Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Henry Louis Gates: Esteemed scholar treated like second-class slave

The late historian Carl Degler stated the following many years ago: “The central question of the twentieth century is whether the United States will be able to work out a biracial society in which blacks and whites will be able to live together in mutual respect and justice. That question is still open, not only because such a society has not been achieved in the United States, but because it has not been achieved in any nation in which whites dominate.”

That statement still rings true today.

When President Obama extended an invitation to Henry Louis Gates and SGT. James Crowley many thought there would be sweeping change and we could rally around this “teachable moment” that was about to take place.

Yeah right.

When Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested by SGT. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department several weeks at his home on disorderly conduct charges it ignited uncomfortable dialogue about racism and racial profiling. Gates felt he was unnecessarily harassed by Crowley because he was “a black man in America.”

To mend fences President Obama first had to back peddle from his comments suggesting the Cambridge Police Department “acted stupidly” in handling the Gates situation. He soon cleaned up his statement by suggesting he could’ve “calibrated” his words differently. Then he recently arranged a Happy Hour session over beers with Crowley and Gates at the White House. Apparently no apologies or admission of wrong-doing was offered by either side. In short, both parties respectfully agreed to disagree.

What happened to this “teachable moment” that was supposed to bring closure to this situation?
What was really accomplished?

Where are the results?

This meeting was staged to give the appearance of healing when actuality it was to assist in sweeping this racial situation under the rug. It was mere political posturing to merely add to the allure of President Obama. Obama’s track record in dealing with racism is sad to say the least. He avoids racial situations like the plague. In essence the president merely assisted in watering down a situation that could’ve been a real “teachable moment” if he dared.

So let’s get this straight. A man gets arrested for attempting to enter his own property then he charged with disorderly conduct? Despite his impeccable credentials Gates was treated like he was second-class slave: he was stripped of his titles and the power of the police transcended who Gates was a man. Without question part of his treatment stemmed from a combination of racism, racial profiling and ignorance.

Some are quick to point out there was an African American cop along with Crowley who suggested he acted justly in handling Gates. What’s lost here is if Crowley acted so justly why where charges immediately dropped?

Two things to note of importance here: it’s difficult to speak out and keep your job. Secondly, just because you are African American doesn’t mean you are sensitive to their plights nor even care. Many subscribe to the Uncle Tom way of life. These types of African Americans appease to the white establishment to gain favor amongst their white bretheren. In short, you can be African American by race but white by heart.

Gates shouldn’t have met with the President and Crowley: he should’ve been strategizing with his lawyer on pursuing legal action against the Cambridge Police Department. Instead of having a beer with the source of his problems (Crowley) and President Obama Gates should’ve reflected on how humiliated he felt when he was handcuffed unnecessarily. Instead he was lulled to sleep by the allure of President Obama which stymied Gates initial passion for true justice to subside.

Bottom line: most are afraid to openly talk about race. The time has come to have what I call table-talk. Put it all out there and begin to let the chips fall.


Gather the top historians, teachers, media personalities, athletes, entertainers, and citizens and have an ongoing summit that’s geared towards social inclusion and understanding. Broadcast live for all to see. The first order of business is to talk openly deal with the significance of slavery and the impact it’s had in America. African Americans can openly voice how they feel and why. In turn misinformed whites would understand the source from which social differences arise and America can constructively begin to truly heal.

Sadly the latter won’t happen soon. First, President Obama won’t dare go there because racism is clearly not on his agenda. Secondly, a segment of white America can’t talk about slavery openly. Once African Americans raise doubt in the system beginning with slavery they are typically labeled angry agitators.

The Gates arrest was the perfect catalyst to ignite that much needed discussion and provide possible future resolution. Instead, true to form President Obama watered the situation down and relied on the, “can’t we all just get along” cliché instead of attacking the problem vehemently and constructively.

So much for that “teachable moment.”

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