• August 31, 2015

Race and Reality in a Front-Porch Encounter

Race and Reality in a Front-Porch Encounter 1

AP Images

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., of Harvard U., was arrested at home on July 16, 2009; Sgt. James Crowley, of the Cambridge, Mass., police, is at rear right.

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AP Images

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., of Harvard U., was arrested at home on July 16, 2009; Sgt. James Crowley, of the Cambridge, Mass., police, is at rear right.

I applaud President Obama's invitation to Professor Skip Gates and Sgt. Jim Crowley to continue the "conversation" they ostensibly began on a porch in Cambridge, Mass., with Gates's arrest on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Truth be told, however, the Gates-Crowley encounter did not begin on that porch. Nor will it will end at a White House talkfest, even in an atmosphere leavened by beer. And much more was at play than a conflict about deference or duty.

In fact, the alleged "loud" and "tumultuous" tone of Gates's voice, and the clanging of the cuffs on his wrists, were the sounds of two different versions of our racial history colliding with our collective amnesia about that history.

In version one, the white cop is the racist. Here, Gates and Crowley were playing out roles assigned to them circa 1963 and little changed since. This version transforms the decorated diversity-training sergeant into a stand-in for the vicious white cops with the police dogs and fire hoses who attacked innocent black children marching for their rights in Birmingham, Ala. The esteemed black professor is an updated stand-in for James Meredith, a black man in Mississippi in 1962 asserting his well-earned place in a citadel of knowledge while a white mob gathers to taunt him.

Contrast version two of race in America: Here it is Gates who is the racist. In response to the officer's polite request to show identification in his own home, Gates exploded, shouting and yelling that the sergeant was a racist. In this account, Gates, and he alone, racialized the encounter. He escalated a routine procedure into an international publicity stunt when he exclaimed, according to a police report written in all caps, "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO BLACK MEN IN AMERICA."

In both of those iconic portraits, the solution is simple. In version one, we should "out" the racist cop. In version two, we should simply shut down the use of the "r" word, except as it applies to people of color who apparently have yet to get the memo. Neither of the accounts tells the whole story; each freezes both men in a snapshot of history that is more than 40 years old. As one blog post put the dual and dueling challenges—"Obama stepped in it big time with this as many people voted for him hoping a black man in the White House would finally put to bed our racial problems."

Of course, President Obama's election did not put our racial problems to bed. Nonetheless, he is in a unique position to engage the country in a thorough vetting of the multiple ways that race still interacts with gender and class and power in our society as whole. Given its worldwide resonance in the blogosphere and on the front pages of foreign as well as American newspapers, the Cambridge porch encounter cries out for more than a simple politically opportune snapshot.

It is time, in other words, for both versions of the Gates-Crowley encounter to move beyond the 1963 lock on our imagination. Sergeant Crowley is not a virulent Bull Connor. Nor is Professor Gates merely an elegant and more internationally savvy adaptation of a quietly suffering James Meredith. Both of the stock versions of what happened on the Cambridge porch in 2009 are incomplete caricatures.

What might we learn instead about contemporary race matters if we could move beyond the stock stories?

First, history does matter. The undisputed historical backdrop for the porch encounter includes 240 years of chattel slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow, and 400-plus years of intergenerational wealth transfer during most of which time black people not only owned little property—they were property. In roughly 50 of the first 72 years of our country's first century, the presidents of the United States themselves owned slaves. In the infamous Dred Scott case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that a black man had no rights that a white man need respect, five of the justices were from slaveholding families.

Many self-declared "postracialists" who assume that black poverty is a function of laziness or lack of personal responsibility ignore history's important legacy in the form of a systemic process still at work. But as William A. "Sandy" Darity, a professor of public policy, African and African-American studies, and economics at Duke University, has reminded us (most recently in an unpublished article written with Darrick Hamilton, an assistant professor at Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy), black people and Latinos still suffer from crushing gaps in wealth that are intergenerational, not personal, and which, in comparison to the white population, are truly mind-boggling. Darity has pointed out, for example, that, according to 2002 data, the median white household has a net worth of $90,000, Latino households have a net worth of only $8,000, and black households a mere $6,000. Black people with a net worth of $6,000 "would have to save 100 percent of their income for three consecutive years," Darity says, to close the racial wealth gap, a gap that is the direct result of having been property for some 240 years and having been denied, in so many cases, the opportunity to own property for close to 100 years thereafter.

