Notes from a bitch…pondering the privilege of anger…

The recent arrest of Professor Gates in my old stomping ground of Cambridge Mass. sparked a national debate on racial profiling, the charge of disorderly conduct and class privilege. This bitch is more than a little pleased to see everyone from the President to my next-door neighbor to the sistahs in line at the grocery store discussing these issues. But I’m not pleased that one constant theme has been whether Skip Gates brought his arrest down on his own self. Some have said that he should have respected the police officer’s authority regardless of whether he was being wrongly investigated for breaking into his own house. Others have said that Professor Gates had every right to get angry with the officer when said officer allegedly refused to give his name and badge number while investigating Gates for breaking into his own house. Charges have since been dropped. As both parties plan a trip to Washington D.C. to presumably make peace over chips and beer up in the people’s house…blink…I’m pondering the privilege of anger.
Shall we?
When I was a wee bitch I had my first encounters with racial violence at school. Getting beat up on the play ground was humiliating…learning that my teachers wouldn’t step in to stop the assaults was terrifying…but no lesson has had a greater impact on my life than learning that I wasn’t permitted anger over injustices done to me.
My mother counseled me to find coping techniques…such as not playing out of the eye sight of teachers, not asserting myself when someone took my turn at a game and generally not drawing attention to myself. You know, the old back down and walk away method of crisis management.
I broke with that technique only once when a fellow student spat in my lunch. I went to a teacher who accused me of lying and spitting in my own lunch…and something inside me just snapped… the wrongness of it all was overwhelming…and I yelled.
Yep, I raised my voice and said something along the line of “I’m not lying!” followed by “this is not fair!” and you would have thought I had dropped my pants and taken a shit on a lunch table. As the teacher promised me that I had just opened up a whole can of trouble for myself, the girl responsible for spitting in my lunch yelled…uh huh, she yelled…that I was a stupid lying dirty black rat (oh, how memories linger…I can still hear her screaming that). But I was the one hauled into the principal’s office to face the music.

My mother had my back and defended me but the lesson stuck. Throughout the years it has only been reinforced. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been called overly sensitive for speaking up for myself or intimidating for speaking my mind or irrational for expressing anger I’d be able to buy Skip Gates a damn brewery. Even now someone reading this is thinking…well how did she speak up for herself, what tone did she use to speak her mind and what did her expression of anger look like…’cause my behavior is suspect until proven rational.
I’ve spent most of my life holding my anger in lest I be called an angry black bitch and the last five years exploring the realty that I had been accepting the premise of a false argument while doing so. I had been fueling the lie that black female anger is wrong and that expressing anger is dangerous for women of color because it reinforces the idea that we are irrational and inarticulate with it. I’m very aware that black female anger is best understood as Madea-esque…as a black man’s comic portrayal of an out-of-control-yet-allegedly-endearing black female who “goes off” a lot and has an anger management problem.
Well, I’m no Madea…
…but I do get angry at the anger worthy shit that every one and their mother gets angry at but women of color are supposed to let slide or approach with calm non-threatening (translation – non challenging) tones.
I challenge…legally (wink) and non-violently. And I express my anger and frustration…and you know what, holding it in didn’t get me any further than letting it out and letting it out is way healthier.
When I read about Professor Gates’ arrest I knew in my gut that the charge of his bringing that action on himself was soon to come. It’s as predictable as the sunrise. Didn’t he know how to act? Didn’t he understand that his public expression of anger and affront was going to escalate the situation? Hadn’t he learned the lesson of Jim Crow…to keep your eyes down, your head bent and your mouth shut when dealing with the police lest you get yourself in trouble? And so it came to pass that grown people who know damn well they’d have taken a tone, raised their voice and probably yelled a bit if faced with the same situation actually managed to say that Professor Gates was arrested for not behaving right…for letting his anger show…for “forgetting his place”.
Now, as those involved plan a hops-based peace conference, I am left wondering what lessons have been learned and by whom.
Is the lesson to “act right” or you’ll get what’s coming to you…’cause Madea goes to jail in that one movie, right?
Or is the lesson to keep it real…to express frustration and anger lest those in power think you really don’t have a problem with being hassled for breaking into your own house after you’ve demonstrated that it’s your damn house or with being followed around a department store or with being ignored by sales people or with being ignored and then insulted by medical staff or with being followed while driving through certain neighborhoods or with being asked to show identification on your way to class or with being viewed as a suspect, criminal, vagrant, trouble maker and/or anti-social fiend over and over and over again until anyone in their right mind would want to holler and throw their hands up in the air?

