A Philosopher's Blog

Gates, Crowley & Race

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on July 24, 2009

Obama said, of the Gates incident,  that it shows “how race remains a factor in this society.” This remark is quite correct, but perhaps not in the way that most people might think.

Some people see the incident as yet another example of the racism of white police and how blacks are mistreated by law enforcement. To be fair, there are good grounds for people to be concerned about racism in the context of the police. However, to assume that the incident must involve racism on the part of the officer simply because he is white and Gates is black would itself be racist. Interestingly, the incident does seem to involve racism-but it seems to be racism about whites rather than blacks.

The situation began with a neighbor calling the police because someone was seen breaking into Gates’ house. When Crowley arrived and asked Gates to step outside, Gates apparently said “”Why, because I’m a black man in America?” While Gates might have been honestly upset, the officer was following standard police procedures and acting, as far as it is known, in a reasonable way. The officer’s job was to determine the nature of the situation and to ensure public safety. He seems to have done that job properly.

Gates, in contrast, seems to have needlessly over-reacted to the officer and thus created an incident out of nothing. While Gates does have good grounds to be worried about racist police, Crowley does not seem to have done anything to merit Gates’ reaction. If so, then it would seem that it was Gates who was being a racist-he assumed that Crowley was doing what he did simply because Crowley is white and he, Gates, is black. Likewise, the people who are assuming that Crowley must have acted on racist motivations because he is white are also falling victim to racism.

At this time, there seems to be no evidence of racism on the part of Crowley. As noted above, he followed standard procedures and acted within the law. In short, Gates seems to have been treated like anyone who did the same thing he did would be treated. Crowley also has no history of racism and has, interestingly enough, taught a class on racial profiling for five years.

Despite the lack of evidence of racism or improper actions on the part of Crowley, Gates has said that “This is not about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America.”

Gates is quite right to be concerned about how black men are treated by the police and America has a long history of racism that provides rational grounds for worry. But, Gates’ arrest does not seem to be a case in which a vulnerable black man was needlessly hassled by a white cop. I do suspect that Gates honestly believes that he was hassled because he is black and the officer is white. Gates did not see a cop doing his job and following proper procedure. Gates saw a white cop who was there to hassle him. He then acted in accord with this perception, thus getting arrested. Obama also saw (or seems to have seen) a white cop hassling a black friend of his, and he acted in accord with his perception of the situation.  Thus, Gates and Obama both serve as examples of how race is still a factor in how people perceive the world.

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  1. BigEdsBlog said, on July 24, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I first wrote about this on Tues and basically said that Gates was a jack arse.
    Now Obama opens his uninformed mouth and inserts his foot in it.
    Gates said that Crowley didn’t know who he was messing with.
    Perhaps Gates is the one who didn’t know who he was messing with.
    Check out my take on it and the link to my Tue post. Also, please stick around for more good content.
    http://libertarianhumor.com/2009/07/24/gates-2/

  2. magus71 said, on July 24, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Yet again, it seems our president is surrounded by friends who have some very hateful views. I still say birds of a feather flock together.

  3. Dave said, on July 24, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Very well-written article, Mike.

  4. magus71 said, on July 24, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    As was taught in my Social Psychology class, people sometimes elicit the response they expect by acting in ways that cause negative reactions. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

  5. jenn31 said, on July 25, 2009 at 4:54 am

    i’m sorry i cannot give u a hive-five for ur piece. like gates, u only c want u want to c, a person of color crying wolf. as a person of color, like gates, racism is high on my radar. i’m afraid of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, not only for my safety, but bc i’m gonna be placed in the position where i’m gonna have to confront it head-on.
    however, being sensitive to the possibility of encountering racism does not make me a racist. Subjectively believing that i have been a victim of racism does not make me a racist either.
    what would be racist is to use a race allegation to purposely subjugate another human being. therefore, if the professor truly believes he has been a victim, why would pointing a finger at his aggressor be considered racist or playing the race card.
    playing the race card would imply that he believed the officer not be racist, but used the situation for his benefit or to subjugate another.
    to clarify, obama never accused the cop of being racist. he accused the cop of being stupid. yes, some cops are stupid. arresting an elderly man who has already established his identity upon request is not only stupid, but abusive.
    why should a president not weigh-in matters concerning civil liberties? why is obama automatically suspect when he is asked on race matters? are we to believe that only white politicians can be trusted to determine whether or not racism has taken place?

