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What Professor Gates Won’t Learn at Harvard about Black America

Black Americans were disappointed that Gates didn't do more with his 15 minutes than drink a beer.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

August 12, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Did you hear that Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is planning to write a book about the harrowing four hours he spent incarcerated by The Man like some common hooligan? He even has a working title: Beluga on Ice.

Ok, that’s not true. Although Gates has said he is thinking about doing a documentary on racial profiling, and he has admitted that he never thought much about the issue until it (supposedly) happened to him.

But the gag about caviar is believable given the elitist and arrogant way that “Skip” Gates has conducted himself since his arrest on his front porch on July 16 by Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department.

To recap, Crowley apparently thought Gates needed an “attitude adjustment” after the professor, according to the police report, called him a racist, tried to go over the sergeant’s head by phoning the police chief amid the confrontation, and finally offered to talk to Crowley’s “mama” outside. Gates denies that he was rude and uncooperative but admits he did say something like “this is what happens to black men in America.”

All due respect, but it’s becoming clear that Gates hasn’t the foggiest idea what happens to most black men in America. Why would he? They don’t teach that in the Ivy League.

For now, apparently, all is well after the so-called “suds summit” at the White House, where President Obama pulled together both Gates and Crowley over cold beers. In fact, while neither man has apologized for his behavior, the two men seem to be BFFs. Boston’s newest odd couple is talking about having dinner together with their families or taking in a sporting event.

At least that’s what Gates recently told a roomful of 150 or so people gathered at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, where Gates was enthusiastically hocking his latest book.

“I asked him if he would have lunch with me one on one,” Gates said about Crowley. “I asked him maybe we could go to a Red Sox game together, maybe could go to a Celtic game together, you know, maybe we could have dinner with our families, you know, why not?”

So far, so good. Then Gates ruined it with a dash of condescension:

“I offered to get his kids into Harvard,” he said, “if he doesn’t arrest me again.”

The mostly white crowd (ever been to Martha’s Vineyard?) roared with laughter. From where they sit, skin color isn’t as relevant as class. Gates is one of them. The professor even owns a summerhouse on the island. You can easily imagine that, after Gates’ talk, his fellow Vineyardites approached him and expressed sympathy for the dreadful experience he endured at the hands of a lowly civil servant.

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