What I'm Learning from Skip Gates' Arrest

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 was a Slate senior editor from 2005 to 2014. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Head of Security Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would A Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon Who Wasn’t
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms Off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.