in Blacks, Whites, Latinos – all races. BTW, have you read his theory? Are you basing your judgment of his theory based on someone else’s biases? Professor Bell grew up in the 1930s and 1940s. I think one could easily argue that America promoted the White culture and suppressed all minorities during this time frame. One could also argue that after the 1960s several laws were enacted which severely penalized Black behavior. These laws made it much more likely that Blacks would be arrested and jailed for a prolonged period of time for behavior that was similar to, but perhaps not exactly the same as, the behavior of their White counterparts. Specifically, I am talking about how drug laws are enforced in this country. Crack cocaine is more prevalent among Blacks and other minorities. The sentences are much harsher then possessing powder cocaine, which is more popular in the White community.

Now that we have our first Black President can we say things are getting better between the races?

Consider the situation where a black professor was questioned by a white police officer outside of Boston a few years ago. The President referred to this as a “teachable moment.”

Unfortunately, however, he elevated the poison of prejudice and racial division by immediately labeling the White cop as acting “stupid.” This led many to conclude that the President was too quick to side with his own race rather than take a higher moral stand and show a more reasoned and deliberative response expected from a leader.

Wait a minute. Let’s go over the facts. This wasn’t simply any Black professor. This was a Black professor at Harvard who is a leading historian. Henry Louis Gates. This guy is world-famous. Now, let’s look at the facts, which you seem to have glossed over. Professor Gates got arrested for breaking into his own house. Now, let’s think about this just for a second. How many well-known and world-renowned professors get arrested for breaking into their own house? He got arrested after he showed not only his driver’s license but also his Harvard faculty ID. Both had his name and picture on them. One revealed his address – the house that he was standing in. So, it’d already been clearly established that that was his house. Yet, he got arrested anyway.

Now, let’s examine what President Obama said. “… I think it’s fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, No. 3 … that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” He went on to say that this shows “how race remains a factor in this society.” He is exactly right.

I’m sorry if you did not like the language that President Obama used, but he was exactly right. There was no reason to arrest this man. None. Should’ve Professor Gates acted better? Sure. But he was in his own house. You can act as you want in your own house and not get arrested. Should he have berated the officer by continually asking for his name and badge number? No. But again, you shouldn’t get arrested for asking a police officer for their name and badge number. You don’t have to be polite. If you break the law, which the professor hadn’t, you should get arrested. I think that Colin Powell summed this up relatively well when he said, “You don’t argue with a police officer. In fact, in our schools today, in order to make sure that we don’t have things escalate out of control and lead to very unfortunate situations, we tell our kids, when you’re being asked something by a police officer, being detained by a police officer, cooperate.” With regard to Sgt. Crowley, Powell stated that: “Once they felt they had to bring Dr. Gates out of the house and to handcuff him, I would’ve thought at that point, some adult supervision would have stepped in and said ‘OK look, it is his house. Let’s not take this any further, take the handcuffs off, good night Dr. Gates.”

Jon Shane, a police officer for 17 years as well as a professor of criminal justice, told Time Magazine that the responding officer should not have arrested Professor Gates. The arresting officer should have treated Gates’s behavior as a First Amendment right under the Constitution.

I’m going to stop right here because I think we’ve already seen racial bias in this discussion. An innocent man gets arrested and my friend blames President Obama for saying the arrest was stupid. (The case was dropped because there was no legal base to go forward. I would say a smart arrest is one that leads to a conviction in court. A stupid arrest is one that gets the case thrown out of court.) He didn’t take any time to praise President Obama for saying that this was a teaching moment. He didn’t take any time to praise the President for bringing the two men together at the White House to sit down and have their “beer summit.” Now, it should be understood that I’m not saying that Officer Crowley was a bad man. What I am saying is that the whole situation would’ve been different if Professor Gates were White and not Black. If he were White, I think the chance of his being arrested, with the exact same scenario and the exact same behavior, is infinitesimally small, like …zero.

What are your thoughts? How do we fix this tremendous problem we have in our country?

