Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reflections on Henry Louis Gates' Arrest: When Criminals Are Exalted The Innocent Will Also Be Guilty

So the arrest of Skip Gates has been dissected from most of its angles. Charges of racism have been levied. The immediate knee-jerk defense of any behavior by the police has been used by others. I have a slightly different take on things. We could ask why the neighbor made an assumption of criminal activity. They are sure to be embarrassed now that their name has been made public. We can investigate whether the arresting officer - who is white - violated Dr. Gates' rights in some way. We can discuss the history of race relations in the United States and how he got the short end of the stick. We could also ask why he allowed himself to be so outraged - or how he was justified given that poor history. 

It seems many were expecting the officer to notice that Dr. Gates was the "right" kind of Negro and not a "thug" so the class difference should have been his shield. Well....it's not! Just like the obvious racism displayed against the Creative Steps participants blacks have to stop deluding themselves that the deteriorating behavior of the collective will be ignored. In order words, "certain" blacks are not going to get a pass. People think we're experiencing a time warp of sorts and on one hand we are. We're experiencing a backlash of sorts for the choice of a millions of whites to set aside their racism and misgivings to elect a black man for President.

Obama is beholden to their interests and will address them accordingly as they are the majority population. The blacks, specifically black women that represent his largest voting group seem willing to "wait" for him to "do right" by them. The same way those that actually put their lives and limbs on the line to get Civil Rights passed were expecting to be taken care of for their efforts. It didn't happen. Things are in fact much worse for the entire collective.

African-Americans are for the most part worse off than we were 40 years ago. I don't think the same racism lens is being viewed today than then. Why not? We weren't making role models and celebrities out of AA male (and some AA females) criminals. You know the rap music artists, sports figures and such. When you have these men bragging about how many times they'd been shot or "slangin' rock" or have rap sheets that represent crimes committed not music and it's not only tolerated BUT celebrated it is over for the "decent" folks left. 

There was a time education was touted and people knew how to behave in public. There was a time when an R&B singer who'd made a sex tape of acts between him and a minor would have resulted in some public retaliation "behavior modification" incident. There was a time when the college attendance/graduation numbers for AA men were much higher. There was a time when a man aspired to be a husband and no job was beneath him in providing for a family. 

The depraved has become the norm and warped the minds of so many. Far too many excuses are being made about racism, mediocrity, bad childhoods, hard times, etc. etc.  Let's face it, life does suck for a lot of people. Yet other groups of people in this country and around the world are not elevating the gutter to the throne. 

Also people are still viewing this from the "white people as oppressors" meme. We have the power to change this. We can have standards, accountability and consequences for those that violate us but NOT when we allow others to drag the entire collective in the gutter. You can't turn a blind eye to things and be surprised when there's blowback.

So when we look at situations like what occurred yesterday had this been a few decades ago Dr. Gates probably would not have gotten too familiar with the officers. Now had he suffered any bodily harm it would be a different story. Some say it's the indignity of being questioned that got to him. Perhaps it did. How is what he experienced any different than what so many of us have to endure on a daily basis? African-American women have to set aside their ego and outrage in so many ways and it's not from any confrontation with white law enforcement officers. If we can do it then so can he. 

Keeping our heads on straight is very important right now. Being disciplined racially and focused is a non-negotiable right now. In much the same way blacks they could "overcome" just by showing up to the Integration Party it requires much more than that. People who think they are above having to account for themselves are going to be in for a rude awakening. I think it's a great thing because the more it happens some people will stop thinking of themselves as better or special. Then maybe they'll start thinking about how those "other blacks" behave and the message of tolerance and acceptance being bandied about. Perhaps their outrage will be such that they start discussing the need for policing those behaviors amongst other blacks so as to avoid the presence of the real police. Just a thought. Sometimes self-interest is the only thing that motivates.

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Mr. Gates has spoken much about the history and the academics of race and community relations. Now, he has gotten a raw and real lesson in race. I believe his perspective will change. There is no protection from the prejudices (intentional or not) toward skin color. People who have prejudices don't care about your education, class, money or any other internal content of character.

I always tell young people the same principle I apply to myself: Assume nothing, work and conduct yourself every moment as if you very life depends on it, because it does.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this piece alot and agree with almost all points made. However, the juxtaposition of Gates and "thugs" is not a valid one to me. The Gates incidence falls in the realm of race not class in my opinion. Gates knows what's up with "being a BLACK MAN in America." I'm glad he defended his manhood by challenging that authority that attempted to strip him of it. We should all be so bold.

Felicia said...

"African-American women have to set aside their ego and outrage in so many ways and it's not from any confrontation with white law enforcement officers. If we can do it then so can he."

I hear you Faith. That's where this sexism thing comes into play you see. Many BM feel they've arrived and shouldn't be subjected to certain indignities. The same indignities that many BW are subjected to on the daily in the "bc". Being treated with suspicion and disrespect. Feeling powerless.

Incidents like this SHOULD make BM want to dismantle ALL of the isms.

Racism AND sexism.

Because it HURTS being targeted for things you have no control over like gender and perceived "race".