    • AL said, on July 26, 2009 at 2:31 am

      seriously i have never blogged before but for this matter i will. no long qoutes or lines just, your f-in retarded.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 27, 2009 at 5:21 pm

        AL,

        Could you elaborate on that, or are you just tossing out an ad hominem attack because you have no substantial criticism to offer?

      • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 8:35 pm

        That is pretty substantial as far as the internet is concerned. Poor writers like Al, even if I slightly agree with him, have to go to extremes to get their point across. Welcome to the INTERWEB neighbor.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 27, 2009 at 5:17 pm

      I didn’t claim that Gates was certainly crying wolf. He might have honestly and sincerely seen the situation as one in which a white cop was needlessly harassing a black man. The white cop might honestly and sincerely seen that he was just doing his job and that Gates was reacting in a way that legitimately merited an arrest.

      Racism can be a subtle and tricky thing. As you point out, “being sensitive to the possibility of encountering racism does not make me a racist. Subjectively believing that i have been a victim of racism does not make me a racist either.” However, if a person believes that he is being a victim of racism simply because the person engaging in the behavior is a different race, then that would seem to be at least a bit racist. In the case at hand, if the officer was acting correctly and Gates saw him as acting in a racist manner simply because the officer is white, then that would seem to be racism.

      • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 8:33 pm

        Kind of hard to tell unless you were there, huh?

  6. Simon said, on July 25, 2009 at 7:18 am

    A classic case of the “ladder of inference” – all whites are rascist therefore ….

  7. magus71 said, on July 25, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Jenn31,

    Well, even Obama has now admitted that his comments made the situation worse, not better.

    Are you saying there is no way that Gates could have gotten out of being arrested? I mean, if he was arrested because he was black, he could have smiled, said hello and thank you officer, and then had the cuffs slapped on him.

    The police officer seemed very rational to me, and he was correct in not apologizing for doing his job–which includes arresting elderly people for disturbing the peace. Especially when this elderly people are sane (I’m assuming) and plainly trying to make a scene. According to the report there was a crowd forming which indicates that other people were noticing the disruption and therefore Disorderly Conduct or Disturbing the Peace was an appropriate charge.

    Clearly not a race issue. It’s an issue of Gates needing to reassess his how his own views about the police and white people may have a negative affect on his own life.

    • T. J. Babson said, on July 25, 2009 at 9:14 am

      Gates is loving it. Obama is taking the hit.

    • biomass2 said, on July 25, 2009 at 10:05 am

      “. . .Gates need[s] to reassess his how his own views about the police and white people may have a negative affect on his own life.”

      That is not exactly the same problem a “white guy” who has a problem with the police would face.The white man merely has his own history with the police to contend with; the black guy has to deal with his own experiences with the police and the sad and well-documented race-related history of blacks and police and governmental authority in this country.

      A white man in Gates’ situation (white “perp” :) /black officer) may need “to reassess. . . his own views about the police. . .” but it’s a rare case where the white man bears tha added burden you mention of “reassessing his views” of black people as well.

      • Jams said, on July 25, 2009 at 5:50 pm

        Yeah, because white people never have problems with the police. Or perhaps we should set a different standard for white people who live in tailer parks – I hear they frequently come from communities who have had a terribly turbulent “history” with justice.

        The only “history” Gates has to contend with is the history of a respected professor. How conflicted he must be.

        Law enforcement can’t reasonably be constrained by the historical prejudices of every citizen, nor should citizens grant themselves special privleges on the grounds of historical grievences – real or imagined.

        Note: lol @ “the white man”. The Colour Purple called, it wants its dialog back.

  8. biomass2 said, on July 25, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Jams:
    I do believe you missed the point–intentionally, I hope. So perhaps a bit of clarification is needed.

    All blacks are black. The black *race*, inarguably,has a “sad and well-documented race-related history. . . [with] police and governmental authority in this country” which genrally informs the black view of justice in America.

    On the other hand, not all whites are “trailer trash”. “Trailer trash” is not a *race* In fact, “trailer trash” is a rather small segment of the white population in this country, whereas blacks are a rather sizable portion of the black population in the USA. Your argument leaks.

    I’m happy and surprised you got “lol”, but it is a strained and, I’m afraid, misdirected sensitivity you’re exhibiting here. I’m responding to a quote from magus71 that uses the phrase “white people”! I refer to “a white guy” and “the black guy” “a white man” and “the white man”. Kipling also used the phrase–and he’s a—wait for it—white man! The phrase was, and still is I believe, used in discussions concerning (American) Indians) and “the white man”. lol :)

  9. kevin said, on July 26, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I am a white male. My opinion , Gates did not comply with the officer and the cop was in the right to arrest. I feel it would have been nice if the cop was more tolerant and should have let it go being satisfied that Gates lived there but he was not and I guess he does not have to be. I back the cop. Your not above the law because your a professor. If he felt that race had something to do with it he could have taken it up in court after the interaction.

