The extent to which the voices of racial victimization have almost gleefully descended on the recent and brief arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates would be surprising – unless one understands the near-pathology that lies beneath the surface of racial identity politics.
Among the many who have stepped forward to argue that Gates’ run-in with the police proves that little has changed with the nation’s racial attitudes is Lawrence Bobo, also a professor at Harvard University. He argues that the arrest “shows how little some features of the national racial landscape have changed over time.”
This is simply part of the ongoing counter-attack that been taking place since President Obama’s inauguration by those whose world-view is threatened by the declining significance of race. Some among those who claim to speak on behalf of the nation’s roughly 12 million black people, resemble drug addicts - blindly needing the fix of the confrontational politics of racial identity.
What do we know about the Gates arrest? Upon arriving home from a trip to China, Gates and his limo driver were seen forcing open the front door to his home that was stuck. Unaware that it was Gates, someone saw the developments and alerted the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police who arrived and confronted him inside his house. Alert to the possibility of a home robbery (the call went out that two black men with back packs were forcing open the door), one officer asked Gates for identification, at which point the confrontation begins, as do the differing accounts.
The police (at least one of the officers at the scene was black) contend that Gates became irate when asked for ID, and followed one officer out to the front porch where he continued to berate the cop - reportedly asking if he was being asked for ID “because I’m a black man in America?” and telling the officer he had “no idea who he was messing with.” At that point Gates was handcuffed, briefly arrested and booked for disorderly conduct (all the charges have since been dropped). Since being released, Gates has not been shy in contending that he was the victim of abusive, racist police. Gates says this is all an example of “… how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system.” Oh really?
I (Joe) know Skip Gates. He is hardly some cheap Al Sharpton imitator. He is a smart, sophisticated, wealthy, accomplished and articulate scholar, one that has been internationally acclaimed for his work. And it is this fact that makes this incident so sad and disappointing.
Since Gates was in fact in his own home, and able to prove that he was who he said he was, why the need to “get all ghetto” with the cops? Why is he, of all people, playing the race card? Why did he seemingly “lose it” when asked simply to identify himself? Did he think that the police should have known who he was, since he is an acclaimed Harvard academic and TV personality? And was Gates’ ego perhaps bruised by this event, causing him to revert to the default “race victim” position evoked by all-too-many members of the black elite?
It’s impossible to get inside Gates’ head, and we won’t try. It is far easier to discern the transparent motives of the race hustlers like Michael Eric Dyson, Al Sharpton and others who will opportunistically make full use of this incident. They will try to sell their message of a relentlessly racist America to anyone who will listen.
It doesn’t matter that progress is clearly observable and well-documented. It is this portrayal of a largely unchanged nation with intractable racism which is critical to the existence of the nation’s race industry – an industry that depends on this glum narrative for its very survival.
The nation has changed – but they have not.