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  1. verastar
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks sharkfu for this post. Your anger at these injustices is articulate and palpable and gets right to the horrible heart of these matters. If your written voice is so strong and powerful I can only imagine the strength you exude in the corporeal realm. And it probably scares the shit out of people – and for good reason! Keep it up, my friend, keep it up.

  2. llevinso
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    FANTASTIC POST. I don’t really know what else to say but I was nodding in agreement throughout the whole thing.

  3. Rose
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    WOW, Sharkfu. Thanks for blessing the community with your wisdom. DITTO ten times.

  4. Rose
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    WOW, Sharkfu. Thanks for blessing the community with your wisdom. DITTO ten times.

  5. jeana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting to listen to my liberal radio station and hear black callers passionately explain just why both the treatment of Prof. Gates and the actions of the white policeman were so wrong. To hear them speak of their experiences in life and with the police, to hear Sharkfu do the same, and then to hear others pretend that Gates “asked for it” and Obama should apologize for what he said (as an editorial in the Arizona Republic demanded) is maddening. Why do non-whites have to explain themselves and justify their anger at being mistreated? And why don’t people listen to them? We keep being told that there is no racism anymore (by conservatives), but is that partly because those who are discriminated against are made to feel that they can’t complain and can’t bring it up when it happens? It’s kind of insidious; putting pressure on people to not complain and then using the lack of complaints as proof that there is no problem.

  6. Kathleen6674
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE this post. Love it. I’m so glad to hear a person of color break this down, and I love how this all ties in with the name of your blog.

  7. wickedwench
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    until anyone in their right mind would want to holler and throw their hands up in the air?
    I understand how frustration can build up from experiencing injustices throughout life.
    But are you saying that makes it okay for a POC to express anger in certain situations whereas it would not be okay for white people to do the same?
    For sake of argument, say I’m white with a history of abuse. Does that make it okay for me to express anger in the same way that it makes it ok for POC to express anger?
    Maybe I’m just not understanding your argument, but I can’t tell if you’re saying that POC should be “allowed” to be angry more than white people because an oppressive history?
    This reminds me of something the President said in regards to this case. To paraphrase—because of the unjust history that POC have with the police, many people will have doubts to the legitimacy of charges, arrests, etc. even when there IS probable cause.
    Where does that leave us?
    Didn’t he understand that his public expression of anger and affront was going to escalate the situation?
    I think any person would know that an “expression of anger” would escalate the situation. I don’t think it’s necessarily a lesson from Jim Crow that talking back to the police isn’t going to help you. I think any rational person, regardless of race, knows that.
    IMO, Gates did deliberately provoke the police officer, but the arrest was extreme–way over the top.
    But I’m a little disappointed you didn’t address the class issue in this case.
    I think that police officer wanted to show a “you don’t know who you’re dealing with” Hahvahd Prof where to shove it—regardless of his race.
    Not that that’s right, but I think class and power were the larger motivators.

  8. Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I don’t wickedwench.
    Great post sharfku – keep the anger and use it wherever you can.

