A Philosopher's Blog

Race, Again.

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on July 27, 2009

While the media spotlight is swinging away from the Gates incident, it is still catching some light. The latest focus in on Lucia Whalen, the woman who called the police “on” Gates.

When she called the police, she said that she saw “two larger men, one looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure, and the other one entered, and I didn’t see what he looked like at all. Interestingly, she now has a lawyer speaking on her behalf. Her attorney claims that Whalen never spoke with Crowley and that Whalen never used the word “black.”  Although the police report apparently includes an alleged conversation with Whalen and allegedly asserts that she uses the word “black”, her attorney says, “I’m not sure what the police explanation will be. Frankly, I don’t care. Her only goal is to make it clear she never described them as black. She never saw their race. … All she reported was behavior, not skin color.”

Oddly enough, the tape of Whalen’s call does include reference to one of the men looking Hispanic, but perhaps being Hispanic is a behavior. However, she does not seem to describe the men as black in her call, so that part seems true. At least in regards to the phone call.

This latest turn shows, once again, that race does matter a great deal. After all, Whalen seems to be extremely concerned to claim that she never mentioned “black” in her call or her alleged conversation. The fact that she has a lawyer handling her statements also seems to show how important race is. Normally, Whalen’s involvement would be over-she just called in what she thought was a break in attempt and she seems to have made a perfectly honest mistake. After all, it is a fact that Gates and his driver tried to force the door-and that certainly would look like a break in attempt.  Perhaps Whalen is worried that she will be accused of being a racist. She might even be afraid of being subject to a lawsuit.

Another interesting fact is that Whalen’s lawyer seems to be trying to get her client classified as not being “a white woman in the traditional sense.” In a statement that might strike some as a bit racist, the lawyer said, “The fact is, she’s olive-skinned and of Portuguese descent. You wouldn’t look at her and say, necessarily, ‘Oh, there’s a white woman.’ You might think she was Hispanic.”

Imagine if someone said something like that to assert that Obama was not a black man in the traditional sense. Would that not sound a bit racist? In any case, the attempt to re-classify Whalen might be an attempt to preempt any charges of racism. After all, one popular assumption is that a member of a minority cannot be racist. So, if Whalen is re-classified as someone we might think of as Hispanic, then surely she cannot be a racist. Naturally, this whole sort of maneuver seems to be rather racist-assuming that is what is going on. The fact that it is being brought up does, in any case, say a great deal about race in America.

Since I do not know Whalen, I have no idea if she is racist or not. However, there is nothing in her call or her alleged conversation with Crowley that seems to be racist. She reported what looked like a break in because, it seems, it looked like a break in. Even if she did see Gates and his driver and describe them as black, that hardly indicates racism. If Gates had entered his home normally and someone called in saying something like “I saw a black man go into a nice home, so he must be breaking in!”, then that would be racism. But, that is not the sort of thing that happened.

In response to the incident, Cambridge is setting up a special panel on race. I certainly hope they also address the racism against whites (and perhaps Hispanics) that has been made evident in this incident. This incident certainly has been an educational one and has shown that racism is not just a matter of whites being racist against blacks. Racism in America also involves racism against whites and that also needs to be dealt with before we can claim to be even close to being post racial.

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8 Responses

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  1. Jason said, on July 27, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    I have HQ audio of the Henry Gates 911 call, Moderator, If you are interested

  2. kernunos said, on July 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    This is why racism will not die! We keep focusing on it. YES, there is a difference between the color of our skin! Descriptions are needed when you call the police people. If the ‘cream of the crop’ intellectuals like this Gates are going to dictate what racism is and if we are out of it in this country then it will NEVER end.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on July 27, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    As it is practically impossible anymore to find a real racist, the term “racist” is now only used to describe Republicans and Jews who happen to live in Israel.

    It is common knowledge that everyone else on earth is a victim of these two groups, and therefore cannot be a racist.

  4. biomass2 said, on July 27, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    ‘. . .a statement that might strike some as a bit racist”:
    “’The fact is, she’s olive-skinned and of Portuguese descent. You wouldn’t look at her and say, necessarily, ‘Oh, there’s a white woman.’ You might think she was Hispanic.’”

    I’m not certain who would characterize that statement as racist.
    1/She’s “olive-skinned”/”of Portuguese descent. Assuming that’s true, that’s pretty factually straightforward.
    2/The next assumptions are about as neutral as you can get: a/Looking at her olive-skin one would not likely label her (if one were to label her) a “white woman”. And b/ “You might think she was Hispanic.” Hardly a racist statement or a racist thought to pass through any individual’s mind. Olive-skin–*possibly* Hispanic [see comment below and video above]. Not definitely Hispanic. No judgments being made about the individual’s inferiority/superiority. No evidence of hatred in the statement. Where’s the racism?

    Sounds more like her lawyer is trying to protect against any purposely inciteful charges (perhaps made by outside interest groups?) that a white woman ‘fingered’ a black man.

    To back that thought up:
    If the HQ audio above is authentic, the officer, at 2:01 asks if they are Hispanic and later at 2:08 asks if they are “white, black, or Hispanic”. This could indicate that his initial expectations (prejudice?) led him to suspect a Hispanic “perp”. The woman hesitates before saying one looks “. . .kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure”.

  5. toddyenglish said, on July 28, 2009 at 9:08 am

    “This is why racism will not die! We keep focusing on it. YES, there is a difference between the color of our skin!”

    Racism is not going to go away by sticking our heads in the sand. The fact that it is still a hot button issue is indicative of an obvious fact…America is still entrenched in it. This is not a post racial society simply because we have a black President, not by a long shot.

    All this latest news proves is that Officer Crowley is a liar who abused his authority. He was completely in the wrong. The only reason an arrest was even made was because Crowley got his feelings hurt by a little old man. This entire situation could have been avoided had he (Crowley) reigned in his emotions and left the scene. There had been no crime. Giving a police officer lip is not a criminal offense. In my opinion Crowley is completely culpable.

    I am glad this incident occurred because it is forcing people to assess this situation. Police abuse is rampant, especially in areas that are predominantly African American and Latino. This arrest is just symptomatic of larger issue.
    And I’ll go on the record and say that I’m glad President Obama called them out as “stupid”(even though he said their actions were stupid and not the police force. Big difference). I would have said worse.

    I wonder how often does this happen to elderly white men? I’m willing to say almost never.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 28, 2009 at 10:37 am

      Well, there is that little old white lady who was tasered (I saw this on the Colbert Report, but the story is legit).


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