NPR logo Why Is Gates Still So Upset? Consider This ...


Why Is Gates Still So Upset? Consider This ...


First, if you haven't already, check out fellow NPR producer Enrique Rivera's commentary from today's program. The piece is a follow up to our coverage of the recent arrest of prominent Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who says he was racially profiled by police in Cambridge, Mass.

I wasn't there when Professor Gates was arrested at his home after police thought he fit the description of what was believed to be two black males suspected of trying to burglarize his own house, but I have read the conflicting accounts — the police report and Gates' own statement of what happened. (Gates says he produced proper identification proving the home as his place of residence; the police report (pdf) by Sgt. James Crowley says Gates was arrested for "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" and was, therefore, hauled off in handcuffs. The charges were recently dropped.)

While my interpretation of what really happened and who's telling the full story might not carry the weight of an eye-witness account, I can tell you that — emotionally speaking — I have been where Professor Gates says he is now, and was on that day ... more than once (and have blogged about it).

But what I cannot adequately explain is how emasculating, in particular, and dehumanizing, in general, to feel utterly helpless when you think those authorized to enforce the law are using that same power to desecrate the very thing which they have been entrusted to uphold.

And even more upsetting is when the realization that one's own socioeconomic class ranking — as a journalist, or an ivy league scholar; as a physician or ... perhaps a fellow police officer — is the only thing that carries the power of vindication in that moment.

And sometimes that doesn't even work.

But, then again, it shouldn't matter.

So, Lee, what exactly is racial profiling?

I see it, informed by my own experience, as being perceived — consciously or subconsciously — by those in authority as inherently criminal, or innately incapable of good (born to be and do wrong or less), all based on one's skin tone.

Now, wouldn't that make you emotional?