Neighborhood poverty then cements the historic wealth gap. Continuing racial segregation—which isolates both middle-class and poor black people in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods—reinforces the gap. Even now, the children of middle-class black parents who have good jobs but live in poor neighborhoods experience downward economic mobility, through no fault of their own. According to a just-released study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, neighborhood poverty outweighed parents' education, employment, or marital status in explaining increases in black poverty. The study found that black children born between 1985 and 2000 are 10 times as likely than white children to grow up in neighborhoods with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent. The same study found that half of black children born between 1955 and 1970 in middle-class families (those with incomes of $62,000 or higher in today's dollars) grew up in high-poverty neighborhoods, while almost no white middle-income children grew up in poor areas.

That finding is important, because it is the physical association between black people and poverty that contributes to cognitive assumptions about black criminality, and which results in the disproportionate attention that black males of all income levels receive from the police. As Glenn C. Loury, a professor of economics and social science at Brown University, recently wrote in a New York Times opinion essay, our policy of mass incarceration is having a range of "negative and self-defeating" effects on communities where large numbers of young black and Hispanic men live.

Second, we need to become racially literate, not postracially blind. Racial literacy is the capacity to conjugate the grammar of race in different contexts and circumstances. Like the verb "to be," race takes a different form when we speak about "I am" versus "you are" compared with "he is." In other words, race still matters at a psychic, economic, and sociological level for people of color, even for those who are middle class or multiracial. It may not reveal itself through the spewed invective of a Bull Connor. It is less overt but nonetheless real. It is sometimes a virulent subtext, at other times a nuanced dynamic. But always the meaning of race needs to be interrogated and conjugated carefully in light of relevant local circumstances and their historic underpinnings.

All Americans, not just people of color, need to be better schooled in the subtle yet complex ways that race actually works in the 21st century. Racial literacy requires familiarity with unconscious bias as well as structural racism. It demands a far more nuanced approach than typical charges of racism or race-carding.

To understand what happened on that Cambridge porch, we must free ourselves of the stereotype that racism is always overt—a police officer with a dog and a fire hose. Race and racism are today more like passive smoke. We all inhale the toxic fumes even if we are not the one lighting up the cigarette. And if we take the time to lift the curtain that postracialists insist on pulling over our eyes, we might begin to realize that a porch encounter ostensibly about racial profiling is nevertheless a sign of larger and more systemwide injustices.

Racial literacy would help all of us understand that behind the two force fields competing for respect on that Cambridge porch is a criminal-justice system that exercises outsized control as the major urban-policy instrument for controlling the poor. We have focused our resources disproportionately on policing and criminalizing the poor. As a result, we have too often put our police officers into the positions of legislators, prosecutors, judges, and juries—positions for which they are not qualified and that they should not be expected to fulfill—even in well-to-do neighborhoods like the one in Cambridge.

At the same time, if we read race carefully, we might learn that the conditions of profiling in the criminal-justice system affect blacks and Latinos first and most acutely, but that the same overreliance on the system as our major instrument of urban policy can disempower poor and working-class white people as well. Here I am referring to the fact that the school-to-prison pipeline for young black men affects poor rural white men as well. The lack of a robust economic-stimulus program to combat depression-level unemployment within the black community also affects rising unemployment within many predominantly white counties in the Midwest. Or consider the higher rates of life-threatening conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart attacks among black and Latino men—which are actually a signal that we need to pay more attention to the health-care crisis that is exacerbated by the anger, hopelessness, and diet in poor urban and rural communities around the country. And while close to one-third of black households have no or a negative net worth, Darity points out that the same is true for 13 percent of white households.

The point of an effort to gain greater racial literacy is not simply to figure out what each man should or could have done differently to de-escalate the porch summit. The point is to explore their encounter as a potent learning moment for the entire country. If we learn to "read race" in context and become more racially literate, we might finally start deliberating about the underlying structural problems and historical challenges raised to consciousness by this porch scene. And rather than assign blame or settle for a photo opportunity, we might just come together to address an American legacy that affects us all.

Lani Guinier is a professor of law at the Harvard Law School.


1. mpg236 - July 30, 2009 at 02:07 pm

While I am almost always in agreement with Professor Guinier, I must note one important slippage in this article. She claims that the culpable roles assigned to Gates and Crowley are each forty years old. However, the one in which Gates "alone" turns the encounter racial would seem to have become a recognizable popular character only during the Reagan era. The idea that excluded nonwhites cause racism by noting it succeeded the iconic images of the civil rights movement. Thus, it seems to me at least, the latter narrative is the one which must be confronted and challenged more than the former.

