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Openness is our greatest human resource.

On the arrest of Henry Louis Gates...

Shared these thoughts and a few more with a reporter from CNN a few moments ago:

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates sends a chilling message to the scholars, writers, activists, and artists who work so hard to keep a free flow of information. It seems eerily ironic Mr. Gates was returning from China, where surveillance is so high and freedom of speech and ideas so curtailed. To see the "mugshot" of Skip was a blow to all of us who feel some sense of safety based on our work to try to mend all of these broken fences in America--to make ourselves into people who refuse to be limited by race and class and gender and everything else. We do this work every day, and it is work, just like any other. To end up, at the end of the day, treated like a criminal, unjustly stripped of our accomplishments and contributions even if only for a moment, is profoundly disturbing. We must ask ourselves what it means, and to allow ourselves to face various scenarios regarding power and freedom and how these will intersect in the coming years.

Read the article. 


July 21st, 2009


Comment #1 by Nick Carbo on July 21, 2009 - 6:41pm

You are so right in your thoughts. But what should our responses be? Have another segment in CNN's "Black in America." Would that police officer have reacted the same way if the house owner were a white guy saying "Is it because I'm white?" Even your Harvard I.D. and State issued license can't protect your identity from being soiled, apparently. I'd like to make a correlation between the Sottomayor confirmation hearings when the GOP brought out the fireman who didn't get a promotion and say "Yes! it is because you are white!"

Comment #2 by Siddy Hall on July 21, 2009 - 7:03pm

Ms. Walker:

When I first read the report of Gates arrest I was taken aback. I love reading his work. After more consideration of his arrest, it seems to me that Mr. Gates contributed to the situation with very defensive behavior towards the police officer.

It's been said (better than I can state it here) that often in a relationship you are dealing not only with the situation at hand, but also with the other person's past. I wonder if this is true in Gates' case.

It appears that both Gates and the police officer were surprised and puzzled by what took place. Gates, by the arrival of the police officer, and the officer by Gates strong reaction to the situation.

Though I can't blame Mr. Gates for feeling affronted, I only wish that somehow he had had a sense of humor in this case. The door that wouldn't budge, the misunderstanding, the ridiculousness of it all. Perhaps, if he had reacted in such manner then this would not be news.

Ahhhhh....the slow and difficult progress of race relations.

Comment #3 by schiller on July 21, 2009 - 7:35pm

Ms, Walker,
I appreciate your words and would like to say, this is an opportunity not to see Skip as a criminal, but to realize the significance he brings to the world as an African-American academic, and to appreciate how the significance of the struggle to change peoples perceptions along race still remains. Often times young people feel that the older g's (generation) is out of touch, but these situatons keep the urgency of society's need to deal with the reside of racist thinking/action.

It does bother me that people will blame the victim, citing how if skip had a "better sense of humor" this could have been avoided.... I think the point is if the officer had given his information over (name and badge #) this would have all been avoided.

Comment #4 by Aviva on July 22, 2009 - 12:22am

Thank you for your thoughts, Rebecca. I completely agree. The story's appalling and disheartening for us all.

Two things frustrate me enormously about this situation: First of all, the blind deference people are showing towards the police in the comment sections of some of the news articles is stunning. I don't think we can assume that the police report is completely factual; I'm not saying the officers are lying, but merely pointing out that we have to take the report with a little grain of salt considering it was written after the fact as a way to justify their actions. What would stop them from making the incident sound a bit more inflammatory than it actually was? Nothing.

Secondly, the police officer asking Gates for his ID makes sense, but everything after that is ridiculous. It should have been over in 30 seconds; the police officer should have apologized and left once Gates' identity was verified. He certainly should have given Gates his badge number and name right away. Being angry with the police--rightfully so--is not grounds for arrest. And, the fact is, this never would have happened if Gates had been white. From the outset of the inquiry, I'm fairly certain the officer's attitude would have been completely different. And that alone would have made a world of difference.

Comment #5 by Sick of KKK Cops on July 22, 2009 - 12:37am

I'm still in shock. You speak for me in every sense of the world.

Truly, like Oscar Grant, in Oakland on New Year's eve, having a "sense of humor" -much less a sense of autonomy can get you shot in the back at point blank range by someone who'll just stand there going "Duh...." instead of calling 911 and administering CPR....