0 Responses

  1. I am the friend who wrote what you quoted. I do not mind if you use my name. I stand behind what I wrote then and what I write, now.

    Perhaps in the interest of brevity, you have failed to offer up the greater points I was making in my post. Unfortunately, I think this mischaracterization of what I had intended with my post might cause your readers to assume things about me that are not true.

    In regard to your point about Dr. Bell’s version of Critical Race Theory, I am no expert. And perhaps I have missed some of his nuances – but I have read about HIS interpretation of CRT and I’ve heard parts of his movie and I find the implications of assumed heartless, deep-seated racism by whites against blacks to be perverse and sickening and not based in reality. Fiction like this does not serve to educate us about racial issues in America, it serves to increase divisiveness, suspicion and even hatred.

    In regard to the arrest of the professor outside of Boston, I don’t think it matters how famous the doctor is – Dr. Gates had a chip on his shoulder and was looking for trouble. Instead of cooperating with a police officer, Dr. Gates used the opportunity to CREATE a racial issue and do further damage to the races. President Obama, instead of showing more cool, reasoned leadership, chose to buy into handling this occasion as an example of race-based prejudice – and our President really blew it in this regard. His reaction served to do nothing to heal racial tensions, it stoked the fires of division and distrust.

    In regard to the Gates situation, you got a very important part of the Gates story wrong, Errington. This famous professor initially REFUSED to provide his ID to the police officer. That’s when the officer asked him to step outside, which Gates initially refused as well. And don’t forget that the only reason the officer was called out to the home was because a neighbor called police when the Professor was showing difficulty in being able to get into his own home. The officer was doing his job, attempting to protect Dr. Gates’ home. If Dr. Gates had shown his ID as requested, the incident would have been over.

    But Dr. Gates was looking for trouble. He didn’t see the white police officer as a racially unbiased man who was attempting to determine whether Dr. Gates was an improper intruder, he prejudicially assumed a racist white police officer was abusing his authority by harassing a black man.  Instead of respecting the officer’s authority, rather than assume the officer should be respected, Dr. Gates unfairly escalated the matter due to his own presumptions of racism.

    I don’t know about you, but if I had just come back from being away on a trip, and then have a hard time gaining entry into my own home, and then find a black police officer at my door (I am white) who asks me for my ID as proof that I live in my own home, I am going to choose to show the officer my ID immediately. And then if asked to go outside, I am going to comply. I am not going to immediately assume this black officer is harassing me for my race – or even if I do suspect racism to be at play, I will still provide my ID. Wouldn’t you do the same?

    My greater point in bringing up this example and the travesty of justice against whites by AG Eric Holder that you chose not to mention is racial prejudice is a two way street. As a white man who has tried to raise three color blind sons, I find race baiting choices like the ones made by Dr. Gates, Eric Holder, and our President to be examples of racism by blacks against whites and I find this to be working against racial healing in our culture. And unfortunately, I sense a surge in this activity and attitude ever since our President took office. What a wonderful opportunity our President had to help heal racial divisions – but instead he has chosen a strategy that has helped increase racial tensions in America.

    I have come to the conclusion that politics loves racism. Politics has no true interest in making racism go away. It’s too easy to point to one race and say “That race has unspoken, deep seated desires to treat you wrong – so vote for us. It’s too easy to say “That man is only where he is today because affirmative action prevented another more qualified man to take the same spot at school or work.”

    If you will recall, my last two paragraphs concluded my thoughts on this issue with the following:

    “We
    as a people should not buy into the race-baiting that the KKK, David
    Dukes, Jesse Jacksons, and Reverend Wrights are trying to sell us. We
    should not allow our politicians to fuel the hopefully dying embers of
    our racial paranoia. Each of us needs to actively work hard to resist
    being taken advantage of by the fear mongers and instead strive daily to
    approach each fellow human being as an equal child of God regardless of
    color, class, religious preference, or whatever may be the current
    political divisive card du-jour.” “Yes, we have come a long way,
    but the inherent political power of perpetuating, and never solving
    racial divisiveness will always work hard to keep us – the little people
    – from achieving true color blindness.”