  9. femme.
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Sharkfu. I was thinking about this while reading a few articles concerning Prof. Gates and the arrest, and while watching (terrible) CNN coverage, including the President’s impromptu press conference before Robert Gibbs’ daily press gaggle. I am so happy to see you articulated these concerns so well, and brought a crucial critique of the situation into a public forum. Your critique was spot-on. I am so sick of the pervasive pressure put on people of color to not express their anger, and when we do, we are vehemently criticized for it.
    @wicked wench: Sharkfu was not implying that white people have less right to express their anger in certain situations than people of color. Sharkfu is confronting complaints by the mainstream media about Prof. Gates show of anger by reminding us (correctly) that anger is a privilege. People of color are reprimanded, ridiculed, and considered suspect if they display anger at any kind of injustice, while white people who show anger are not subject to the same social pressure and critiques.
    I think that police officer wanted to show a “you don’t know who you’re dealing with” Hahvahd Prof where to shove it—regardless of his race.
    I think both class and race had something to do with the police officer’s actions. These are overlapping issues, and anger is a complex privilege. Do you really think the desire to show this “Hahvahd Prof where to shove it” would have been just as strong if this “Hahvahd Prof” were white and showed the same indignation?

  10. jeana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m just not understanding your argument, but I can’t tell if you’re saying that POC should be “allowed” to be angry more than white people because an oppressive history?
    Seems to me she’s saying that she isn’t allowed to be as angry as a white person even when something egregious happens (like someone spitting in her food). I saw nothing about her feeling she should be allowed to be more angry. And why can’t she (and others) express their true, righteous indignation when it’s called for?
    Also, IMO, a police officer that’s supposedly a trainer on racial profiling should be able to resist the urge to racially profile; to walk away from a situation that’s escalating—a situation that he himself caused; a situation in which no one was in danger and there weren’t any bad guys involved. But yes, you should be very careful of how you speak to the police because they have all the power (and weapons) and they will usually be believed and you will not.

  11. Mrs.s
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Shark Fu. As a Black woman who has had a really hard time explaining to white people how this whole incident makes me feel and how effed up it is, you have articulated it better than I ever could have. I will copy and paste your post whenever I’m asked about the Gates situation from now on. Seriously. Thank you again.

  12. Shirley
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I appreciated this comment from wickedwench.
    I too am disappointed that you ignored the issue of class. While I think that everyone is entitled to express their anger, I do not think people are entitled to express their anger in a classist way a la the “do you know who I am?” comment. Obviously race and class are intertwined in this situation, however, the way Professor Gates decided to react, which was in a classist way, only adds to oppression and injustice in our society.
    This link was posted on feministing today and I think deals with the issue well:

  13. White Bitch
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    When a white women gets angry, people say she’s psycho, needs therapy, etc. We’re not allowed to get angry any more than a black woman is. It’s just defined a little differently but we’re still basically relegated to a status of “not having a legitimate complaint and getting overly emotional” about whatever it is, rather than anyone listening to us. I am a bitch royale, and I have taught my daughter to bitch back and not take any crap. If someone calls me psycho, etc., my response is “Damn straight I’m crazy, and that’s why you should be scared…very scared.” Let them feed off their own prejudiced fears. It’s hilarious to watch.

  14. Visan
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks sooooo much Shark Fu for that post! You are the TRUTH!!!

  15. naters
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Right on! Fantastic post Shark Fu, as usual. I am not a WOC but your stories about elementary school reminded me so much of mine. I was quiet and chubby, hence I was reviled by most students and teachers. Any time I fought back I was sent straight to the principal’s office. My particular favorite was after I called a bully a name after he repeatedly punched me in the stomach and told me I couldn’t feel it anyway because I was so fat, the school counselor sat us down and made ME apologize to HIM. Because clearly me being angry and him being violent are equal offenses.

  16. wickedwench
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Do you really think the desire to show this “Hahvahd Prof where to shove it” would have been just as strong if this “Hahvahd Prof” were white and showed the same indignation?
    Yes, I do believe that because I’ve witnessed enough white-on-white anger right along those class lines to tell you that it certainly happens–and it happens often.
    I live in Cambridge and I know just how wide the rift is between the moneyed, Harvard culture and the local, working-class families. Go ask someone about gentrification down there and you’ll get an earful.
    And why can’t she (and others) express their true, righteous indignation when it’s called for?
    That is definitely NOT what I wrote. I am not trying to be indignant–I am just wondering how those feelings can apply in real life situations.