Former officer Mesherle, who killed Grant, is an immigrant from Croatia by the way. His partner who lied for him, Officer Tony Pirone (a Sicilian American) , both would have been considered non-white or at least non-American about 50 to 100 years ago. These white idiots in law enforcement and other are standing on the backs of countless African Americans and native Americans who enabled them, to assimilate and misuse their white privilege.

Comment #6 by Sick of KKK Cops on July 22, 2009 - 12:44am

Toure from Rolling Stone? Why is he on the news?

He's OK, but I wish it was you Rebecca, I want you on the nightly news talking about this...

Comment #7 by rebecca on July 22, 2009 - 7:02am
Ah my friend, this is an indication of what the post is about. 
Comment #8 by Anonymous on July 22, 2009 - 12:23pm

Not to be a spoilsport, but I'm not sure change is in the air. If anything, it seems we're truly becoming a country like Brazil, where people like Gates can have a teeny bit of precarious privilege and the great unwashed languish in poverty and jail. Then again, I live outside of Baltimore, which is truly a national shame. His arrest does not surprise me, nor do the reactions of folks who don't want to acknowledge how incredibly racist this country is. With the haves having more and the middle class struggling to get by, I expect to see more nastiness. Remember the 1920s?

Comment #9 by rachel on July 22, 2009 - 3:05pm

I agree that our African American intelligentsia had a wakeup call with the arrest of Gates. What I think we should remember is that Gates is a man with resources and a bit of celebrity. This sort of thing goes on with the working class and lower classes every day we just don't hear about it. If this can happen to a man with this level of success what happens to our youth and uneducated who are up against the same racism? Race AND class are at play here!

Comment #10 by Anonymous on July 22, 2009 - 8:15pm

Why does It seem eerily ironic Mr. Gates was returning from China, where surveillance is so high and freedom of speech and ideas so curtailed? While you felt so chilling of the mugshot of African american, didn't you have a mugshot of China? How many times have you been to China and why are they related? Don't understand...

Comment #11 by Super Amanda on July 22, 2009 - 9:14pm

Anon #10, I'm not speaking for Rebecca but I related to her point because in US schools and the media we are raised aka indoctrinated with the concept of the "Free World" and that the Communist and Muslim countries curtail the freedoms of private citizens aka "it can't happen here...".

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
I learned that policemen are my friends.
I learned that justice never ends.
I learned that murderers die for their crimes.
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.
That's what I learned in school today.
That's what I learned in school.

I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody's free.
And that's what the teacher said to me.
That's what I learned in school today.
That's what I learned in school.

Comment #12 by rebecca on July 22, 2009 - 9:51pm

Anon #10:
I like a couple of pieces that address this point--including the naomi wolf book The end of America--here's a talk on the slow repression of the critical fourth estate.

This piece by Naomi Klein on the US following Chinese lead on developing mass surveillance is also interesting.

Comment #13 by Tired of KKK police on July 23, 2009 - 4:51am
Comment #14 by Super Amanda on July 23, 2009 - 9:09pm

“If I’m the president of the United States, I don’t care how much pressure people want to put on it about race, I’m keeping my mouth shut.” -Bill Cosby

What every racist wants to hear.

Comment #15 by Craig Swieso on July 24, 2009 - 7:34am

This isn't meant to minimize what occurred to Dr. Gates, but this reminds me of a scene from "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." During their journey they end up in jail in a rural New Jersey town. In the cell w/ them is a middle-aged, middle-class black man who is obviously an intellectual because he's seen reading Thoreau's "On Civil Disobedience." Harold and Kumar ask him why he's in jail and he tells them its because there was a nearby burglary and he was the only black guy in the town.

If you consider "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" as such, then what happened to Dr. Gates this qualifies as an example of life imitating art.

BTW, the actor was the father of the wheelchair bound Stevie character on "Malcolm in the MIddle."

Comment #16 by poor black woman on July 24, 2009 - 4:30pm

I know one thing that cuts across all racial lines, the infamous words that all the rich and famous, even semi-famous use: "Do you know who I am?" LOL.

95% of these so-called racial issues in America are really CLASS issues.

Comment #17 by SuperAmanda on July 24, 2009 - 9:00pm

Obama's done the right thing, and spoken honestly. He never called it 'racist.' He called it stupid, which it was, if unnecessary humiliation can be called stupid. The cop overreacted, and should admit it, but won't. He now says,"When I asked him to step outside, I thought a burglary was in progress." Bollocks. That contradicts what he said before, about knowing at that point that he wasn't dealing with a burglary. They were just pissing in each other's sandbox, but the fact remains it was Mr. Gates' sandbox.
But Obama must be excoriated because you can no longer even mention the possibility of even UNCONSCIOUS white racism in America. It can't be spoken aloud. It no longer exists, right? White Americans just can't be honest about this, on the whole. Just reading the other blogs. They're chilling. If Bush was in office there would be more empathy.

