Man, oh man! The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. last week, and the dismissal of the “disorderly conduct” charges against him this week, are still top news in the U.S.A. (Really? I mean, isn’t that whole health care/North Korea/climate change thingy still unresolved?) No apologies here for reporting and commentary on Skip Gates’s latest run-in with the authorities for being an African American man, since this is a blog that is full of commentary and gossip about higher ed, in addition to “history and sexual politics, 1492 to the present,” as the syllabus suggests.
Anyhoo, I’ve got a full day of exercises–physical and mental–ahead of me, so I’ll just leave you with this roundup of (mostly) intelligent commentary about l’affaire Gates, for your reading pleasure:
- Check out Philadelphia Negro in “You Can’t Come Home Again.” Darryl is a certified all-ivy grad who (like every other black man in America) has had his share of hassles by the authorities, on campus and off. He writes, “we always have to worry if the keys to the kingdom will actually unlock the doors before us. Because if they do not (and sometimes even if they do), someone else might call the police.”
- Prof. Susurro tells her stories about assumptions about who’s a professor, and who’s not. (I linked to this a few days ago, but think it’s worth highlighting again.) Every faculty member of color I know has stories like these–every single one.
- Rob Weir at Inside Higher Ed suggests that we “Relax and Take Five.” Really? This article seems to sum up the fake “objective” view that many white people have of Gates’s arrest. He writes, “[w]hen faced with two equally believable stories [ed. note: what special knowledge do you have that these stories are "equally believable?"] the prudent course [riiiight--because we who have different opinions are "imprudent." Gotcha.] is to avoid a rush to judgment [why is it that a "rush to judgment" is only a concern when it's white people suspected of racial bias?]. In the best possible scenario there won’t be a villain or a scapegoat; both Crowley and Gates will break bread together, admit mutual misunderstanding, shake hands, and enlist as comrades in the ongoing battle to create a race-blind America.” I don’t know for sure that Weir is white, but man, those seem like sentences that could only be written by a white man. This is a version of the criticism those of us who write feminist blogs get when we write about experiences of sexual harassment, and we’re lectured about how we need to see the incident from the harasser’s point of view, because he was only clueless/meaning to pay a compliment/making a clumsy pass so we should re-sheathe our feminist hackles and stop reacting like hysterical b!tches. Because there’s absolutely no context, history, or larger necessary frame for understanding the sexualization and exploitation of women or the criminalization of black men that we need to understand here–it’s just a simple misunderstanding among friends and neighbors! Why do we always have to be so angry all of the time? Don’t we get it that we’d make so many more profeminist/antiracist converts if we were just a little friendlier?
- Roxie’s World, which always gets the “big picture,” has a great discussion about why they refused to publish Gates’s mug shot or other photos of his arrest. They also have their own round-up of other tasty links for your degustation.
One final thought: the (white) media and blogosphere seem fixed on this notion of deciding whether or not the arresting officer is “a racist.” There are endless silly debates happening around this question: is he or isn’t he? This seems extremely foolish to me, since we know that white people throughout American history have benefited from a racial caste system and yet have managed to have all kinds of relationships with brown and black people–friendly or even intimate relations, in addition to antagonistic, violent, and coercive relationships. It’s possible, or even likely, that the arresting officer didn’t set out to harass a black man last Thursday morning–but that he reacted to Gates in ways that were conditioned by the images and stereotypes we all grow up with as Americans, and that those images or stereotypes led him to treat Gates differently than he would have a white homeowner. But, I suppose it’s easier for white people to assume that it’s only “racists” who perpetuate these images and stereotypes of black men and women–so much easier to think it’s only people in white hoods burning crosses.
Sing it with me, children, once again and this time with feeling: racism is not a feeling or emotion that white people either have or don’t have! It’s a system of power relations that materially affects non-white people’s experiences of the world, so white people’s experience or non-experience of a feeling or emotion is irrelevant. Anyway, don’t get any splinters in your skirts, kids, if you can help it. I’m outta here.
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