  17. Mrs.s
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Good point.

  18. jeana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t upper class white people treated very differently (i.e. better) than upper class black people? White people driving a BMW aren’t followed by police, stopped, and questioned as to how someone of their color could own a BMW. Unless I’m missing your point.

  19. Shirley
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I think you are missing my point, jeana.
    My point is this: it is unhelpful to the cause of equality to combat racism with classism.
    My point was not about how a member of the black upper class or the white upper class would be treated differently in this situation. It is also not as straightforward a racial profiling case as “White people driving a BMW aren’t followed by police, stopped, and questioned as to how someone of their color could own a BMW”, because the police were called in on a report of someone breaking into a house (whether it was unlawful or not, this is in fact, what happened, though it turned out that Gates was in fact the owner of the house, which made it lawful).
    Mr. Gates perceived that he was being treated in an unfair way, and responded to this not by calling upon principles of equality, but by making a classist statement calling upon his “superior” class status to a lower status police officer. This is where class and classism come into the picture.
    The article I linked to goes into depth on this issue.

  20. PDXHopeful
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Yep. I think it’s sometimes a bit subtler, but girls and women are also told: keep your temper, be understanding – maybe they just had a hard day, you might get them angry and you can’t defend yourself, etc.
    My parents have been good, overall, about not dismissing my opinions and feelings, but outside my family I’ve heard jaws drop more than once because – OMG – I express a strong opinion. And I’m not even wording it harshly!

    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    To paraphrase Flavor Flav “we got a right to be hostile!”
    300 years of slavery.
    100 years of jim crow.
    40 years of institutional racism.
    We’ve earned the right to be angry at racism.
    And the right not to have to swallow our rage.
    Full Stop.
    End of sentence.
    End of paragraph.
    Mr Gates should not have to apologize for getting enraged when that “racial profiling instructor” (his actual job at the Cambridge police academy) barged into his house without a warrant or probable cause.
    And Mr Gates knew that, had he been a White full professor at Harvard, that same racial profiling instructor would have been profusely apologizing and begging his forgiveness – and would have gotten fired the next day anyway
    But since Mr Gates is a Black man in America, his tormentor will probably make lieutenant because of his violation of the professors rights!
    And yes, it is different for you because you have the privilege of being Caucasian in America.
    And if you think about it, I’m quite sure you know that.

    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    As I’m sure you know as well as I do, wealthy African Americans are regularly treated as criminal suspects for the “crime” of being in a White neighborhood (the fact that they live there notwithstanding) and the “crime” of having a nice car (because all African Americans with nice cars are drug dealers)
    They have a right to be angry about this – and to express that anger – and to demand the same deference from police that their White class peers get.
    And they do not need to apologize to you or to any other White person for their legitimate rage!
    Nor do they have to confine and constrict their rage so White folks won’t feel uncomfortable.
    It really is that simple.

    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had the misfortune of visiting your city.
    Hands down, Cambridge, Massachusetts is the second most racist place I’ve ever visited in this country.
    More racist than Knoxville, Tennessee.
    More racist than Nachez, Mississippi.
    More racist than Jena, Louisiana.
    The only place I’ve ever been to that was more openly racist than Cambridge was – where else? – Boston.
    So I really have a hard time believing that a White Harvard professor would be arrested in front of his own home by Cambridge police like Professor Gates was!
    It strains credulity.
    Especially in a town with the ugly racist history and the well deserved reputation for blatant negrophobia your community has.

  24. Shirley
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    It seems as though you have either misread or misunderstood my previous posts.
    Nowhere did I claim that Mr. Gates did not have the right to get angry; please direct me to this if it is there, though I am confident that it is not. As I stated, “My point is this: it is unhelpful to the cause of equality to combat racism with classism.”
    My claim was that he should not have responded to injustice by making classist comments.
    I also think that it is presumptuous of you to assume that I am caucasian. You are therefore implying that Afircan-American people cannot be in touch with issues related to class, which is an incorrect and unhelpful assumption.

