Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, July 23, 2009

HENRY LOUIS GATES -- THE SEQUEL

Well, everyone else has had a say about the arrest of Skip Gates, including the president [who handled it with considerable grace and some wit], so why shouldn't I? There is one aspect of the story -- in many ways the most important -- that has gone more or less unnoticed.

Let us forget about race for a moment, and just talk about class. Everyone who knows Harvard Square -- which in my youth really meant one small square, but now means much of Cambridge -- knows that there is a clear visual and body language distinction between town and gown, which is to say between people who are associated in some way with Harvard and people who live in Cambridge or work there or are passing through but are not students or professors or administrators or researchers. The Harvard folk dress differently, do their hair differently, walk differently, carry different objects [book bags, for example], and in general are immediately identifiable. Now, this is profiling, of course, and it is accurate profiling. I would bet that if you tested me or anyone else who knows The Square, we could distinguish Harvard types from non-Harvard types eighty or ninety percent of the time or better.

For a while now -- three hundred years or so -- the Cambridge police have treated the gown folk differently from the town folk. The gown folk are cut a good deal of slack, and the police force tends to abide by the maxim that What happens in The Yard stays in the Yard. [Notice, a propos, that as soon as the arresting officer found out that Gates was a Harvard professor, he called the Harvard police, even though the entire event took place off Harvard property.]

Think about Henry Louis Gates, abstracting, for a moment, from his Blackness. Anyone who saw Gates in the vicinity of Harvard would immediately recognize him as gown, regardless of whether they actually knew who he was. [By the way, Gates is not simply "a Harvard professor." He is what Harvard calls a University Professor, a title bestowed on only six or eight members of the entire faculty, and carrying with it the very highest academic status. But never mind that.] What is more, the incident took place on a very toney Harvard street, where the homeowners are all rich and upper middle class. A policeman seeing an obvious White gown type trying to enter a house on that street would NEVER, and I mean NEVER, imagine that he was "breaking and entering." Of course, he actually might be breaking and entering [upper middle class people do illegal things], but no policeman would think that he was. NOR WOULD A "NEIGHBOR" WHO LIVES ON THE SAME STREET THINK SO, EVEN IF SHE DID NOT KNOW HER NEIGHBORS BY SIGHT.

THE ONLY REASON THIS HAPPENED IS THAT GATES IS BLACK, A FACT THAT TOTALLY BLOTTED OUT EVERY OTHER CONSIDERATION IN THE MIND BOTH OF THE NEIGHBOR AND OF THE POLICEMAN.

Sigh. You really have to know the history and culture of Harvard Square to feel, in your gut, just how impossible this entire incident would have been, had Gates been White.

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