What I'm Learning from Skip Gates' Arrest

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 24 2009 11:32 AM

What I'm Learning from Skip Gates' Arrest

/blogs/xx_factor/2009/07/24/learning_from_skip_gates_arrest/jcr:content/body/slate_image

That's a really upsetting litany of stories, Marjorie, about the cops accosting you and your relatives . The confluence of Skip Gates' arrest and the Obama presidency are making white people, at least some of us, take in these stories differently. We've heard them before, but now maybe we're absorbing them. Obama's election has both raised expectations of a post-racial America and given us a lens through which to see clearly how we still fall short. I chewed over some of this with the writer Farai Chideya on bloggingheads earlier this week. And Richard Thompson Ford has a piece in Slate that really made me think anew when I was editing it on Thursday. Rich urges us to get past the stock phrases "racial profiling" and "playing the race card" in analyzing what happened and why. His clear-eyed takeaway:

Advertisement

We need to ask why so many police officers of all races suspect the worst of racial minorities. (I wonder what the black Cambridge police officer pictured in the photo along with Gates after his arrest would say about all of this if he could speak candidly.) Decades of blatant and pervasive racial discrimination, poor urban planning, and failed labor policy have left blacks disproportionately jobless and trapped in poor ghettos across the United States. Faced with few opportunities and few positive role models, a disturbing number of people in those neighborhoods turn to gangs and crime for money, protection, and esteem.

Rather than improve those neighborhoods and help the people who live in them join the prosperous mainstream, we as a society have given police the dirty job of quarantining them. Frankly, we should expect that a disproportionate number of power-hungry bigots would find such a mandate attractive. And an otherwise decent and fair-minded officer, faced with the day-to-day task of controlling society's most isolated, desperate, and angry population, might develop some ugly racial generalizations and carry them even to plush and leafy neighborhoods such as those surrounding Harvard Yard. Yet when the inevitable racial scandal surfaces we, like Capt. Renault in Casablanca , are shocked, shocked to find racial bias in law enforcement and quick to blame individual police officers, rather than ourselves.

Photograph of Skip Gates by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.