    • biomass2 said, on July 26, 2009 at 3:05 pm

      In my posts on this and Michael’s previous article on the Gates episode I’ve tried to stay out of the “guilt determination “game, except to say that until all the facts are in, which is unlikely to ever happen since there were no sound cameras on the scene, assigning guilt in an incident which is unlikely ever to go to court is misdirected effort.

      But I do think it’s an interesting exercise to try, given the information that ‘is’ available, to determine why Gates reacted as he did and why the officer reacted as he did. My feeling is, given my personal position on the still evolving state of racial attitudes in this country, that Gates shares a common history with other members of his race and that history cannot be ignored in evaluating his reaction– whether he’s a professor or a drug dealer. Given that history, did he manage to maintain an acceptable level of cool-headedness under the circumstances? Among the talking heads, assuming one listens to a reasonable sampling of liberals and conservatives,opinions seem to be mixed.

      But the policeman has justifiable responsibilities to fulfill for the safety of the citizenry and his fellow policemen. Those are described at length in an interesting article I cited in Michael’s previous article:

      http://crookedtimber.org/2009/07/23/police-discretion-a-different-perspective/

      Many of the comments there are as interesting as the article itself.

      Did the policeman meet or did he exceed his responsibilities? The talking heads split on this, too. And a brief Google search will turn up articles from white policemen saying he went a bit too far and from black policemen who say he did the right thing.

      Politically for Obama, it seems to be a very small tempest in a very large teapot. Racially, the case provides an opportunity for Americans to look at the “race” question once more. Many would like us to think that electing a black president somehow made us a post-racial society.

      Not yet.

      • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 11:35 am

        “Many would like us to think that electing a black president somehow made us a post-racial society.

        Not yet.”

        Well, you let us know when it happens. You seem to know what it takes. Are you going to let us in on the secret?

  10. magus71 said, on July 26, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Sorry, but Gates does not fit the classic paradigm of victim of racism. He’s a damn Harvard professor, who’s probably been treated pretty well in life.

    Is his family poor? How did he get to Harvard? Even if his family didn’t pay his way, I bet the “racist white system” paid for his scholarship.

    Seems he’s done pretty well in the country he’s convinced is ruled by anti-black sentiment.

    • biomass2 said, on July 26, 2009 at 8:04 pm

      “Gates does not fit the classic paradigm of victim of racism.
      “He doesn’t have to fit a “classic paradigm” to be the victim of racism or the aftershocks of racism in our society. But he does.

      Do you believe that simply because Gates is a renowned college professor that somehow racists—people who irrationally hate another race—are going to hate Gates (a black man)less? The very “paradigm” of racism involves the *mindless* hatred of of one race by another simply because the hated race *is* the “other.”

      Do Gates’ scholarly accomplishments and wealth provide some magical upper class/wealth/intellectual elitist cloak of immunity from racial prejudice? Does a racist’s racism miraculously shut down in the presence of the rich and famous? Let me add: If there’s such a phrase as “reverse racism”, the phrase “reverse intellectual elitism” should be coined as well. We need a phrase for people who irrationally hate people who are more intelligent or better educated.

      It’s interesting how some can take an honest attempt to level the social playing field and make inroads against systemic racism in the academic arena and the workplace(affirmative action)and fight to turn it into a part of the very prejudice it was designed to destroy.(Examples you’ll find in blogs about Gates, Sotomayor, etc: “He(she) probably got in because of affirmative action. He(she) didn’t work for/deserve his(her) degrees,accolades,success, wealth. . .”

      And it’s surprising how shocked, I say shocked, racists seem to be when the objects of their hatred occasionally turn around and develop an equally mindless hatred against ‘them’.

      • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 11:30 am

        “Do you believe that simply because Gates is a renowned college professor that somehow racists—people who irrationally hate another race—are going to hate Gates (a black man)less? The very “paradigm” of racism involves the *mindless* hatred of of one race by another simply because the hated race *is* the “other.””

        Well, one would at least think if he was a Harvard professor then he would be intelligent enough to understand that Gates wasn’t being racist. I didn’t go to Harvard and I figured it out.

      • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 11:32 am

        “Do Gates’ scholarly accomplishments and wealth provide some magical upper class/wealth/intellectual elitist cloak of immunity from racial prejudice?”

        Again, it doesn’t make him immune from being a complete idiot, ass and a self made victim of what he obviously preaches. He tried to force himself into a racist victim situation. Why? Well, maybe he is just racist.

  11. kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 11:28 am

    “That is not exactly the same problem a “white guy” who has a problem with the police would face.The white man merely has his own history with the police to contend with; the black guy has to deal with his own experiences with the police and the sad and well-documented race-related history of blacks and police and governmental authority in this country.”

    LMAO. How untrue the statement is that a white only has to deal with his own history. True story here. when I was young, and at least two people on this blog can attest to this, I was pulled over 21 times over a one year span of having my driver’s license. It was around 17 years of age or so. I did not get a ticket once. Was I doing anything wrong? A couple of the times and I was lucky. The vast majority of the time though I was being profiled. Yes it’s true! I’m white and I was being profiled. I drove a 71 Duster, jacked up in the back, loud exhaust, and wide tires. I had a mullet and a nice Burt Reynolds cheesy ‘stache. I looked like a hot rodding punk and played the part. I used to tell people and most reactions were to call the police jerks. Even then I knew that my appearance and my choices were leading to the outcome of reality. It didn’t bother me and I accepted the fate. I guess if I was black I would have had something to really be mad about. Wow, you guys do entertain.

    • biomass2 said, on July 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm

      “Well, one would at least think if he was a Harvard professor then he would be intelligent enough to understand that Gates wasn’t being racist. I didn’t go to Harvard and I figured it out.”

      Sorry, I lost track of the players in that first sentence. But overall, I’m sensing in you the ‘reverse intellectual elitism’ I referred to earlier—unfounded assumptions about the highly educated. For example, you’re assuming that book knowledge/elite education makes one capable of transcending the negative force of his race’s history in this country, thus making the individual an object of derision or hatred. . .

      “He tried to force himself into a racist victim situation. Why? Well, maybe he is just racist.” Is that part of the “classic racist paradigm” magus 71 referred to? The paradigm that seems to be adapted in whatever way possible to make a dubious point? You’re making a lot of assumptions about the supposed “racist situation” for someone who wasn’t there and only has the cop’s and the perp’s report of events. Were there other witnesses? A security camera? I’m still suspending judgment and merely providing alternative ways of interpreting Gates’ reactions. I’m personally leaning to the conclusion that whether or not the policeman or the professor is “racist”, the confrontation, while unavoidably racial(black and white), was not necessarily a “racist” event.

      Now let’s consider you, your mullet and your ’71 Duster with the loud exhaust. Please be cognizant of the fact that you were born in a white skin, but you *chose* the mullet and the car. You weren’t born inside them as a black is born inside his skin. You admit you made your choices and you admit you “accepted the fate” which resulted from your car and your hair—but by omission you admit you felt *no* racial hand of fate working during those 21+ police stops. Hint: If you didn’t want to be profiled you should have dumped the Duster—I had one,too, but my Mustang was much better— and the mullet.

      If you’re black, you can’t dump your skin. Unless you’re rich and famous like Michael Jackson and you don’t mind looking like a freak of nature. Sounds to me like you’re implying that a it’s ok if a black man has to accept the fate of legal maltreatment because of a condition he did not choose, but that you personally put up with the profiling of externals but would have likely rebelled against being profiled for “whiteness”.

      You LYAO! Is there anything left? :)

      Re: The video.” the escalation language this racist idiot. . .” Pot meet kettle. . .kettle meet pot. . .

      Gates has a right to speak his opinion in public. If he feels he has a case, he has the right to go to court. If he continues to use such strong rhetoric and he loses, he’s going to look a fool. And there’s nothing worse than an academic fool. Right? Am I right? Any academics out there wish to respond?
      If it does go to court,only *then* perhaps should the public begin to assign blame. Topic for another day—the 24-hour news cycle and its negative effect on our citizenry and our legal system.

      • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 8:46 pm

        Now let’s consider you, your mullet and your ‘71 Duster with the loud exhaust. Please be cognizant of the fact that you were born in a white skin, but you *chose* the mullet and the car. You weren’t born inside them as a black is born inside his skin. You admit you made your choices and you admit you “accepted the fate” which resulted from your car and your hair—but by omission you admit you felt *no* racial hand of fate working during those 21+ police stops. Hint: If you didn’t want to be profiled you should have dumped the Duster—I had one,too, but my Mustang was much better— and the mullet.