2. jmunroe - July 30, 2009 at 04:52 pm

Thank you, Dr. Guinier, for that brilliant response! Joanne Munroe

3. howardwang - July 30, 2009 at 04:59 pm

While I enjoy reading professor Guinier's brilliantly written piece, I must say that to truly go beyond history of racial discriminations and inequity among racial groups, comparisons must go beyond just the White-Black-Hispanic model. Asian Americans can't be the "invisible" race. While some assume Asian Americans s do not need to fit into this equation as they are the "model minority," let's not forget that there are "minorities" within the ethnic Asian Americans who may have even less household networth than African Americans, or Hispanics, and definitely less than that for Whites.

4. hmcmorrow - July 30, 2009 at 05:20 pm

I think that both men are culpable in this situation. I would expect more from a man of Dr. Gates' intelligence and abilities to diffuse a situation and would hope for more from Cambridge Police; who I don't believe were being racist but rather arrogant. The officer should have been skilled enough to diffuse the situation without allowing it to escalate in the first place- no matter how obnoxious Dr. Gates may or may not have been. I think that this situation would have happened had Dr. Gates been white. Cops don't like to be mouthed off to. Both of these men's arrogance has caused this, nothing more sinister than that.

5. rickinchina09 - July 31, 2009 at 06:28 am

Dr. Guinier's essay begins with an unoriginal observation that this racial encounter did not begin on Dr. Gates' front porch. It proceeds, predictably enough, to chronicle the long legacy of racism in this country, as if the vast majority of readers of this website aren't already familiar with it. Of course, for saying this I will be accused by some readers here of gross insensitivity to the historic plight of African Americans. This knee-jerk reaction will then allow those same readers to dismiss my comments out-of-hand, especially after I reveal that I am White, as I just did. For in racial discourse the imperative to identify oneself by race remains. To be sure, Dr. Guinier makes an earnest and articulate effort to expose the shortcomings in the behavior of both men at the center of this conflict. I only wish she had shown the same level of objectivity (or should I say fair play) in sizing up the recent Supreme Court decision in the Ricci case, which she wrote about in an op-ed for The New York Times. Perhaps then she would be in a favorable frame of mind to acknowledge--as no liberal Black educator seems willing to do--that much if not most of what falls under the rubric of affirmative action policy in action is itself a form of racial profiling. The knife often cuts both ways, whether we care to admit it or not. That is why, for instance, a Black high school graduate with a mediocre GPA and SAT scores can be accepted to Duke University while his White classmate, with both a stellar GPA and SAT scores from a comparable SES is not (and this is hardly an isolated occurrence). Dr. Guinier repeats the tired lament, too, about the supposed correlation between social capital in the Black and White communities. In fact, as the College Board and ETS used to report in circulars that usually only found their way to library archives, White test-takers in all but the lowest two stanines earn comparable mean scores as the two highest stanines of Black test-takers on the SAT. But of course presumptions of disadvantage provide a convenient smokescreen for a culture of educational underachievement throughout minority communities, with the notable exception of most East Asian and South Asian Americans (as well as sizeable numbers of Southeast Asians whose English is at least as inadequate as their Latino immigrant peers.) But back to the matter at hand. While I am certainly not unsympathetic to the travails faced by generations of African Americans in this country, having myself taught by choice in the inner city for a decade, much being expressed by those of color in the ivory tends to ring hollow. Teaching moments are useless when they seek advocacy for some grievance, real or imagined. It is a false presumption to declare, as Dr. Guinier has here, that Whites need to learn as much about the subtleties of racism. I maintain that many Blacks are just as poorly versed, albeit in often different contexts of racial tension. (And it is a dubious claim to suggest that the higher susceptibility of African Americans to certain medical problems is due in part to conditions of race or poverty per se). Rather than continue down this road of tit-for-tat, let me close by saying that the racial literacy the author calls for would also benefit immensely from some un-learning, and we might start by disabusing ourselves of a collective victim mindset, as Dr. John McWhorter and Shelby Steele have urged. It might also help to elevate the discourse if our President didn't feel entitled to comment on racials incidents incompletely reported. And should we arrive at that glorious day when both the purportedly best among us who aspire to the elitist notion of the "talented tenth" and those of lower stations in life achieve the racial literacy Dr. Guinier envisions, I only hope it will not let historical memories serve as an excuse for individual irresponsibility.

