By now we all know that distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates broke into his own house earlier this month. Someone thought he was a burglar and called the cops. Cops came, he showed them his ID with his address on it, still got arrested for disorderly conduct, and the charges were quickly dropped.
We also know that if he were a 58 year old white professor, his neighbors and the police would not have profiled him in the same way. He had a right to get angry and a little indignant.
So I’m on his side here. I’ve been pulled over for no reason other than Driving While Black, and I’ve seen countless brothers harassed and worse. It’s not fair, and in a perfect world, the police should know better.
Still, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that his arrest was his own fault.
I admire Professor Gates. His collection of slave narratives is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. He’s obviously bright, which tells me that if nothing else, he knows the way the game is played, especially when living life behind this dark veil.
Growing up, my parents were always cool, but one thing they never did was stick up for me in the face of another authority figure. If I wasn’t getting along with a teacher, they would listen to me, but ultimately, they always agreed with the teacher. If the teacher let Sally eat in class but not me, I better not eat in class, end of story. My mom always promised that if I went to jail, she wouldn’t bail me out–even if it was just for Driving While Black! I was the one who needed to learn the natural order of things.
Gates knows the order of things. He knows when he’s dressed down, he looks more like an electrician than an eminent historian. He knows police sometimes “act stupidly” as Obama put it. To avoid getting arrested, sometimes you have to make accommodations for their stupidity. Gates knows getting angry in front of the police is never a good idea. Even if it’s justified outrage, the cops are just waiting for a reason to label you ‘uncooperative’ so they can haul you away.
The racism is not his fault. But, if you don’t want to get arrested, why not cooperate 100% with the stupid acting police, then close your door and laugh at how little has changed in America.
Maybe it’s good that he ended up being arrested–kind of makes us all think.
I wasn’t there, I don’t know what was said, I don’t know Gates or the cops’ motives in that moment. I’m just putting my opinion out there. You can read a recap in his own words here, an interview with his daughter– http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-07-22/my-daddy-the-jailbird/full/