Yvonne R. Davis: The Unteachable Lesson: Can We Learn From Gates and Crowley?

Harvard Professor Henry “Skip” Louis Gates’ legacy will not be remembered as the nation’s “most famous black scholar.” He will be forever remembered by all with a photo of him in handcuffs looking quite pitiful standing helpless inside the doorway of the Cambridge Police Department. Most of America will never know Gates discovered the first known novel written by an African American woman who had been a slave. Nor will Americans even know he is on the Pulitzer Prize board of directors or one of Time Magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans,” in 1997. The award winning author of nearly twenty books and countless articles has made a great contribution to American History and Political thought. Small in stature, Gates is a giant in the world of academe.

Where will Gates go after receiving a national dose of public humiliation? He can never go back to Harvard this fall just researching, lecturing and exploring until his next great cerebral find. His discourse as a “public intellectual,” is forever changed. As much as he would like for all of the media attention to disappear over his arrest by Sgt. James Crowley from the Cambridge Police Department he can’t. Whether he likes it or not, Gates stands as America’s new 21st Century Poster Child for “racial profiling.”

African Americans from the “hood,” “the brick,” “the ghetto,” or “the projects,” acknowledge Gates’ experience, but don’t vibe with it too much because their every day life of being racially profiled for being poor, black and urban by white police officers greatly overshadows Gates’ buppie elite minor rub with the “po po.”

Listening to adults out of two of Connecticut’s poorest cities in our Nation respond to the Gates incident, I heard comments, such as, “Maybe that Harvard Professor, can finally feel what we go through on a daily basis.” “Yo, he is shocked he got arrested because he thought he made it so big. He’s just like the rest of us.” In the overall scheme of things, Gates’ incident was what it was an incident that, yes, was stupid and had racial tones on top and under it.

After Sgt. Crowley checked the facts of the alleged old black man with a cane was not breaking into a stranger’s home — but in fact was his [Gates’] home, when did the racism begin between the two men? Was it before or after the accusations and raised voices? The person who called the police, are they racist? Was the racism in the hearts of the person calling the police, the officer who came to the scene and Gates already there and all three played out their socially learned racist roles? People blatantly tell lies regarding their true feelings in situations like these. With the exception of an avowed Nazi, Skinhead, or White Supremacist, the claim always is, “I am not a racist”. But the fact is, living in a race conscious society, to some varying degree we all are racists.

In the case of an African American who detests white people, they do not see their words and actions as racist, but a response to the oppression their people have experienced. They say they are not in charge and therefore can’t be racist. Some African American scholars have criticized Gates’ approach to African American studies because he does not embrace the “Afro-centric” education that includes separatist philosophies. He believes black academics who invoke this type of pedagogy are racist and ridiculous. He’s right.

Professor Gates is married to a white woman, but he still can say racist things. Sgt. Crowley is recognized for his work on community policing and diversity related matters, but he can also act racist. One thing we all know for sure is the United States of America problem with racism is a nasty and stinky dirty rug that will never really be cleaned because the real issue on race is about power. To truly put an end to racial profiling and injustice in America is to end the power dynamics that exists in racialism.

We have a Black President and he is the most powerful man in the world. President Obama’s presidency is the most significant case study example that racism is about power. Since taking office, there has been an insidious backlash response to him being the Leader of the Free World. Hate crimes are on the rise in a most alarming way. There is a surge in filed racial discrimination complaints and it is quite well known by the informed that African Americans are receiving the hardest blow in unemployment; as high as 50% in some of our largest cities. No need to talk about the other statistics because we know African Americans are at the bottom. However, they are first to be in prison. Furthermore, unlike any other President (because he’s black), the media analyzes President Obama like he is a Tuskeegee experiment.

More and more Republican wild eyed articulate and inarticulate zealots are emboldened and have joined forces with each other — the smart and astute with the loutish and uncensored to make the most lightning rod statements to attack the President. They call him monkey, boy, terrorist and of course their favorite name “Nigger President.” They are even vulgar enough to attack his wife and daughters showing how debase the party has become — led by an African American who does not categorically condemn this sort of loathing. He looks the other way trying like hell to survive in a party that really doesn’t want his kind. A good number secretly enjoy the ugly tension created — hoping for that watershed moment on Obama.

For those such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, they won’t dare say the words of their supporters publicly. Their insinuations and statements of fiction are fomenting angry mobs to take back white power by any means necessary.

I don’t believe Sgt. Crowley or Professor Gates are racists. However, they like a number of us are shaped and influenced by a racist society. President Obama said he hopes that this incident can be a teachable moment for America. It can be for Gates and Crowley. I hope the two men are humble and compassionate enough to form a partnership to speak around the country about their experience to communities deeply troubled by this tension. This could for the first time begin to address a problem that is so viral.

In as much as there is an opportunity for these two men to take a road less traveled to stop racism, the aforementioned race mongers will not stop. The anger over what they perceived as losing to an “inferior race” is so strong they will use the Gates/Crowley event as their teachable moment to inspire more hate and harm.


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