I can't believe how much hate and how much non-sequiter bringing in of Black studies course and Egypt not being black crap is coming out of peoples' keyboards on the blogs.

Gates Gates its now becoming the sounding board for "new chic white hatred as a response to presumed black elitism"

Honestly, if both men go to the White House for a beer with Barack, it will be healing. I hope they do.

Comment #18 by rebecca on July 25, 2009 - 12:31am

"95% of these so-called racial issues in America are really CLASS issues."

 Agreed--and I hope this brings that issue more into focus, too. In a BIG way. 

Comment #19 by Anonymous on July 25, 2009 - 7:21am

I agree that's racial issues are entangled w/ class issues. However, as a white man I enjoy despising my lower fellow white people. After all, these are the dumb shits that voted for W and want Sarah Palin to be president.

I'm happy that it's still socially acceptable to mock uneducated, lower class white people. Believe me, having grown up around them, they deserve to be treated poorly. There's nothing noble about purposeful ignorance. Uneducated, lower class white people are proud of their purposeful ignorance. They have no use for book learning.

Comment #20 by poor black woman on July 26, 2009 - 5:02pm

#19 You are bugging and I hope you are trying to be facetious. Emphasis on trying!

Comment #21 by Plant Pots on February 27, 2010 - 2:25pm

It was very shocking when I heard that Henry Louis Gates got arrested. However I am very sure it sends a message to the writers, scholars, activists and artists who work very hard in order to keep a information which flows freely. It was very mysteriously ironic about the condition of Mr Gates when he was in China, a country with high surveillance and limited freedom of speech and where ideas are blocked.
ADT Home Security

Comment #22 by Pool Supplies on February 27, 2010 - 2:38pm

The surprising arrest of Henry Louis Gates shows the world of artists, scholars and activists how he survived the limited freedom of speech and high surveillance in china. China as we all know is a place which does not encourage any ideas. He was restricted very much after his return from China. If there is nothing done for him, it will be a shame to all the activists and artists!

Comment #23 by Compost Tumbler on March 12, 2010 - 7:13pm

Thank you for your commentary on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. This just illustrates the troubling practices of the Chinese government. I have been following this subject since returning from living in Shanghai for a year. rain barrel

Comment #24 by RO Water System on March 30, 2010 - 2:03am

Thanks for your post on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. I was really surprised when it occurred. Obviously we want our police officers to protect us in times of need, but I think this situation could have been handled differently. Usually there is a question and answer period before making an arrest to try and understand the situation better. After finding out that the home belonged to Mr. Gates, it should have been cleared up. I think the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, and communication was lacking on both sides. I believe that Mr. Gates is very talented and does a good job with his career, and that the officer strives to do a good job in his career. I think this event will be a learning experience to all people.

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Comment #27 by kitchen sink soap dispensers on April 7, 2011 - 2:19am

I can see how Mr. Gates could be a bit suspicious of Law Enforcement given his age. With that being said, all he had to be was cooperative with the policeman and none of that would have happened. Please don't think I'm a racist either, for it was the arresting officers own boss, a black gentlemen, who said that his officer handled the situation correctly.

Comment #28 by Emergency Seed Bank on April 11, 2011 - 5:59am

How important is US food production to China? Does China import a lot of food from the US?

Comment #29 by Alisah Johnson on April 11, 2011 - 4:59pm

why!? what happened it is a shocking moment!

Comment #30 by Abbigliamento on April 15, 2011 - 10:22am

How important is US food production to China? Does China import a lot of food from the US?

Comment #31 by Sliding Closet Doors on April 17, 2011 - 6:50am

Agreed--and I hope this brings that issue more into focus, too.

Comment #32 by media buyers on April 17, 2011 - 1:23pm

I am extremely concerned and surprised to learn that police could stoop to such an extend. The bizarre incident wakes us from the deep sleep to the real world where reports of police access on the forth estate have been a common place. Obviously, instead of apologizing to gates they sent him to jail.

Comment #33 by Anonymous on June 11, 2012 - 2:24am

what i find really sad about this whole incident is that many white in the US sees this as a me vs them issue, and took the side of the police officer without any consideration of objective right and wrong, very sad indeed.

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