6. cmmoore1 - July 31, 2009 at 10:05 am

Why does the police officer have to be so skilled as to diffuse the situation in the first place? Wasn't he responding to a call of a potential break-in to begin with? And why did Dr. Gates continue to go off on the police officer the way he did once he found out why the officer was there? This wasn't a race issue to begin with. It was a neighborhood safety issue. The actual issue itself, while it has set off a firestorm of debate on all sides, was not about race. It was about a man who had just returned from a long trip and was tired and worn-out and was trying to get into his home so he could get some rest. But he couldn't get into the home and it "looked" like he was breaking-and-entering. If the police officer in question is so skilled at teaching his colleagues about racial profiling, why are we still blaming him? He was doing his job. Dr. Gates is the one who started the firestorm when he pulled out his "race" card. His response may have been one that was uttered out of tiredness and fatigue, but he did start it. And in some cases, there is no way that a skilled police officer can ever calm down a person who is so agitated and furious other than by arresting them. Isn't that abuse to the white officer by Dr. Gates? And why are the black officers who showed up with Officer Crowley so supportive of him if he was not,as some people are suggesting, doing his job properly?

7. chandrak - July 31, 2009 at 10:41 am

The Gates-Crowley incident is not presented correctly by Lani Guinier. Racism is not the monopoly of one race. Blacks are capable and are discriminating other races. They have a chip on the shoulder. You have to talk to minority academics in Historically Black Colleges and Universities regarding the treatment they are getting from Black administrators and some Black faculty. Lani Guinier should open her eyes to reality and face the naked truth. Blacks are racists too.

8. rburns - July 31, 2009 at 11:11 am

Very interesting data, that nearly one-third of Black households and nearly 13% of white households have zero or negative net worth. Interesting also that neither Gates nor Obama now is part of that statistic. Let's focus on those who have real problems and try to get the campus elite to understand that they no longer are part of the victim culture (if they ever were). And I'm always amused by my fully employed, even "notable" colleague academics who can't seem to find "teachable moments" anywhere in their daily schedules.

9. 11328626 - July 31, 2009 at 11:36 am

You really only have to look at the difference in tone and articulation in various posts on this and other sites addressing the issue to detect both the lack of complexity and intellect in those attempting to elide the historic issues of race and policing to make this about affirmative action and so called black racists. From site to site CNN to Chronicle.com, you find the same kind of ignorant, historically stripped analysis (if you can call it analysis of the Gates/Crowley event). "Chandrak" cannot engage Prof. Guinier's analysis, so it it is reduced to "[it] is not presented correctly" and accompanied by name calling of African-Americans and racists, with no more than the writer's own feeling that s/he or others must be treated badly at HBCUs. "rickinchina09" does mostly the same thing, only in a longer post and using tired unsupported assertions against alleged affirmative action abuses as his or her straw man. In neither case is Prof. Guinier's analysis of white advantage and its ongoing legacy addressed. That material can be supported by volumes of research by black, white, Asian, Hispanic and international scholars, as well as by the writings of the racists themselves. In the context of history, even the very recent history from 1960 to 1990, the Gates-Crowley incident exposes to specific problems - one of the traditional policing practices that often violate the Constitutional rights of most people (who don't know enought to complain) and the traditional issue of what happens when a police officer (usually white, but even trained black ones) sees a minority man or woman in any circumstance. In the first case, we have police practices that allege to be in the interest of protecting themselves (see Crowley) or the public. This safety argument is at the head of ever attempt by police to erode our rights, from how and when they can detain us, deprive us of property, force us into physical positions of pain, or use deadly force against us (keep your eyes open for the progress of the taser deaths debate and keep your memory of the recent subway shooting death). The question of what happens when cops see minorities is at the head of the profiling debate. If cops see minorities and instinctively see them as suspicious, then we have a significant problem. The easy question to ask of the Crowley incident, especially since we know that the racial designations in the affair came from the police report HE WROTE. Would his conduct have been the same if a greying, professorial white man, nearing sixty, and using a cane had come to the door of that house in Cambridge. Would he have pressed the man further and at the hint of irritation on the part of the white man, handcuffed a Harvard faculty member? I don't think that would have happened, and there is little or no evidence that it happens regularly at all. That is the remarkable thing about this. When is the last time that a police encounter between a Harvard, BU, or other area college faculty member resulted in anything like this. Whatever Gates said, at his own house, and barring a threat to the officer, is not grounds for arrest. All you patriots out there take a look at rulings on free speech, police action, and search and seizure issues regards people's houses. It doesn't matter what Crowley teaches in terms of racial sensitivity and racial profiling. The fact is that the racial stereotypes exist and are used by a vast number of whites, especially those who think "hey, I didn't enslave anybody or set dogs on anybody, so get off my back." They are the very ones to look at blacks, see them with any education, wealthy, property or advantage and believe it came at their expense. Blacks of the slavery and reconstruction period and the civil rights era faced something frightenly similar. Whatever they had must have been ill-gotten, and in any case any white man felt entitled to take the property from the black person, and there was no recourse. Read some books if you don't believe. And, given the outburst from the Boston cop on Wednesday, it should be clear to you all that there is some problem. If there were not, Crowley would not need to teach his courses to his fellow officers - a fact in itself that should disturb us and tell us what the culture of policing is like. And Howardwang is dead on to remind us that the black/white dichotomy and the Black/white/brown formula are both outdated. These old black white racisms are now very much retooled to be applied to other ethnicities, especially since 9/11 and the economic downturn of late. As Frank Wu reminded all of us in his 2001? book, race is beyond black and white. Guinier at least was honest enough to include rural whites in the analysis of disempowerment and policing problems. I am sure she is in agreement with Prof. Wu on the pan-ethnic quality of this.

