Thursday, July 23, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines

My goodness -- for a mongrel nation founded by religious nutjob refugees, convicts, slaves, and indigent laborers, we sure are crazed about the niceties of the upper class and the purity of our bloodlines, aren't we?

Henry Louis and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The momentary arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is not a snapshot of race relations in this country. Roughly 7.5 million Americans are in some way connected to the prison system; 93% of that population is male; 70% of that population is non-white. These numbers were true the day before "Skip" Gates spent four hours in a police station in Cambridge complaining of claustrophobia, and they were true after he was released without charge.

Decode Professor Gates' words at the last link: his outrage comes as a member of his class, not as a member of his "race." He is shocked -- shocked -- that he could find himself in this position, although a cursory reading of statistics would show that the odds are not stacked in his favor. Gates shouted (according to the police) or rasped (according to him): ‘Is this how you treat a black man in America?' As a scholar of the history of slavery and the descendants of slaves in America, it's kind of a nonsensical question. Of course this is how black men are treated in this country by the apparatus of law enforcement. So his surprise is a bit puzzling, unless you realize the missing operative word in his question:

This missing word is common.

His outrage wasn't about how he was being treated by law enforcement: it was that he was being treated this way by law enforcement. He is a Harvard Professor standing in the doorway of his home in Cambridge who can identify himself as such with the proper paperwork. But his authority misfired: he wasn't shown the deference of his position. And if you think this is non-Ivy sour grapes, ask yourself: why even say the words? This is my house. That's the important point of fact, isn't it? Why does your job even enter into it -- unless it has a currency, a value; unless it operates as a talisman to make men with guns transform from something you fear into something that fears you (and your lawyers).

According to Gates' own account, upon alighting on his porch, a police officer said: ‘Thank you for accommodating our request. You are under arrest.’ Can you imagine if such gentility was the norm in first responders? Instead, far more disturbed individuals clearly in need of assistance are tasered to death. (Talk about humiliating.)

Professor Gates' PBS specials decode the family trees of black notables: actors, celebrities -- the black elite. The programs help Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, and their ilk -- individuals who don't need grounding in a society over which they already occupy the upper rungs. A much more interesting program would be interviewing the poor, the imprisoned, society's castoffs: I don't see him interviewing Federal prison inmates; how did they get there as descendants of slaves? How does that family tree influence where they are now? Might not sell so well, but interesting questions nevertheless.

True Blood

And a note to all "Birthers," who continue to harp on about the President's birth certificate:

Please continue. We have some familiarity with groundless witch hunts in this country; they always end well for the ringleaders. (Here's a hilarious preview of the madness to come: Lou Dobbs = secret immigrant.) And here's a prediction: the next time this article appears it won't be in jest. (Are you now, or have you ever been...?) The reactionary right has always been good at ideological consistency, condemning their own for the pure evil they see all around them, right?

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