  25. jeana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I think it depends upon your perspective and life experience to decide whether or not this was motivated by more or fewer racial elements. It’s much easier for PONC (people of no color, like me) to try to consider other factors besides race than it is for POC. Because regardless of what class you belong to, I think your race, if you are a person of color, is the dominant factor always. And it will be until there truly is no more racism.
    But anyway, I just read that story you linked to. It seemed kind of to be saying that black people had less of a right to be “classist” than whites. That’s how I read it. As if it’s ok (or more ok) for Paris Hilton to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” rather than Skip Gates. As if it’s a little surprising that a black man would use his prestigious job title to his advantage. Since he’s not a street thug or drug dealer, why not let Mr. Police Guy know that?

  26. Shirley
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I also wanted to add that when thinking about these complicated issues, it is important to keep an eye on the many forms of injustice in our society ( due to race, gender, class, etc.) It is unhelpful to have an essentialist attitude about these things and put one form of injustice over another, since we live in a world where these are inevitably intertwined. See intersection theory.

  27. jeana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t say you wrote that. I was just making a comment.

  28. alixana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I think that it’s a common pattern for any privileged group to try to control the anger of an unprivileged group. Therefore, women will be scolded by men for being angry, POC will be scolded by white people for being angry, etc. Sharkfu’s experiences are a prime example of intersectionality – as both a woman and a POC, her anger is considered suspect and unwarranted and something that needs to be minimized, and she faces it from multiple fronts – from white women and white men, from black men, etc.

  29. PDXHopeful
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Also, you’ll notice that certain subjects are (more) OK for people in an unprivileged group to be angry about.
    A woman angry about an injustice to her children is simply a good mother; one angry about an injustice to herself is a troublemaker. A poor person whose anger at the state of their neighborhood prompts them to start a moderate sort of local organization is fine; one who attempts to address the deeper systemic reasons behind poverty in their area gets accused of ‘wanting a handout’ or if they’re also a POC ‘playing the race card’.

  30. cattrack2
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    “Also, IMO, a police officer that’s supposedly a trainer on racial profiling should be able to resist the urge to racially profile…”
    There’s an important distinction that gets lost by everyone in the debate. I’d wager that all racist cops are probably abusive, but all abusive cops are certainly not racist. Some cops simply need an attitude adjustment. Haven’t any white people on this site been abused by white cops? Or POC people abused by POC cops? Here’s an example in case you need one:
    My father’s a retired cop & I’ve had enough experiences with his friends & more generally that I’ve learned its at least as important to consider the cop’s ego as it is to consider racism. Hell my father’s extremely level headed & I’ve even seen him to do some injudicious things just because he could. Ben Franklin was right…power corrupts…

  31. cattrack2
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I think the lesson is, “Think before you speak.” Its easy to get caught up in a war of wills with a a-hole cop, or some random racist for that matter, but I think its worthwhile weighing the benefit against the cost of being inconvenienced, fired or arrested. I say this as someone who’s faced all of these repercussions for speaking up. Spending the night in a Chicago holding cell for asking a cop his badge number is over rated!
    Rosa Parks is a great example in this regard. She didn’t just get tired one day & decide to sit in the front of the bus. She sat there as part of a long term, strategic plan by civil rights protesters.

  32. jeana
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s more than just anger that POC aren’t really allowed or encouraged to express. When Obama was elected, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t contain myself. But the black females at my work weren’t dancing and joyful like I was. They actually said nothing. Just smiled. I asked them why they weren’t celebrating, and they said they would and did. But they weren’t expressing the joy that I knew they had. I think they had to be careful not to appear TOO happy because that could have potential negative ramifications in a workplace that’s conservative. I have a picture of Obama in my office, but none of them do (at least not visibly). It’s very strange and sad.

