The Ethics Mess That Is U.S. Race Relations, Chapter IV: Prof. Henry Louis Gates Has Learned Nothing

A recent interview in the New York Times Magazine reminded me once again of what an arrogant, race-baiting, self-deluded and toxic presence Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates is on the American society landscape. It was Professor Gates, you will recall, who provoked a  racial incident with a white Cambridge , Massachusetts police officer who was investigating a report that an African American male  had broken into Gates’ home. The  African American male was Gates himself, who had returned from a trip to find his door jammed, and jimmied his own front door.  When Cambridge  police Sgt. James Crowley arrived at Gates’ abode to investigate a 911 call that said that two African American men had broken into the house,  Gates answered the door and immediately accused the officer of racially profiling him. He eventually flashed his Harvard ID, then demanded the officers name and ID number as well. The officer asked him to come outside for that information, and Gates came out onto his porch, again accused him of racial bias, shouted over his words and insulted him. The officer, who was a trainer in the area of avoiding racial prejudice, asked the professor to calm down Gates continued to shout, and a crowd was  gathering. After warning Gates that he was disturbing the peace, and would be arrested if he didn’t go inside—Gates kept saying it was his porch and he’d stay outside if he chose to—Crowley took the Harvard professor into custody.

Charges were quickly dropped, but Barack Obama, in a pattern that continued throughout his Presidency, weighed in on an event he know little about, and pronounced the white officer the villain of the  episode. (Gates was a friend of the President’s, and, of course, the African American.) Obama was properly criticized for his knee-jerk reaction by many, including me. (My multiple articles about this mess are still trapped on the old Ethics Scoreboard, currently off line because the hosting company messed up.) Embarrassed, as he deserved to be, Obama pulled a transparent public relations stunt of inviting the white cop and the black scholar to the White House for a so-called “beer summit.”

In a word, “Yecchh.”

It is fair to say that a police officer who felt he was being abused arrested Gates in part to teach him a lesson about being respectful to police officers in the course of their duties, and it is also fair to say that a black academic whose career was largely based on his analysis of white racism immediately interpreted an officer doing his job by the book as deliberate racial oppression. The 2009 confrontation would have never escalated if Gates had treated the officer as a fellow human being rather than as a presumed foe because of his uniform and his color, and simply explained the circumstances calmly and without accusations.

Since then, Gates has become a celebrity academic, spending six seasons uncovering the ancestry of famous people as host of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” (and cheating in the process, as I wrote about here.)

Earlier this month, the New York Times magazine revisited the kerfuffle with Gates. He said,

President Obama made an innocent comment that the arrest was stupid, which it was. Then all of a sudden all these racists are beating up on him. My whole attitude was channeled through the desire to protect our first black president. But there was another motivation. I thought that it would be hubristic and dishonest if I compared what happened to me to what happens to black people in the inner city. I thought, If I didn’t have the protections of class and status [the result would have been very different.] When the policeman, Sgt. Crowley, and I met, I said, “Why did you arrest me?” He said, “I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to go home to my wife, because I was convinced that your partner was upstairs and he was going to come down and blow me away.” He told me he had gotten a call: “Two black guys are breaking into this house.” One of them answers the door — me — when he rang the bell, and I’m stepping over suitcases, because I’d just come back from a trip. Unbeknown to me, one pattern of thievery is bringing empty suitcases to a house. So the officer saw a black face, he saw the suitcases: That’s part of a profile. I was what [fellow Harvard professor] Barbara Johnson calls “an already-read text.” He couldn’t hear me, couldn’t see me. Well, that might be related to police excesses and abuses, but it’s a far end of the scale, and I was able to reverse what happened to me, unlike an Eric Garner. So my whole reaction to my arrest was determined by two things: The attacks on President Obama and my own determination not to claim too much for my own victimization.

Ethics points:

  • Obama’s comment wasn’t innocent, it was impulsive, unfair and irresponsible.
  • The arrest may have been stupid, but Obama’s friend’s conduct was at least as stupid, and unlike the officer’s, based on racial bias.
  • Gates adopts the now familiar  refrain: criticizing Obama for anything is racist. My criticism, according to Gates, was racist. Obama’s comments were foolish and biased, and he earned every bit of criticism he got.
  • The comparison with Eric Garner is outrageous and dishonest. Garner resisted arrest. Garner’s death was an accident, though one brought on by poor police judgment. Once again, the professor is implying that Crowley is a racist and that if he had not been a Harvard professor, he might have been killed.
  • It was Gates who was making the officer “an already-read text’ by his own account! Crowley wasn’t profiling Gates by any definition of the word: he had been told that two black men had broken into the house, and Gates was in the house, and black. Moreover, Crowley’s explanation that he was concerned about the second housebreaker makes perfect sense. Never mind: Gates still frames the incident as a white police officer assuming that because Gates was black, he must be a criminal. Professors are supposed to be smarter than that, or at least have more integrity.