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond.

    Jeff Stager

  2. Jeff – 

    I will be updating my post with more from your comments. I thought I would stop at a small bite from the apple. We will be eating from this apple all week. 

    Here’s what you simply don’t get about Professor Gates. It doesn’t matter how he reacts to the police officer. He followed the law. He didn’t hit or threaten the police officer in any way. There was no disturbance of the peace because he was in his own house. What you are saying is because Professor Gates didn’t respond as you think he should everything is okay. (Here’s where you assume that every American should react a certain way. It is an ethnocentric view point to say the least.) No it isn’t. The authority figure is the one who has had the training. He is the one that should have calmed the situation. He should defused the situation. He didn’t. He made matters worse. 

    Let’s take this one step further. Suppose he is Professor Gates world famous historian. Suppose he is John Smith who is an assistant professor of history. Some unknown dude who is trying to get into his house. He gets arrested. Now what? There is no media coverage. He is just some dude. Does the district attorney drop the charges? Does he have the means to fight this? Does Harvard now look at him differently? Does he get fired? All because he gets arrested for breaking into his own house. 

    I must say that your characterization of Professor Gates is so far off base as to make me uncomfortable. How are you looking for trouble in your own house? How does that happen? How is it that you are upset that Professor Gates broke no laws and gets arrested? It is wrong. It is that simple. As soon as the Professor complied with the Officer’s orders to produce an ID the conversation should have been over. Professor Gates should have been hearing I’m sorry sir. I’m apologize for any problems. It doesn’t matter what Professor Gates’ attitude was or what he was looking for. Let’s go back and look at the constitution which conservatives like to wave around but never seem to want to adhere to. Where does it say we need to be polite to police officers or we will get arrested? 

    From Mass Lawyers Weekly Blog:

    In order to secure a disorderly conduct conviction, the prosecution would have to show three things:1. That Gates engaged in fighting, threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior or created a hazardous condition by an act that served no legitimate purpose;
    2. That Gates’ actions were reasonably likely to affect the public; and
    3. That the defendant either intended to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, alarm or recklessly created a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.In 1976, the Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Richards held that the law cannot be applied to a defendant’s language, even if it is offensive and abusive, unless it constitutes “fighting words which by their very utterance tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” While the report refers to Gates’ conduct as “loud and tumultuous,” there does not appear to be anything there that would allow for a conclusion that they were “fighting words.”

    I’m sorry. President Obama was right. It was a teaching moment. He was 100% correct that the officer didn’t follow protocol and acted stupidly. He also went on to say that both parties had opportunities to walk away from this and they didn’t. What more did you want him to do? I will not simply say that law enforcement is correct hundred percent of the time. They make mistakes. They are human just like all of us. Now, before I get labeled as someone who hates police officers, I’m done more than my share of supporting the police not only financially but also in spending time at the bedside making sure that they are well taken care of. Personally, I love and respect police officers, firefighters and other public servants who put their lives on the line for us everyday and every night. Yet, I expect them to treat me with the same respect that I treat them. I expect them to follow the protocols. I expect them to follow the law.

    I appreciate your input.

  3. Hard for us White folks to understand, Jeff, because we grew up with, and still enjoy, the privilege of being White. You said

    “I am not going to immediately assume this black officer is harassing me for my race – or even if I do suspect racism to be at play, I will still provide my ID. Wouldn’t you do the same?”Of course I would. I’m a White man, just like you. Nothing to fear, right? But if you’re Black, or a woman, the answer is far from that simple. You and I can’t really comprehend that, because we don’t live it every day. We can only acknowledge that our White sisters, and our Black brothers and sisters, do.

