A NATION OF (mental) SLAVES

Yes, you are, U.S.A. Don’t deny it.

I’ve intentionally waded repeatedly into the public discourse (such as it is) over the Henry Louis Gates arrest fiasco, because I’m interested in the responses to the case. I’ve noticed several things, some of which elicit moderate surprise.

First, there is the unsurprising evolution of white people suggesting that Gates is a racist for accusing the arresting officer of racism. Additionally, President Obama is tarred with the same straw brush for speaking negatively about the treatment given to Dr. Gates. (Obama has since backed off, offering a beer at the White House to the officer.*) This is part of a evolving trend of white supremacists** labeling identification, analysis, and criticism of racism as racism itself. It is a clumsy mechanism of projection, but who said our political discourse was ever sophisticated? Now, though, with an ostensibly black president, the defensiveness and victimizational whining are at an all-time high. The Gates case– which is really little more than a case of simple police misconduct which likely would not have occurred had Gates been a white man– has become a lightning rod for this ‘post-racial’ angst.

The second thing I’ve noticed is a bit surprising. That is a tendency among some black people to throw Henry Louis Gates under the cliched bus. Even Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, who normally attracts visceral, drooling hatred from the white supremacists, took a curiously tepid and accommodationist stance against Dr. Gates. (I suggest reading this column on the subject.)

I haven’t waded through many other blog posts about this case, but the comments at Mitchell’s column are indicative of the white racists’ need to characterize this case as proof that black social agitators are the real racists; Gates is just a racist troublemaker who was the undeserving beneficiary of a sensitive white policeman’s professional restraint. Even some black people suggest that Gates is lucky not to have been beaten, tazed, or worse (and most of them aren’t saying it out of loving concern for Gates). That last suggestion troubles me: are we as black people supposed to accept that because poor minorities are regularly the recipients of police brutality, Gates should have been more deferential in order to avoid risking the same treatment? Why not suggest that no one of any demographic should be an acceptable target for police brutality (or police misconduct of any kind)?

Another thing I’ve noticed from the overwhelming majority of these responses is their apparent lack of understanding of just what happened. You can read Gates’s own account here. You can read the official Cambridge Police report here. I’ve already posted a link to a thorough legal analysis of the police report’s version of the incident, and here it is again. The problem for me is this overarching notion that the police have the right to say and do what they want to any citizen even in his own home, regardless of whether the citizen has violated any law or is in any danger. People black and white are falling over themselves to suggest that Officer Crowley had the right to arrest Dr. Gates because Gates expressed anger at him in Gates’s own home. Some of the them fudge the facts to justify it, and of course the white supremacists are likely spouting this notion with the implied understanding that it applies primarily to brown people and poor whites. Middle and upper class whites can expect to enjoy sovereignty in their own homes and respect from police officers, of course. The larger problem, though, remains: what is the Constitution worth if a law-abiding citizen can’t question or criticize a government agent while said citizen in his own house? What kind of nation do we have if the police can drag you from your own home in handcuffs solely because you hurt their feelings or embarrassed them? I have a sneaking suspicion that it is the same kind of nation that urged its representatives to use that Constitution as toilet paper after nineteen guys with boxcutters brought it to its knees.

*This is not surprising. Obama and the Democrats have demonstrated a grating, maddening tendency to apologize for doing and saying the right thing. That the president of the world’s most powerful country (for now) would stoop to mollifying the feelings of a situational dick like Crowley does not speak well for our political future. Still wondering why I proudly voted Green?

**By “white supremacists,” I am indicating the entire spectrum from Klan members and white power skinheads to those who are merely apologists for racist rhetoric and behavior.

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