Later in the interview, he says that when he met Crowley at the “beer summit,” he told him, “I forgive you.” He never admitted any fault of is own, and tells the interviewer, even now, that he was “the victim.”

As long as people like Professor Gates are teaching college students about race, race relations in the United States will only get worse.


9 thoughts on “The Ethics Mess That Is U.S. Race Relations, Chapter IV: Prof. Henry Louis Gates Has Learned Nothing

  1. If you are in a SJW recognized victim group you are not required to be polite, civil, or, in some cases, truthful. And when it is noticed, the one noticing the poor behavior is the problem. Gates, among so many others, is living proof.

    What a great time to be alive!

  2. As long as people like Professor Gates are teaching college students about race, race relations in the United States will only get worse.

    My head is spinning still from these recent inversions. Bear with me, I’m a bit dizzy. Now, I am learning, it is the Republican Establishment that holds to keys to the solution of race-relation problems in America. The Democrat Establishment is now understood — universally, in all areas, and every single one of them down to the last man, woman, and odd mixture of the two — has all on the sudden been recognized to be not the solution to the problem, but the problem.

    Over there, in the sweet mist, fairies of America’s utopian race-future beckon to me!

    This is the kind of Jiu-Jitsu that I like!

    I was watching an interesting video on The Rubin Report where he interviews Brandon Tatum:

    [ ]

    It fits into my theory of the redefinition of America’s political center. These power-inversions and ideology-inversions are more interesting than watching shifting clouds.

  3. Accusing someone of racial bias without clear evidence that this is the case is racism! If people would realize that when a cop pulls you over in a traffic stop, it just might be that your car matches the description of another vehicle involved in a crime. But no! hassling a cop who is investigating a crime because you believe that somehow you are targeted because of your race is indicative of severely distorted thinking.

  4. IIRC Gates had just recently moved into that residence, and had no ID that tied him to that address, so even his Harvard ID was just a sort of back-up of his claim to not being a criminal, but certainly not enough to negate investigation of the suspicious circumstances evident. The officer did the right thing.

    In Georgia some years back., a patrolman on the interstate stopped a man for a violation. The person turned out to be an Hispanic man who had no ID, little English, and a sketchy explanation of whose car he was driving and why (the car’s registration was under a seemingly non-Hispanic name different from that given by the driver as his own). Since the car had not been reported as stolen, the officer unwisely wrote a ticket with the name he had been given and released the driver. Several days later, the car’s real (murdered) owner’s body was discovered. As far as I know, the released suspect was never found

  5. I wouldn’t say he has learned nothing. I would say he has not learned what I would like him to learn, but saying he hasn’t learned probably isn’t correct. What he has learned is that this approach works and that society has judged that his actions and views on this matter are correct. He got his name in the national media to the point that he is still being interviewed (in a favorable light) about it today. He garnered the support of a large chunk of this country that believes that the country is driven mostly by racism against blacks, so he learned that his ideas are popular with a lot of people. I haven’t seen where he suffered any kind of financial or professional penalty for what he said or how he acted. Quite the contrary, he has been rewarded handsomely for it, being given his own PBS show, for example. So, I don’t understand why he would learn anything else from his behavior. There is no incentive in official American society for him to learn anything else. If Gates were to understand the Ethics Points presented, he would be ostracized by many on the left as a traitor. His PBS show would probably be boycotted and cancelled. He would be accused of being a race-traitor and possibly alt-right or a white nationalist, like Daryl Davis was. His Harvard position would possibly be in jeopardy.

    • I would have thought, as an intelligent man, that he would have learned that abusing and shouting at a police officers in the course of his duties is not a fair or wise course—after all, it did get him arrested. Moreover, such conduct carried just a few steps further have led to tragedies. He was embarrassed; he did trigger his beloved President into a misstep. He is still going to be best remembered, not for his books, classes or PBS show, but for an incident in which he behaved like an entitled jerk. I would have thought this would have resulted in some enlightenment, but I guess not.

      • I doubt that is how he sees it. I suspect that his view is that he stood up against racism and was oppressed by a racist cop by being arrested for speaking truth to power. His arrest puts him in the same category as MLK, Jr. He most likely views the President’s actions as vindication of his position and the publicity signified that his actions were of national importance. He probably feels that he was close to being murdered by a police officer for the crime of being black in a nice neighborhood. It sounds stereotypical, but that is how he presents himself.

        He may be an intelligent man, but I know several Democrats with Ph.D.’s and high IQ’s who think Trump is a tool of Putin. I know others who insist Trump needs to be removed from office because he is a racist even though they can’t provide any proof when challenged. I saw a bunch of law professors turn from Catholicism because someone convinced them The DaVinci Code was real. There are a lot of intelligent people who like to let others do their thinking for them.

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