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August 2, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is black and a pre-eminent scholar accustomed to a rarified existence of being director of the W.E. B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard. Daily life activities—every day experiences for Professor Gates has little in common with the daily lives of most black males, or white males, in America. However, and regardless of education or mental attitude living in America as a black man is different from living in America as a white man.

There are numerous stories of black males being pulled over by police for no other reason than suspicions of drug dealing for driving a high end automobile. Chances are good that black males living anywhere in the United States have been stopped by police on one or more occasions for driving while black. Professor Gates undoubtedly shared that common experience and memories of the embarrassment and humiliation and of being powerless to respond will be recalled in vivid detail for the remainder of his days regardless of his life achievements.

One need look no further than Clarence Thomas who is only one of ninety six associate justices to serve on the Supreme Court since 1789 and only the second of two black men to serve on that august body. Despite that Justice Thomas remains convinced his confirmation hearings were an electronic lynching and his visceral resentment toward those whom, real or imagined, posit his success as yielding to affirmative action as opposed to individual merit is evident.

I also believe Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas when he said at a press conference last week that Sgt. James Crowley's actions were not racially motivated. There is nothing in Sgt. Crowley’s record to indicate racial bias, but that claim was heightened when a Boston police officer referred to Professor Gates as a “banana eating jungle monkey.”

Skin color as a causal effect can never be ruled out completely, however in Sgt Crowley’s case it might not have been the color of skin but the thickness of his own skin that was the problem. Charges filed against Professor Rice were dropped and probably should never been levied in the first instance.

Lawrence O’Donnell a television commentator and writer/producer of NBC’s The West Wing and Massachusetts native voiced that President Obama’s “stupidity” remark was probably correct. He, and others, after reading the reports and listening to the 911 call claim the arrest was bogus particularly since all the charges were dropped against Professor Gates. Mr. O’Donnell, a Caucasian, had a similar experience with the Cambridge Police Department. Although charges against him were ultimately thrown out he sued the department and won including reimbursement for his legal fees. He contends that yelling in one’s own home is not against the law in Massachusetts.

Finally, there are others who continue to insist that both Professor Gates and Justice Thomas have a ‘chip’ on their shoulders and that they ought to give it up and go on with their lives, but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. We can discuss race all we want, even over beer at the White House, but not until we understand that blacks are treated differently will meaningful discussions on race take place.


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