  33. wickedwench
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I did not say POC did not have a right to be angry. I did not say to “swallow your rage.”
    I didn’t say the historical (and current) oppression of POC doesn’t exist.
    Nothing of the sort.
    Your responses don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I see a whole lot of assumptions, including that you think I’m white.
    If you think that the Gates case was ENTIRELY racially motivated, then of course I can see why you are angry.
    This is where we differ. I don’t think that’s the beginning and end of the story. Which is why I pointed out the class issue. I think this story is more complex.
    I’ve seen many a commentator apologizing for Gates’ behavior, saying that he was probably “tired” or “irritable” after a long trip from China.
    I don’t see many people on this thread questioning Gates’ actions (or what he said) at all. I believe that had it been a white professor who said those things, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of sympathy for the guy. I think the discussion would trend toward, “wow, that guy sounds like a pompous jerk.”
    It seems disingenuous to me to leave Gates’ classist comments out of this discussion.

  34. FeministLookingGlass
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Shark-fu…thank you. The Gates thing has been discussed in the media ad nauseum– but the angle you took here regarding the privilege of anger really gets at the heart of the issue for me.

  35. Kathleen6674
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Yep. This particular issue intersects with disability for me, because I have bipolar disorder. My father (who is also sexist and racist as all-get-out) assumes that when I get angry or even mildly disgruntled, I must not have taken my medication that morning. If I say I have, which is always, I get, “You need to call the doctor to get more.”
    Needless to say, my dad is one of the most abusive people I’ve ever met. If the air from the fan blows on him a little too softly for his liking, he flies off the handle. If I have justified anger at some shitty sexist thing he says, I get the “Shut up, you’re crazy!” response and/or one of the following standard-issue female silencing ones, to which my big “Fuck you” reads as follows:
    When I’m angry, I’m NOT cute, blowing things out of proportion, neurotic, overemotional, hysterical, on the rag, or lacking a sense of humor. I’m PISSED OFF for a good reason, and have just as much a right to my anger as anyone else. If that makes me a bitch, DAMN STRAIGHT I’m a bitch.

  36. Kathleen6674
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I HATE when Rosa’s story is mistold as something she did just because she was tired, as if she were unaware of the racism behind Jim Crow laws and oblivious to the Civil Rights movement of which she was part.
    That particular interpretation is so thoroughly fucking racist and sexist – people assume a black woman can’t pick up on her own oppression or respond to it on a conscious level. It’s like people want to make sure the badass anti-racist black woman looks both clueless (like black people are supposed to be) and forever meek and compliant (like women are supposed to be unless they’re REALLLY REAAALLY tired).

  37. LalaReina
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Marvelous post Shark-fu so well said and encompassing the headspinning madness a lot of us feel over this craziness. I can’t tell you how as a latina I get weary of being expected to use being disrespected as a “teaching opportunity”. I not on this earth to teach someone how to treat me as a human being. And I don’t always feel like being the “bigger person”. And god forbid I have a bad day.

  38. Gular
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. Really, really fantastic.

  39. akibare
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    PDXHopeful notes that “…one who attempts to address the deeper systemic reasons behind poverty in their area gets accused of ‘wanting a handout’ or if they’re also a POC ‘playing the race card’.”
    This is what’s struck me the most about general internet commentary on the incident, actually (as separate from the incident itself or “official” media coverage of it).
    Among the people who are blaming Gates for his own situation, there are certainly a large number of general “you should always give deference to the police in all situations, authority is always good” types, but more than that, I find a lot of commentary to be VERY focused on the idea that Gates deserved what he got not just for being generally angry, or combative, or even showing contempt for the police, but rather specifically because HE PLAYED THE RACE CARD.
    It’s the ultimate sin, really.
    The officer knew who Gates was, once the ID was shown, but he had to do something (in the view of these commenters) because dammit, Gates PLAYED THE RACE CARD. Gates needs to be knocked down a peg or two, and how DARE he insinuate that the cop might be racist? Being accused of racism, even in the heat of someone’s anger, is truly the worst injury, isn’t it?
    It’s all quite depressing, and I’m only a very outside observer.