        “If you’re black, you can’t dump your skin. Unless you’re rich and famous like Michael Jackson and you don’t mind looking like a freak of nature. Sounds to me like you’re implying that a it’s ok if a black man has to accept the fate of legal maltreatment because of a condition he did not choose, but that you personally put up with the profiling of externals but would have likely rebelled against being profiled for “whiteness”.”

        Lets not assume that blacks do not have choices in culture and how they act. The hip-hop culture is a one way ticket to failure unless you get rich. Oh, do they get above that 5% for the richest in America?

  12. kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I do not know which is worse; the escalation language this racist idiot is using or the clapping in the audience.

  13. biomass2 said, on July 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    ” You seem to know what it takes. Are you going to let us in on the secret? Well, you let us know when it [US becoming a post-racial society] happens.”

    I can only tell you that it hasn’t. And that’s hardly a secret. This incident and the reactions to it both help to underscore the point. The subject of race, at its best is a matter of sometimes serious or wild but often bitter debate.Check out that Crooked Timber post that I referenced. They’re up to well over 200 responses now; they rarely pass 40-50 even on light material. Read the comments on some other kinds of blogs–blogs where the posters make no bones about their racist attitudes.

    And it’s clearly evidenced in the likes of the monkey-doll-carrier at the Palin rally and the shouted racist statements from her audiences. Only the most abject apologists for racism would deny the obvious intentions behind those actions.

    It’s clearly not a “post-racial” society yet, and electing a black president doesn’t magically put an end to the attitudes and actions on both sides of the issue. If it would only be that easy.

    • kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 8:48 pm

      “And it’s clearly evidenced in the likes of the monkey-doll-carrier at the Palin rally and the shouted racist statements from her audiences. Only the most abject apologists for racism would deny the obvious intentions behind those actions”

      It surely would be easy to put a Leftist ‘Mole’ in the crowd shouting those things to make here look bad wouldn’t it? After all, the Democrats are the party of character assassination.

      • biomass2 said, on July 28, 2009 at 7:13 am

        “Democrats are the party of character assassination.”

        Remember Lee Atwater?

  14. kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    “I can only tell you that it hasn’t. And that’s hardly a secret. ”

    Says who? The same consensus that says we cannot question ‘Man Made Global Warming’? Riiiiiiiight. So far we have black CEOs, Oprah(the richest woman in the world self made), black pop stars that can get the same city to pay 4 million for his funeral that paid to prosecute him for child molestation and a black president. Blacks are quite able to show their worth as equals and if you keep focusing on it as a problem we have to keep discussing it. you will always have a couple of asses that keep pushing it from either side but the Left is the only side that uses them as pawns for political votes. This keeps the idiotic cycle going.

    • biomass2 said, on July 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm

      ” . . . if you keep focusing on it as a problem we have to keep discussing it. you will always have a couple of asses that keep pushing it from either side. . .”

      Yeah. We wouldn’t want to discuss it. “That’s what keeps the idiot cycle going.” If by the “idiot cycle” you mean racist thinking and actions, the “idiot cycle” wasn’t squashed by the Civil War. The “idiot cycle” seemed to survive the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments . The “idiot cycle” finally slowed during the 1950′s and 1960′s. If those social forces and upheavals were needed to bring us to where we are now, how is stopping the discussion going to help us progress from here?

      If by the “idiot cycle” you mean the ongoing battle between racists and more-level headed individuals, that’s basically an admission that the problem exists.

      For my money, this won’t be a post-racial society until we’ve virtually eliminated, racial slurs, racial imagery, racial actions from the society. Until even the “subtle racist”–not just the freak with the monkey doll but the one who smirks or winks or intones certain words in a certain way –no longer gets the quiet support of his (shall I use the word?) “idiotic” peers.

      That cannot happen by wishing it so. I can happen if we don’t reject discussion as part of the solution.

      This little drama between the cop and the professor is an ongoing dialogue. If it ends up in court, we’ll learn something–whether we like it or not. If it never reaches court, we’ve already learned something—that racial problems still seem to be important enough in this country that the 24-hour news cycle has fed quite merrily on the issue for a week now. Is that “cycle” part of the “idiot cycle” you were referring to? Is it part of the discussion?

  15. biomass2 said, on July 28, 2009 at 7:19 am

    “Lets not assume that blacks do not have choices in culture and how they act.”
    No such assumption made. But that doesn’t answer my obvious point about a black man, in his black skin, in a still-white society where neither side has adequately come to terms with it’s race-driven past.


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