10. 22028881 - July 31, 2009 at 06:58 pm

Prof. Guinier's article certainly points out well the issues of race that this "front porch" incident raised. And yet, I have not yet seen any accounts, including the comments above, that look at this incident from the point of view of gender. It would be interesting to ask: what if the police officer had been a woman? Or, if instead of Dr. Gates, the Harvard professor was an African-American woman? There is wonderful literature out there on the construction of masculinity, and this story incorporates all of these elements. Race and class work together to construct gender identities--and the accounts of the altercation on the porch point to a classic clash of masculine ideals that each man held for himself. To add gender to this story does not diminish the effect of race, but I believe that it better explains the story.

11. scholarlybalance - August 01, 2009 at 07:59 am

"When is the last time that a police encounter between a Harvard, BU, or other area college faculty member resulted in anything like this. Whatever Gates said, at his own house, and barring a threat to the officer, is not grounds for arrest. All you patriots out there take a look at rulings on free speech, police action, and search and seizure issues regards people's houses." Exactly! I'm so tired of people reducing every act of racism against black invididuals to the white officers' burning desire to uphold the "law." Give me a break. This is just one more way that individuals who aren't minorities render the perceptions and experiences of minorities "other." And for the record (re: second scenario): Why would Gates be a "racist" just because he was the first person to mention race to the officer? This seems shortsighted. Gates called the situation for what it likely was. I'll bet that if a white man was trying to get into his own house, he'd be far and away less likely to be arrested. This fact, in and of itself, is constantly elided in these discussions. I'm sick of reports that paint Gates as angry and out of control, while the officer is tacitly represented as camly questioned Gates. For all we know, something in the officer's tone and facial expression indicated to Gates that this scenario was about race, not just a possible break-in. People who aren't minorities often have *no* concept of these more subtle indicators that someone is acting based on racial bias. Why else would I - a minority, by the way - have to point out that racisim is more than just the scenario? Honestly, if you've never experienced racism, you are far less likely to "get" what happened to Gates. And it's upsetting when individuals who haven't experienced racism themselves then presume to tell minorities (who experience this from the cradle to death) that they're 'too sensitive' or 'reading too much into the situtation.' So many people read theory on race and assume they can identify it... but often can't. [sighing hopelessly....]

12. rickinchina09 - August 02, 2009 at 03:25 am

1132 states that I have done "mostly the same thing, only in a longer post and using tired unsupported assertions against alleged affirmative action abuses as his or her straw man." Rather than make vague accusations, why not specify where I engage in tired assertions and alleging undocumented abuses? You are truly engaging yourself in wishful thinking borne of a need to exonerate Gates and rally to the "tired" arguments of Dr. Guinier. Neither Gates nor any White police officer is responsible for our checkered racial past any more than a Black police officer would need to prove a lack of prejudice in arresting a redneck. Really, the presumptions you peddle in smack of intellectual arrogance and the false belief that virtue is always on the side of the victimized or those who perceive of themselves as victims, as in the case of Dr. Gates. That, too, is rather tiresome and your straw man is playing the race card rather than presenting a balanced view of the situation. One other thing: all this dabbling into hypothetical scenarios accomplishes nothing more than mental masturbation. This kind of argumentation might be fine for a seminar room but it does little to advance our understanding of the situation at hand despite what some here so fervently wish to believe. When one is always on the lookout for "dirt," one usually finds it. Gates and Guinier are so immersed in the cult of critical race theory and all it portends that they cannot step back long enough to consider this incident from a truly balanced perspective. Yet they insist that Whites examine their collective guilt all the same and respond to instances of Black overreaction to perceived prejudice (and these are innumerable) with greater sensitivity and reflection even though they aren't likely to do the same in awkward encounters with other minority and/or oppressed groups. Sorry, but homey don't play that.

