Professor Gates is right
Published Jul 29, 2009 3:13 PM
Racial profiling is another expression of institutionalized racism rooted in a
white supremacist ideology under capitalism. In the U.S., racial profiling has
tragically become a way of life, like eating, sleeping and breathing. Being
targeted based on the color of your skin or your nationality is a terrible
burden to bear for any person of color, whether you live in the inner city,
barrio, a reservation or in an upper-middle-class suburb.
In a 2004 report entitled “Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling,
Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States,” Amnesty
International documented that in a year-long investigation, an estimated 32
million people (the equivalent of the entire population of Canada at the time)
had been racially profiled—the vast majority of them from nationally
oppressed groups. (www.amnestyusa.org) One can only imagine how much these
numbers have increased over the last five years, not only for those born in the
U.S. but also for immigrants.
The police have been, by far, the most feared perpetuators of racial profiling,
and understandably so. Police harassment and brutality is so epidemic that
pamphlets have been written by activists and progressive lawyers on how one
should behave if ever stopped by the police to help avoid arrest, physical
assault or even losing one’s life.
This is the broader context in which to understand the July 16 arrest of one of
the most respected Black scholars, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who teaches
at Harvard University. Gates was arrested by a Cambridge police officer after
showing two forms of identification as he, along with a Black limo driver, were
trying to unjam the lock to the front door of Gates’ house in a
predominantly white, upscale neighborhood known as “Harvard
This incident may have gone unreported, like the millions of other racial
profiling cases, if it weren’t for two facts: first, because of
Gates’ recognition as one of the most influential African Americans; and,
second and most important, because he didn’t back down from the cop. In
fact, he challenged the authority of the white officer, who eventually arrested
him. In his own style, Gates, who is slightly built and walks with a cane,
resisted being racially profiled by an entire police department that has a
reputation for its brutality.
Gates was arrested, not because he committed any crime, but because he made a
courageous stand against racism when the relationship of forces was not in his
favor. Just think of what would have happened if Gates had taken a similar
stand in the segregated South. He surely would have been lynched. Black people
were strongly encouraged to “stay in their place,” meaning to be
submissive and keep their eyes to the ground when interacting with any white
person, especially the police.
Black people have been lynched in the South for any excuse; a glaring example
is the 1955 lynching of 14 year-old Emmett Till in Money, Miss., for supposedly
whistling at a white woman.
The Cambridge police report stated that Gates was arrested for disorderly
conduct due to “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.” In other
words, Gates refused to bow down before the repressive state.
The fact that the Cambridge police demanded that President Obama apologize to
them for publicly calling their actions “stupid” proves once again
that the election of the first Black president has not signaled the end of
racism and national oppression, nor does it reflect a “post-racial
society”; far from it.
While the police, the mainstream media and the bourgeois pundits want to
isolate and downplay every instance of racial profiling, Gates’
resistance has helped to generalize the issue on national and international
levels. No matter how this particular development plays out, activists must
seize this opportunity to show the need to build a movement based on
anti-racist, class-wide solidarity—as workers of all nationalities are
losing their jobs, homes, health care and pensions in rapid numbers; and as the
economic crisis becomes even more acute.
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