Incidents like this should make them more sympathetic for what BW often go through - not only in the general public - but also in the "community".

When a lesson isn't learned the first time (that injustice/disrespectful treatment regardless of gender is wrong and should be fought against. Not just injustices personally experienced) it's BOUND to be repeated.

So... I predict more BM who thought they had arrived will be receiving these wake-up calls.

Lorraine said...

This is a wonderfully refreshing perspective. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hello Faith


When I first saw this flash across my computer screen as "breaking news" I actually thought it was some pop up add or something so I turned my pop up blocker up high!


One commenter at Khadija's blog asked why black families who had peaceful, and stable lifestyles failed to pass their values to the next generation.

Khadija thought her response might offend others, but I SWEAR by God, ALL of us should be past pity parties, and feeling depressed. NONE of us can afford that distraction right now.

Her response to me was profoundly deep for this reason: SUICIDE. Yep, suicide. It's funny how confused or suicidal thinking black folks will accuse Black women empowerment blogger, Inter-racial MARRIAGE advocates, and LGBT activists of "committing" race suicide.


I completely agree with your analysis of what happened to skip Gates, and that it's a sign of worse to come for ALL of us.

All I can think about is her response to that commenter as I sit here ,and reflect on what happened to Dr. Gates...

Khadija said...


Please excuse the length of this comment; I'm extremely annoyed about this story. But not for the "usual" reasons.

First of all, you're quite correct that part of this is blowback from the AA collective's DECADES-long pattern of acting as a knee-jerk support network for Black criminals.

The only time non-Blacks see us protesting in usually IN SUPPORT of somebody who's been arrested. The only alleged criminals that AAs want to see prosecuted are Whites accused of racist hate crimes against AAs. The basic message we communicate to non-Blacks is the one you mentioned: "AAs EXALT Black criminals." This is not a good look. For many reasons.

Another point of irritation is that most AAs didn't prepare for the various negatives attached to the Obama-ssiah being elected. One such negative is the fact that many Whites would perceive his election as "proof" that racism is over. And that there would be HUGE resistance to even entertaining anymore cries of racism from AAs. That crying racism tune is played out. Non-Blacks are not trying to hear that noise anymore.

Another irritant is wondering how long will it take for AAs (of all economic classes) to get it through our heads that it's NOT a good idea to have a direct confrontation with racist police out in "the world." By yourself. Where it's their word against yours. Where they could shoot you dead and be done with it.

Why is it that so many of us (who should know better) have not considered how critical it is to keep our heads in such circumstances? Why is it that so many of us (especially so-called "prominent" Black folks) haven't thought through what they're going to do when something like that happens?

Whatever the possible strategies might be in such circumstances, trying to fuss at armed police...by yourself...with their word against yours...is NOT the move to make.

Prof. Gates was blessed that they didn't just put a bullet hole in his head. And lay a "drop gun" (or something else metallic) beside his dead body. These things do happen. And most of us know this. When faced with these situations, why do so many of us still respond as if we don't know this?

Another irritant is that we never address the fact that there are often Black police officers present during this type of misconduct. On what basis do we focus ALL of our rage on the White officers present?

I tend to be angrier with Black officers who collaborate with racists. Historically, AAs protested to get more AAs hired as police, and THIS is what some of them do?

IIRC, I saw a Black-looking officer in the foreground of a video still picture of Prof. Gates being arrested. Well, who was that colored boy in uniform? Are any of the outraged AA voices talking about that particular individual?

Is there a local Black police officers' league? If so, is this group talking about/to that individual? Are any of these outraged AAs talking to the local Black police group about that person (if such a local group exists)?

The presence of Black-skinned officers during racist police misconduct incidents is not rare. This sort of thing raises the question of whether or not it makes sense for AAs to continue to clamor to have Black-skinned police officers. Maybe we need to find some other criteria to use for lobbying for various people to get hired. Skin color alone is obviously not it.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Bluebutterfly: Yeah he thought he was "above it all" and now he's gotten a taste of what life is like away from his lofty perch. I still don't think when these situations happen the people involved have necessarily grown. They're just aware of how uncomfortable they are. It's about alleviating their pain, not everybody else's. Now he wants to fight racial profiling. This wasn't a strict profiling case to me though.

Anonymous: Defending his manhood could have easily gotten him killed. So a little humility is worth it. It's what he should've remembered from his youth, his parents and grandparents had to go through it!

Felicia: Sexism....what sexism? That doesn't exist according to some people. Or that's something white women go through.

Lorraine: Thanks!

Sister Seeking, Miriam: Thanks. With every incident I wonder what is wrong with black people and why are they so outraged, so shocked, so lead-footed, so into overreacting and not being proactive. It is MADDENING!!!

Khadija: I was actually thinking about your post on racial discipline and am amazed by the group-think. It was pretty much the same knee-jerk rush to save the "black man against the white oppressor". Black people are SHEEPLE.

I didn't even mention the black officer because it seems as if no one else wants to acknowledge he was there and didn't do anything either. I did ask some ppl how would they have expressed their "racism" outrage if the arresting officer had been the black one and I got crickets.