  4. “I expect them to treat me with the same respect that I treat them.”  This is the crux of the matter.  Did Skip Gates treat the officer with respect?  I don’t know; the officer said he was surprised a Harvard prof would act that way toward him.  There is a town/gown and class element that may have been more of an issue for the officer than race.  However, any professional law enforcement officer knows there is a 400-year history of police brutality against black men that is the subtext for every encounter.  
    Btw, I have NEVER heard there is a First Amendment right to dis a police officer, and the first thing you tell any criminal client is shut up and go along, don’t resist, we’ll sort it out at the police station.  I think the president handled the situation very well with the “teachable moment”–although “stupid” is not a word I would use to describe any blue-collar worker, just as I would never use “lazy” to describe blacks.  Too much baggage there, particularly when comparing a Harvard prof to a cop.I had my own encounter with a lone police officer on a dark road late at night that scared me to death.  He had pulled me over for driving in the left lane while someone was trying to pass (him, flashing high beams and tailgating very aggressively; I thought someone with road rage was stalking me and I was afraid to move because there was nobody else on the road).  He finally turned on his lights and siren, and I looked for a place, any place, with lights on, but this was a road along the Potomac River.  When I finally did pull over, and explained the delay, he argued with me even though as I told him there had recently been a series of attacks on women in the area by a guy pretending to be a cop.  He was all in my face, clearly trying to provoke me into doing something, but I knew I had to play the bottom dog and not challenge his authority in any way.  He even said, I’m the good guy and you wouldn’t be so scared of me unless you had done something wrong.  Cops have TOTAL control of you, which is part of the appeal to a certain personality type.

  5. Jeff willingly swallows the propaganda of the fringe right and doesn’t want to understand anything about Critical Race Theory, the life and work of Professor Derrick Bell, or the institutionalized racism of the Cambridge Police or Law Enforcement in general. His willful ignorance is typical & betrays a hostility to the truth & the progressive change that took place over the last 50 years to open up this society. It is also an epic failure to grapple with what is at the root of his conservatism: racial prejudice.

  6. SB – My problem is that he assumes that he understands Derrick Bell and it willing to label him as racist without actually reading the theory. Not some watered down version that has been cleansed by Hannity and O’Reilly but read what Professor Bell has to say. It shows and intellectual laziness that is disturbing.

    Thanks for stopping by. I truly appreciate it.  

  7.  Errington,

    Thanks for the feed back. Let me try to present why I think you are off base on this one…

    You say “Now, Professor Bell’s Critical Race Theory has nothing to do with the
    fact that racism exists throughout the United States and can be found in
    Blacks, Whites, Latinos – all races. BTW, have you read his theory? Are
    you basing your judgment of his theory based on someone else’s biases?”

    Here is an excerpt from Bell’s book, “Fighting Racism In The Twenty-First Century”:

    “Although CRT does not employ a single methodology, it seeks to highlight
    the ways in which the law is not neutral and objective, but designed to
    support White supremacy and the subordination of people of color.

    So Dr. Bell’s statement is that our laws are “…not neutral and objective, but support White supremacy and the subordination of people of color.” Is there a different way for me to objectively judge his theory than conclude that Dr. Bell’s CRT is “evidence that racism and prejudice are as alive and well in some black folks as it is in some white folks…”?

    In regard to Dr. Gates, it is my understanding, after reading the police officer’s account, that Professor Gates did not follow the law. When asked for his ID, Professor Gates initially refused. This gave the officer enough probable cause to be concerned that the neighbor’s report of a man breaking into the home might not be the authorized tenant – and that the man he was dealing with might not be Dr. Gates.

    If you were the cop called to the scene and I was the one in the house and you asked for my ID  – a very normal police request and certainly not a “racist” request, and I refused – would you simply turn around and leave? If so, you would not be doing your job. You would have no idea if I were the rightful occupant of the home. What is so hard to understand about this? Where’s the racism?

    The police officer simply needed to know the identity of the man in the home and Dr. Gates was the one responsible for escalating the situation by refusing to show his ID. How is a cop supposed to handle the fact that he has a potential burglar in front of him who is refusing to identify himself? How does he de-escalate that?