13. 11328626 - August 02, 2009 at 11:07 pm

"[M]ental masturbation?" Back to jr. high school we go. Par for the course for your type of argument, rickinchina09, you fail to engage the issues of the concrete historical, legal, and political realities, supported by more than seminar exchanges. There is nothing hypothetical involved. The case law is clear, the Supreme Court cases are obvious, and the reports of events involving police and minority citizens are recorded in literature, journalism, and even the racist writings of the people involved - from cops to legislators to judges. These high profile cases are just the ones that get us talking. And, analysis isn't intellectual arrogance, or a good portion of western civilization is built on little more than arrogance. We've known for hundreds of years that analysis yields more than individual prejudice and gut feelings. Our theories, including critical race theory, provide lenses for analysis. But, you don't even need CRT for this. All you need is the Constitution, some stats, and some case law (and a history book if your really want to get wild). Nobody has to look for dirt when cops are regularly shooting people, arresting and harassing people in unconstitutional ways and then pleading public safety over the bodies of the injured and dead - mostly people of color. It would be something if one did have to hypothesize, but it isn't even necessary. The repeating pattern of abuses just continues from the 18th Century onward, and little changes but the technology, the code language, and the very recent appearance of brown faces on the police forces. And, just like the police, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution in one of my professional identities, and I know very well what it looks like to violate that oath. Gates had rights in his home, just as so many others had rights as they were being searched, arrested, or shot in many other circumstances. They were not honored. Police regularly seek to violate or do violate those rights for many, and a mounting pile of evidence from many sources indicates that those attempts and successful violations occur most often with minority populations. Read a little more than you write for a change. However, if you want to see a little piece of this world in person, tell a cop who stops you for a minor traffic infraction and then says he is going to search your car that you do not consent to a full search of your vehicle. See if he gets abusive and angry, even though that is your right. See if he threatens to hold you there for an hour or more if you don't let him search, or to hold you for longer than it takes to write a ticket to bring in search dogs, or to haul your car in for a detailed inventory search. See if he attempts to arrest you for disorderly conduct if you insist that his search is unconstitiutional. All of that to my memory is unconstitutional, but cops regularly subject people to that. After it happens, take the experience and do some research on cases involving searches and minority populations. You don't need hypos to see what is going on, but if you need a personal reference point, take my advice.

14. rickinchina09 - August 03, 2009 at 06:14 am

1132: I'm well aware of the general record on racial profiling but thank you for reminding me in the typically condescending manner of liberal elitists. You express concern about the high incidence of vehicular searches which evidently cross racial lines. I presume you find the same holds true for house arrests, whether disproportionately applied or not. So if a Black officer of the law were put in Sgt. Crowley's position and a White resident were put in Dr. Gates' position, you would be completely understanding and even supportive if the conflict played out the same way? Yeah, I believe that like I believe in the tooth fairy. Gates' response was in no way justifiable because he set these events in motion, first by his attempt to force his way into in own home (rather than entering through the rear entrance) and next by refusing to show his ID and yelling and insulting the officer called to the scene. While his frame of mind and behavior might be understandable given his heightened racial awareness, it did not excuse his unreasonable conduct. You go to all lengths to explain and rationalize Gates' behavior but show none of the same regard for the police officer. That, too, is revealing. Let me provide you with a personal reference point. Day in and day out as a educator in South Korea I knew I would be judged first by my appearance but even when I was mistreated I never flew off the handle despite the xenophobia prevalent in that society. Both men share a portion of the blame, as does the President for taking sides when he didn't have all the facts and despite his obvious personal bias. Read a little more than you write for a change. Better yet, don't presume that my racial identity makes me immune from having to deal with similar encounters.