Actually a few ppl got angry with me. We are DOOMED. I mean the decay is from ceiling to floor. It has never been so clear to me now. The cops are just corrupt from head to rear as well. It is only with few exceptions and tv series that we see decent behavior. I have been told it is so prevalent that your life would be in danger if you don't act like you're part of the gang, but you would probably have more direct experience with this than I.

Please leave as long a message as you wish!

Khadija said...


Yes, from talking to relatives who are in law enforcement there IS what I'll call a "Serpico Effect": Any cop who is not down with the program (be it racist, or simply corrupt) can find themselves without back-up if/when their life is in danger at work.

From what I've been told, this isn't always the case. But it happens enough to keep most people in check.

However, going along with the program is no guarantee of safety at work for Black officers. Even if they "go along to get along" with racist coworkers, Black officers are still much more liable to be shot BY OTHER OFFICERS when working in plainclothes or undercover. Despite police protestations that everybody's "blue," a BM is a BM is a BM to racist Whites. And if they mess up and shoot a BM who turns out to have a badge...oh well, ooops.

I've heard similar "Serpico Effect" tales from several WW I've known who are in law enforcement.

On a non-life-threatening level, similar career pressures often apply to Black prosecutors---the Christopher Darden Gambit---where they dig a Black prosecutor out of the basement office to be a Black face prosecuting high-profile AAs.

But all of this brings into question one's personal integrity and how cheaply one is willing to sell oneself.

My refusal to be used like that is one of several reasons why I quit my first job as prosecutor after about a year; and it didn't take long for me to see "what time it was" at that office. The crazy/dishonest/racist officers quickly learned that they could NOT trust me to blindly buy into whatever they wrote in their police reports. They also knew that they couldn't "joke" about "testi-lying" in my presence. Unfortunately, there are PLENTY of colored prosecutors that entertain that mess.-

Nobody is REQUIRED to keep a job where the work environment demands that you collaborate with evil. Most jobs are not the Mafia---you CAN quit. You can look for another job that doesn't require you to be an accomplice to evil. And I don't believe people who claim that it took them many years to figure out what was going on at their job. NO! They knew. They just didn't care until something happened and they were exposed as the ultra-cheap prostitutes that they are.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

K.C. Jones said...

"but I SWEAR by God, ALL of us should be past pity parties, and feeling depressed. NONE of us can afford that distraction right now."

Unless a person is actually depressed, which is a neurological disease. It is very easy for those who have never been truly depressed to say things like this, but as a person who is almost suicidal herself, I got to say I find this comment extremely insensitive to those who have an actual mental illness. Depression is not the same as having a pity party.

PVW said...


My reading on the situation is similar to yours.

Like you, I have a healthy skepticism of what police officers say in their reports.

So I read the report and then read/listened to the report of his attorney, well-known civil rights law professor, Charles Ogletree.

He is a 58 year old black man who grew up in West Virginia during the civil rights movement, I'm sure he knows about how to deal with the police.

Where the police officers say he was being belligerent, I think he was frustrated at officers who were not willing to leave him alone once they saw his Harvard id and valid driver's license.

The police will find disorderly conduct where there is none and manufacture it if they find it necessary.

Asking him to come outside rather than talking to him quietly in his home and leaving him alone once they learned his identity, meant they had a better ground on which to arrest.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Khadija: Thank you for that much-needed background information. It is something people need to consider.

KC: I think you're misunderstanding the comment. A lot of black women ARE depressed. It's why we have so many outward manifestations of the inner turmoil with some of us who have "attitudes" and weight problems. Diagnosing it is vital but even more important is getting out from under the situations that cause it. In these situations it comes down to a woman deciding to leave a physical area or a mental/emotional cesspool. If she does not her problems can't be resolved.

PVW: Yes once the police get you to step outside your door they can arrest you. He should've known better...oh well he does NOW. He thought we'd overcome only to find out he has not.

Anonymous said...

@ K.C. Jones

I apologize if I offended you, or anyone else who is suffering from any neurological disease. My intention was NOT to attack people who are consumers of neurological illnesses. When my mother passed away, I slipped into a depression.
The point I was trying to make in my comments was that many folks in our ethnic group are in a state of apathy, and despondency. Remaining in that mental state will not do anything for you. We can’t allow the obvious reality of our ethnic groups decay to depress us or break our spirits so that we NEVER do anything.

Also, this is NOT about bashing people with mental illnesses, re-directing this conversation to say this, makes me wonder about YOUR intention.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Miriam: No apology was really necessary

to KC and others - Hmm I'm trying to think how I'm going to respond to this. I understood exactly what Miriam was referring to because we were having this conversation at another blog, so it was a bit of short-hand going on. I should have clarified to you directly that b4 I posted your response in the comment section.

I also have to add that some of the things we're discussing are specifically related to pathologies amongst blacks and I may have to ask you to not comment.

I'm not entirely sure how I want to handle this. I think an outside perspective can be of great use but I also don't want to end up having to explain nuances or have input that detracts from what we're working through here. I'm learning that sometimes you have to let the conversations breath a little. So bear with me while I figure out what will work best here for all concerned.