    I would suggest that any other non-famous-chip-on-the-shoulder professor, such as your hypothetical Professor Smith, would not be arrested because he would have immediately produced his ID when the officer entered the home. That’s what I would have done – regardless of whether the officer was white like me or black like you.

    Now if I am still arrested, only THEN do I have legal recourse against the officer. Only then am I able to counter sue, call the media, get a petition, etc. But until then, every American has the responsibility of being color blind first – and respectful of the officer’s authority.

    You seem to suggest that it is proper for American citizens to not abide by a police officer if he chooses to believe the officer is not doing his job appropriately. Would you suggest your kids respond in this manner if they are ever confronted by police? Make up their own mind on the spot as to whether they want to conform to the question of producing identification?

    Only if I am looking for a racial problem do I withhold my ID from a black officer when he asks for it. And then I should expect to be cuffed and possibly thrown in jail. It would be my own stupid fault.

    You miss the point if you are trying to make this about Dr. Gates “looking for trouble in his own house.” Dr. Gates had just gotten home from being away on a trip. He had no idea a neighbor misunderstood his behavior when having a hard time getting in his front door. The cop had no way of knowing if Dr. Gates was Dr. Gates or some man who had just been reported breaking into the home.

    Gates blew it by picking a fight with the officer when the officer asked for ID and Gates refused. My understanding is that Gates did not provide this ID until after he was escorted out of the house. Should the officer have then cuffed and cited Gates? Of course not – but by then Gates had created this whole mess and both he and the officer were at odds. To the officer’s credit, he released Gates and, of course, the ticket was later quashed.

    But if Gates had simply done what you would have done and what I would have done when first asked, none of this would have happened in the first place. It was Dr Gates who escalated this into a racial issue and President Obama who incited racial tensions because of it on a national level.

    Shame on both men.

  8.  Hey Skep,

    Please explain how I am of the fringe right? BTW, I am not a Republican and I voted for Obama.

    Also, see my excerpt from Dr. Bell’s book and then explain to me what I am misunderstanding about CRT.

    Rather than attack me, personally, Skep, why don’t you attack my arguments – yes, that might be more difficult, but it would be a more classy thing for you to try to do and it may even advance both of us to a better understanding of racism in our country.

  9. Ahem, Jeff, let me get all constitutional scholar on you (my field).  I was reading CRT before it was popular, and was part of a sit in at the Harvard Law Dean’s office in 1983–back when Derrick Bell was STILL the only tenured black faculty member and a much less qualified white guy with NO PUBS got tenure because the conservative white profs liked him (call that upholding standards?).

    The fact that for most of American history constitutional law in particular has enforced white supremacy should be understood by EVERY citizen, not interpreted as “racism” by the prof who just recites history.  Take the 14th amendment, which was explicitly passed to give “privileges and immunities” of citizenship and “equal protection of the laws” to people of color, including former slaves.  Who were the first “persons” held by the Supreme Court to be protected by the amendment?  Corporations.  In 1897, the Court upholds “separate but equal” (hah!) segregated facilities, and only in 1954, almost 100 years after the amendment was first passed, does the Court strike down segregated schools as “inherently unequal.”  If that’s not proof of the law upholding white privilege, I don’t know what is.

  10. You’re lazy, Jeff. Period. You don’t want to understand Critical Race Theory and you certainly don’t wish to understand what was problematic about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. 

    While I never made any claims about you’re party affiliation or who you voted for in 08, it really doesn’t matter.  You’ve uncritically accepted a set of deceptive right-wing memes meant to provoke a sense of white grievance that paints Obama as a racial provocateur. 

    Based on what you’ve already articulated about Gates and Bell, I don’t believe the claim that you voted for Obama. The association with Jeremiah Wright should have kept you from voting for him given the way Wright’s character and work was similarly assassinated in the media without justification. This is nothing more than psychological projection on your part. You’re phony, Jeff, and so are your arguments. 

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

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