Debbi K. Swanson Patrick
Where do you stand on this photo of Cambridge police arresting Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.in his own home. Is it black v. white? A misunderstanding? Over-reacting? Injustice? Defiance? Class and race clash? What does this say about race relations in America?
What strikes me is that while I’m sure Sgt. James Crowley was trying to do a thorough job, it’s hard for me to imagine how he or others on site did not recognize Gates, the man known as “the nation’s most famous black scholar,” or at least be aware of where he lives. According to Wikipedia, he’d been at Harvard since 1991, and among his notable achievements, Gates has been the recipient of nearly 50 honorary degrees and numerous academic and social action awards. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1981 and was listed in Time among its “25 Most Influential Americans” in 1997.
One of the most ironic elements of this story: To build Harvard’s visual, documentary, and literary archives of African-American texts, Gates arranged for the purchase of “The Image of the Black in Western Art,” a collection assembled by Dominique de Ménil in Houston, Texas.
Then it was Gates who ended up being the image of a black man—being arrested—in America. But all may have settled down rather quickly if it weren’t for the President saying the police acted “stupidly” to get the country riled up.
While Professor Gates said: “This could and should be a profound teaching moment in the history of race relations in America. I sincerely hope that the Cambridge police department will choose to work with me towards that goal,” Sgt. Crowley said, “Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which ’equal justice before law’ is a lived reality.”
Thursday, all parties gather at the White House for a beer at President Obama’s invitation. A teaching moment, indeed.