Thursday, July 30, 2009

About race or class?

Who wouldn't like to enjoy a beer with the leader of the free world?

Prominent scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department in Massachusetts got together the other night, with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to knock back a couple of cold ones and talk about the brouhaha (couldn't help it, sorry) that snowballed into a national stir. Crowley arrested Gates a couple of weeks ago following a well-publicized incident at the Harvard professor's Cambridge home. Gates was returning from an overseas trip and had some difficulty entering the residence, which prompted a neighbor to call police. Crowley was among those who responded and eventually arrested Gates for disorderly conduct.

When you're a friend of the president you should know better than to get into it with a police officer. I also think a police officer who is presented evidence that the person he encountered in a home and proves he lives there should go find something more important to do.

As a person who has been profiled for most of his life, while driving a car (recently), riding in a car and walking down a street (two years ago), I get why Gates was pissed. When I was younger and less responsible I would be upset but could tolerate those episodes. Now as a responsible adult, dedicated professional and committed community servant, I feel that I should be above profiling, but realize that as someone of color that expectation is unrealistic.

So I understand how someone of Gates' stature -- a Harvard professor and prominent intellectual -- would be more than a little disturbed at what he considered undue harassment because of the color of his skin. That is why I believe this to be as much, if not more, about class as it is race.

Some believe that people of color who achieve some level of success and affluence feel that they should be above the suspicion, beyond the stereotypes associated with lower income members of their race. As in, "How dare you?!" Or, "Do you know who I am?!"

I remember a scene from a 1980s film, a Spike Lee Joint, in which a character referred to Prince and Michael Jordan as "different," as not like black people. As dark as I am, Jordan is blacker than me. He is also richer than I will probably ever be. And that's the point.

If Gates wasn't so prominent, respected, and well-connected, this wouldn't be a story. He'd be another brother who got caught up.

I have a friend whose wife at the time would get mad at him and slip off his house key from his key ring so that when he returned home he would be unable to get in, and have to bang on the door until she decided to open it. Yes, she had issues, and they are now divorced. She did this multiple times until he got fed up one day and forced his way in. The police were called and when they got there, he was questioned about whether he belonged in the home. He produced identification and pointed to the photos of him in the home (I believe Gates also had photos of himself that the officer could see in his house as well), and respectfully explained what had occurred. In my friend's case, after seeing ample evidence the police apologized and excused themselves.

Had Gates handled it with similar tact we may not be talking about this today. I hesitate to say he should have swallowed his pride, because that is a tough thing to do to someone who has endured the legacy of racism as long as he has. Still, as I do, maybe he should have asked himself, "Is it worth it to go there on this one?"


Eric A. Wright Sr. said...

Good piece, Rodd...reminds me of the good old days...not!!!

Rodd Monts said...

Didn't mean to bring up any bad memories E. Thank you for the feedback.

Shawna Welborn said...

Wow...nice article Rodd...Actually I have been spending the last hour reading your articles. Outstanding..