Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I guess. But I have to say I was kind of surprised to see local blogger Mario Burgos write today that people who’ve dared speak out against the arrest of Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates in his home are being too sensitive about race and “clinging to the past.”
Here’s what Burgos said on his blog:
Is there still racism in America? The simple answer is yes. However, the vast majority of us are not racists. As a nation, we have made tremendous strides. Unfortunately, recent events involving Henry Louis Gates, Jr. show that too many people are clinging to the past:
Gates had trouble getting into his home because of a damaged door.
Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley was dispatched on a possible break-in. He found Gates there and asked for identification.
Police say Gates initially refused, became angry and accused the officer of racism. Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, which was dropped.
And this from Burgos:
Personally, I wouldn’t be offended if a police officer asked me for identification while I struggled to enter my home. In fact, I would be grateful that they were so responsive to policing the community and protecting my property. Based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems to me that Professor Gates is the one with the problem here.
Hmmm. As a black person, I know I love “clinging to the past” when Jim Crow was around and segregation was legal. Or is he talking about that delightful past when slavery was the order of the day? Good times, good times.
I guess that’s why I – and people like me – enjoy indiscriminately pulling everyone else back into that dynamic whenever we can. It’s so pleasant for us – and so advantageous! I mean, why else would we keep bothering everyone else so much by doing it? I guess we just need to stop, because everything would really just be okay if we just follow all the rules like Burgos does.
Just in case we suspect Burgos doesn’t know how it feels to have a run-in with the police, he relates an example from his past:
I actually had something like this happen to me once. When I was much younger and living in Los Angeles, I was driving a $500 car with a broken backseat window. I had broken the window myself because the locks didn’t work on the car and the way for me to let myself into the car was from the inside. Well, while driving around, I was pulled over one day by a police officer.
He flat out told me that he pulled me over to check and see if I had stolen the car. At the time, I was in my early twenties. It was summer so I was pretty dark and sporting a mustache and goatee, which my wife always thought made me look like a gang member. Probably a pretty accurate assessment since I actually landed a role in a low budget film as a gang member with that look.
Did I take offense that the police officer pulled me over? Did I become belligerent and argumentative? No, he was doing his job. If Professor Gates had assumed the same instead of jumping to a conclusion that officer’s actions were motivated by racism, this all would have been a non-issue.
Leaving aside the interesting assumption that being “pretty dark” and having a mustache and goatee somehow makes someone “look like a gang member,” I have a message for Burgos: That day, when the police pulled you over, you were an honorary black person.
Congratulations, and welcome to the club.
I guess it happened to you that day because you were young and “pretty dark” and daringly hairy and driving through Los Angeles in a $500 dollar car with a broken backseat window.
You just didn’t see it though.
You got a gold star for being polite to the policeman, who thought – on sight – that your car was stolen and you were a thief. Think about that for a second.
But that day, everything worked out just like it should for you – which apparently means it always does for everyone else, especially when they follow all the rules, just like you did.
Except racial profiling incidents like the one that happened to you don’t always turn out that way. Not for a big group of people who aren’t just “pretty dark” in the summer. And it happens whether they have a goatee or a $500 car or a broken window, or not. Or whether they teach at Harvard and have a big house in Cambridge, or not.
Racism is a slippery thing. I don’t go around thinking about it all day and I don’t hop up and down with anger (or glee) when I see it.
In the days of slavery and Jim Crow, blatant manifestations of racism transformed and warped American society in grotesque, inhuman ways.
Laws and procedures and regulations exist today to curb it, but racism will never be stamped out. People are always going to think and hate and feel whatever they want.
I am willing to live with that, and to speak out when I think I need to.
But I am not willing to stand by while someone declares that racism is on the way out – and that people who call it when they see it are simply having some kind of silly, knee-jerk reaction that can be dismissed by logic, politeness and proper police procedure.