15. 11328626 - August 03, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Did you have a bad experience with some standardized test, a grad program, or a professor somewhere? You keep trying to play critics as elitist or condescending or some other academic negative. I thought hypotheticals were a problem for you, yet you deploy them. And you presume I have a racial identity or bias that would indicate favor of any citizen over any cop, including black ones. That is ridiculous. I don't know anyone on any side of any policing issue that takes that position. Many people beside me have pointed to policing standards as a big problem. And, when those standards run afoul of Constitutional rights, any cop of any color gets the thumbs down. I do know of black cops, especially state troopers, who run into white citizens who chafe at the idea of being pulled over or even questioned on the street by black officers. That is the more likely scenario than a racially-reversed Gates/Crowley. But in a Gates/Crowley reversal, I think the black cop would be more likely to receive scrutiny that people are astonished to see Crowley get. If a Crowley happened to be black and arrested a white Gates, reverse-racism types would be screaming about blacks acting out the abuse on whites that they claim blacks get, and how the shoe is on the other foot, and how he was getting revenge against wealthy white people, and that line of ranting. If in this case Crowley had rolled up into a neighborhood and encountered a man who could not provide ID as the homeowner and as a Harvard prof, I would be right with him. But the facts and circumstances don't give Crowley a lot of cover. If it had been a dreaded "domestic dispute," then I think a lot more of us would be perfectly understanding. And, good grief, how in the world can you compare Korean xenophobia, born of a ton of pre and post colonial and imperial concerns, as well as an ongoing conflict, to the history of American racism, born of a particular kind of race-based chattel slavery, cultural and scientific racism, and deep-seated hostility played out in Jim Crow and its horrors? And, as a white person (if you are such) in Asia, you are judged in light of those elements if you are white. Blacks there are often judged by the stereotypes that have been pumped out from America to the rest of the world. In my travels in Asia, particularly Japan and Thailand, I have had my own experience with the way Americans of varying ethnicities contend with both their place in Asia as Western visitors in the context of Asian history and how we bring with us the American ethnic and racial stereotypes that we have crafted out of our own history and broadcast to the world. We have not just apples and oranges here, but apples within oranges. And as a simple matter, why should a man have to enter through the back door of his own house? There is no law, no custom, and no other circumstance that would dictate that. If anything, trying to do that would look more suspicious. Besides, it was his house, which is at the core of much of this. He did show his ID, and that should have been the end of it. Any cop would want to ascertain the owner, but once that is done, all is done. Beyond that, the trouble starts, culturally and constitutionally. You keep ignoring the broad questions of rights, law, custom, and culture because that is the only way you can try to make this reverse-racism junk stand on its own. The context informs us, as always.

