Race is a social construct that has historically been used as a means to stratify cohort groups. But what happens when an individual who feels they transcend it shakes up the paradigm? Professor Henry Louis Gates, one of the foremost scholars on African-American studies has spent a lifetime researching and redefining the long complex history of the African Diaspora. The Academy recognizes Gates as an intellectual authority, however Gates quickly realized that even the ivory tower couldn’t shield him from the brutal forces of racial profiling. Or was it even that? The tapes that have been recently released indicate that the caller did not even know the race of the individuals who “might” have been breaking into the house. But yet why has this incident ignited such a raucous debate on race? What makes Skip Gates’ case any different from the thousands of other Black and Latino men who are racially profiled? Class.
Gates is a proud member of the “intelligentsia club”. He is not a low-life criminal. He summers in Martha’s Vineyard and pals around with professors and politicians. Surely, he is different from everyone else right? Wrong. The public is outraged because the diminutive, bespectacled professor doesn’t fit the stereotype of someone who would commit such an offense. Why does it take a Harvard professor to get arrested before the nation becomes up in arms? If we are to be outraged, let us be outraged by the lack of deference on the part of the Cambridge Police Department. Yet, being outraged that a prominent scholar fell victim to the same thing millions of other people have fallen victim to is folly. While Gates’ case shows the vulnerability of all Black men to this issue, we should not wait until someone of Gates’ stature is victimized before we act.
Skip Gates believed that the rules of the game didn’t apply to him. Although he has written extensively on race he has never been a “race warrior”. Skip Gates is known for pedantic nature, not for fighting in the trenches for equal rights. So when he was bludgeoned with what he believed to be a “Jim Crow” club, he was surprised by how excruciating the pain was. His aire of elitism throughout this whole ordeal has been more conspicuous than Rush Limbaugh at an NAACP convention. He has stated many times that this case shows that if it can happen to him it can happen to the “lowest among us.” Really Skip? Your PhD and Cambridge Home have elevated you so high that you now look down on the lowest among us? On CNN’s Black in America Skip Gates said that he told the officer “this is my house, I’m a Harvard professor”. Sorry Skip, but being a Harvard professor doesn’t mean that you can’t be questioned by the police. When asked what he thought about President Obama’s remarks on his arrest, Gates replied that he was “happy Obama recognized our friendship”. Even at a time when he was supposed to be discussing his indignation for racial profiling, he wanted the masses to know that he was one of the President’s cronies.
The Skip Gates saga illustrates a few things: it shows that no matter what your status in life is, you are still susceptible to racism, and that some Black folks think they transcend race. Welcome to the real world Professor Henry Louis Gates – a world beyond books and reports.