If it can happen to Skip Gates ...Historians in the News
For many, it was a startling portrait: the normally reserved Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., standing on his front porch in handcuffs, appearing to yell as police officers surrounded him. Yet those were the images that circulated Tuesday, as news of Gates’ controversial arrest – and the subsequent dropping of charges against him – circulated on Web sites and television.
Stephen L. Carter, a Yale University law professor and novelist, felt like he was watching a scene unfold from one of his own books. Carter has written scholarly works along with bestsellers about the lives of upper-class African Americans, including those in academe, and his fiction often illustrates how wealthy blacks draw suspicion in posh environs like private beaches or Ivy League campuses.
“If it can happen to Henry Louis Gates, possibly the most prominent black scholar in the country, and in his home town, then it can indeed happen to any of us,” Carter, author of The Emperor of Ocean Park, wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.
“Odd, isn’t it? Here we are in the age of Obama, and some things haven’t changed. Blackness is associated in the public mind with wrongdoing; if we are spotted in an unexpected locale, we must be up to something.”
Echoes of Carter’s words could be heard across academe Tuesday, as professors discussed Gates’ assertion that he had been the victim of racial profiling, and recalled their own similar experiences. The story, which had drawn significant media attention by Monday, began early Thursday afternoon when officers responded to a possible break-in at Gates’ Cambridge, Mass. home. Gates had been spotted trying to force open his own jammed door, and when confronted by officers he accused them of racism, drawing a charge of disorderly conduct, according to a police report.
Amid public outcry, however, the police dropped the charges, and all those involved – including Gates – called the incident “regrettable and unfortunate” in a joint statement. ...
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