Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Home Delivery

"Authorities in Cambridge, Mass., announced today that prosecutors there would not pursue disorderly- conduct charges brought against the prominent black-studies scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. last week after he exchanged words with police officers investigating a falsely reported burglary at his home."

-- Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 July

The New York Times plain out missed this story initially burying it back in the main news section. Eight days later it is page one of the Times and on all the talk shows. The story is still developing. But there is little chance that when a white police officer a sergeant no less sees two black men (Harvard Professor Gates and his cab driver) trying to unjam the stuck front door of Gates' house in an ivied Cambridge neighborhood there wasn't a quick judgment based on ingrained institutionalized racism.

The sergeant's immediate presumption - when another Harvard employed (and presumably white) neighbor called 911 - was two black men breaking into a house in a white neighborhood. Reverse the negative: two white men are "breaking" into a house in a black neighborhood. A 911 call is made and a black police sergeant arrives on the scene. How would s/he respond? Professor Gates and the cab driver who was helping Gates open his front door are lucky they weren't shot dead.

So how much difference is there - really - between attitudes toward race between the Cambridge cop and the august Times? Or between the cop's actions and how the rest of us whites think? Race based thinking is ingrained pervasive and unwitting much of the time. But there it is.

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