16. etjatm - August 03, 2009 at 04:39 pm

Interesting commentary from Dr. Williams... " In the case of State of New Jersey v. Pedro Soto, et. al., the attorney for the black defendants moved to suppress evidence from traffic stops deemed to be discriminatory enforcement of the traffic laws. (4) On March 4, 1996, New Jersey Superior Court judge, Robert E. Francis, in granting the motion, held that "unrebutted statistical evidence of disproportionate traffic stops against African-American motorists established de facto policy of targeting blacks for investigation and arrest and thus established selective enforcement violating the equal protection and due process clauses. The motion to suppress evidence, resulted in criminal charges being dismissed against all 19 defendants. (5) What is racial profiling? Does it serve any purpose? In the most general terms, racial profiling is a process whereby people employ a cheap-to-observe physical characteristic, such as race, sex, height, weight and accent, as a proxy for a more costly-to-observe characteristic. It is prejudice, in the sense of the word's Latin root - the act of pre-judging. Another way to define pre-judging is that it is the practice of making decisions on the basis of incomplete information. Since the acquisition of information is not costless, it requires the sacrifice of resources (time and/or money), we all seek methods to economize on its acquisition. Prior to making a decision, people never obtain all of the information available or possible to obtain. For example, all prefer low prices to higher prices for a given purchase, but we never canvass all prices. In choosing a mate, we never obtain all the information about our prospective spouse. In these and other decisions, we decide that a given amount of information is "enough" and we search no more. Consider the following example of how much information is acquired prior to a decision. Suppose upon entering a room one is unexpectedly confronted with the sight of a fully grown tiger. A fairly reliable prediction is that person would endeavor to leave the area in great dispatch or otherwise seek safety. All by itself that prediction is uninteresting. More interesting is the explanation for the behavior. Would the person's decision to run be based upon any detailed information held about that particular or would the decision be based upon the person's information about how he has seen other tigers behave, what his parents have told him about tigers or tiger folklore? Most likely the individual's decision would be based upon the latter. He simply pre-judges or stereotypes the tiger. The fact that it is a tiger is deemed sufficient information for action. What is popularly termed racial profiling represents pre-judging, where policemen disproportionately stop black motoristsor pedestrians for identification, questioning and contraband searches. We might ask: can one's racial characteristics serve as a proxy for some other characteristic not as easily observed? The answer is unambiguously in the affirmative. Knowing a person's race allows one to make some fairly reliable generalizations because race is correlated with a number of social and physical characteristics. Knowing that a man is black, one can assign a higher likelihood of his having diseases such as prostate cancer, (6) sickle ce ll anemia (7) and hypertension. Similarly, knowing that a Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is one can assign a higher likelihood for Tay Sach's disease. (8) Knowing a person's race allows one to assign a probability to a host of socioeconomic characteristics such as scores on achievement tests, wealth status, criminal record, or basketball proficiency. Given this reality, we can no more reliably say that a policeman is a racist when he assigns a higher probability that a black is a criminal, and stops him for questioning or search, than we can reliably say that a physician is a racist when he assigns a higher probability of prostate cancer to his black patient and screens them more carefully. Jesse Jackson once commented, "There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery - then look around and see somebody white an feel relieved." There are certain high crime areas of a city - maybe it is New York's Harlem or Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia - where taxicab drivers have been assaulted, robbed and murdered. Out of safety concerns, they seek to identify and hence avoid passengers they suspect might ask to be driven to these high crime areas where there is a higher likelihood of assault by either the passenger or someone else. Both white and black taxi drivers have refused to pickup black passengers. This is racial profiling but it does not indicate taxi driver racial preferences. The writer has experienced racial profiling. One instance was when I resided in Chevy Chase, Maryland, an exclusive Washington suburb. A Saturday chore, resulting from having a corner house, was to pick up trash discarded by motorists. Once while performing this chore, a white gentleman approached me and offered me a job doing clean up work on his property. When I thanked him and told him that I would be busy the rest of the day working on my dissertation, he apologized profusely. Another instance was when I was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. I had gained considerable weight and was determined to get in shape during my year at Hoover. I went visit to Stanford's basketball court looking for a pickup game, white guys were arguing with one another to have me on their team or to be on my team. Much to their amazement, angry amazement I might add, I could barely get up and down the court, much less do anything constructive when I arrived. I concluded that much of their anger was, "How dare I be black and can't play basketball well!" The reality is that race and other characteristics are related, including criminal behavior. That fact does not dispel the insult, embarrassment, anger and hurt a law-abiding black person might feel being stopped by police, watched in stores, being passed up by taxi drivers, standing at traffic lights and hearing car door locks activated or being refused delivery by merchants who fear for their safety in your neighborhood. It is easy to direct one's anger to the taxi driver who passes him by or the merchant who refuses to deliver. However, one must also ask the why question. The answer is not that the taxi drivers or pizza restaurants do not desire dollars coming from black hands. A better answer is that they may fear for their lives and safety. The villains of the piece are the tiny percentage of the black community who prey on both blacks and whites and have made black synonymous with crime. One cannot unambiguously say that racial profiling represent racist preferences. Racial profiling is practiced by black policemen as well as white policemen. Demanding an end to racial profiling by police, is to put more black people at risk. To the extent that black people commit more crimes than white people, to the extent that black people are the major victims of black criminals, to the extent that police stops catch criminals, eliminating racial profiling would deprive law-abiding blacks protection from criminals. Recognizing that racial profiling is a valuable policing tool does not release policemen from behaving lawfully and courteously when they make stops. Finally, while easily observed physical characteristics might be proxies for some other not easily observed characteristic, one need not be dumb. I could be walking down the street and see a green person. That does not mean I should go up to the person and accuse him of being from Mars. I might seek additional information or exercise caution in my assertion." http://economics.gmu.edu/wew/articles/fee/profiliing.html Much like police officers asking for identification?

17. mrrsphd - August 04, 2009 at 03:40 am

I would like to add to suggested readings that helped me. The first is "White Washing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society" There are various authors. There is also a show that I believe is on ABC station. It is entitled "What would you do?" It is done by John Quinones. The thing that is most interesting to me is that in the scenarios that deal with Racial 'issues' it is amazing how many people (mostly 'white') who claim not to 'see' color do in fact react and act very differently. I wish to make a point about this particular item. I am currently getting a doctorate in social ethics. I really don't care what individual preference or feelings are towards anyone...but what is problematic to me is that this 'individual' denial quickly becomes policy or political/economic reality. I don't care when a 'white' person says..."I don't see color"...when it is obvious he does...what is dangerous is when that person says 'we don't need affirmative action because everyone should be judged as an individual.' I also hate when I have asked more then one conservative 'white' person what 'white' person within recent times (within the past 30 years) has placed the 'race card' to get ahead...ala O.J. Simpson etc. So for instance has any politician, guilty criminal, high school student etc. (I don't mean David Duke)...who has played the 'race card' in any manner? I am astouded that this seems to be something that only 'minorities' can use? Finally, I wish to say that I am always amazed at the luminous intelltigence of Lani Guinier. I have always been a great fan of hers. I love her capacity to disentangle this difficult and powerful subject. Thank you so very much. Rene

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