Friday, July 24, 2009

Does Race Have Everything To Do With It or Not?

A friend was surprised I haven't written on the Henry Louis Gates arrest. Meh, I've been busy. I think the arrest was probably a dumb move -- I'll agree with the President on that -- but in general this struck me as a confluence of unfortunate events where I'm not all that interested in talking about "fault".

But oblique to the topic, I wanted to comment briefly on this Ta-Nehisi Coates post, entitled "Stop Telling Me About The Racial-Profiling Course":
I don't care if the dude tried to take a bullet for Malcolm in the ballroom, and ran guns for Huey P. Either it's smart to arrest a dude for being rude to a cop in his own house, or it isn't.

Quite often, mostly in affirmative action cases but sometimes elsewhere, folks attacking the progressive vision on race relations (the one that says race still matters) argue "it's not race, it's class!" or "these things (police abuse, bad schools, job discrimination) are bad no matter who they happen to -- why you got to make it about race?" I've noted before that this is an argument which magically appears only in the context of trying to dismiss the minority claim. People who say that we should be focusing on improving urban elementary education instead of having high school affirmative action programs don't turn around and advocate for those improvements.

And so it is here. Just as we should be able to say "children of all backgrounds should have the opportunity to receive an excellent, top-notch education", we should also be able to say "arresting someone in their own home while investigating a suspected burglary after you know that they're actually the owner is bad police behavior -- even if they're yelling at you." Race doesn't enter into the general principle. Except it does -- because the people who are bent on discrediting Gates seem to think that race is the only relevant axis here. So if they show this cop doesn't harbor ill will towards Black people (and I'm sure he doesn't), that's game set and match.


libhom said...

The Cambridge Police would have never taken these kind of actions against a heterosexual, white male.

PG said...

White female. With regard to dealing with cops and other kinds of security personnel, there is a huge amount of female privilege, at least when it comes to being presumed non-threatening. As a brown person with a "foreign" name, I was really glad when I was getting on a flight shortly after 9/11, and realized I'd forgotten my driver's license, that I was female and could convince them to let me on the flight by showing what I claimed were IDs from the Library of Congress and National Archives. (They were, of course, but do you think airport security knew what those were supposed to look like?)