  40. WIDave
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Please allow me to set a few facts straight here. Gates was not arrested for talking back, breaking into his own home, being black, being rich, or being angry. He was arrested for disorderly conduct.
    I wanted to understand this myself, so I read the police report and asked a lawyer at my workplace about the legal angle of the arrest. He told me that a person can be arrested for disorderly conduct by yelling and making a scene on their front porch just like a person can be arrested for the same offense by playing their stereo too loudly.

  41. denelian
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    i have a funny, yet *infuriating* story, that follows the basic idea of this post (which i am reading as: get mad – cops and firemen and security and hospitals staffs are there to work for *YOU* – don’t let them give you an shit, period. stand up for yourself. even to a cop) its kinda long, so i understand if people dont want to read it lol…
    last year, i had surgery on my hip. when i was discharged from the hospital (sent to a rehab hospital) i told the nurses and the floor doctor that the incision looked red and swollen to me (more than it had before) and that i was running a fever or 100.3 i got patted on the head and sent to the rehab.
    in the rehab 4 weeks. took me *3* to get anyone to look at my damned leg. “yep, infection – lets get you some Bactrin”. “I can’t take Bactrin”. “well, Bactrin’s what we got. it’s Bactrin or nothing.”
    i went to the supervisor (please note: the person i was talking to? was the *ONLY* person who worked there that was *EVER* rude or mean or dismissive in *ANY* way) told the supervisor about confirmed infection, and before i even got to the “nurse is saying Bactrin or NOTHING”, the supervisor was calling for a script for a *NON* sulfa drug. because everyone (includung the bitchy “BACTRIN OR ELSE” nurse) knew i had porphyria, so no sulfa anything for me.
    anyway, i was on anti-biotics for weeks. and the incision kept swelling, getting bigger, giant hemotoma under it – the scar runs from near the front top of my thigh to approx. where the scar is from my appendix. i started making jokes about having an alien fetus.
    *FINALLY*, 6 weeks after i first said i had an infection, the surgeon says “wow, really nasty, you need to go to the ER. and i am really sorry i doubted you. i was wrong” (no, i am not lying. he REALLY DID ADMIT HE WAS WRONG. *I* admit that i thought i was dead for a second…)
    get to ER. thing really is really fucking HUGE. surgeon had taken samples already, and the lab result (preliminary, anywhoo) beat us there and suggest i have MRSA. i had just had *MAJOR* bone surgery on my hip – i wasn’t just not allowed to put weight on it, i wasn’t allowed to *sit up* for more than 30 minutes at a time.
    sat in the waiting room for over 4 hours. in that time, 11 people came in with various colds – most of these left before i was taken back (i assume urgent care). sprained ankle showed up after id been waiting 2 hours. taken back immedietly. colicky baby, after 3 hours, taken back immediately. broken finger, sliver of glass, stomach flu – most of these are things that, in a country with SANE healthcare, would be handled by a doc, not an ER (and please note, we got to the ER at 11am on a tuesday – docs *were* open)
    my dad finally got pissed at 4 hours, because i had been hyperventalating from the pain for over an hour and said he didn’t care how they did it they had to get me onto a gurney *NOW*. they wheeled on out into the waiting room
    when i did finally get into the back (into ICU even o-O) i asked why i had to sit out there for over 4 hours in extreme pain with possible MRSA that i could be spreading to everyone who isn’t taking precautions.
    know what the nurse said? (bet you can guess)
    she said “we aren’t racist, we don’t like having to commit racial profiling – but you’re white, the chances of you causing a *BIG* issue are almost nil – every single person who :skipped: ahead of you was either black or hispanic, and we’ve been having a lot of trouble wtih both groups causing problems if they sit in the waiting room. you’re white, you shouldn’t cause any problems”.
    to which i replied “I AM NOT WHITE!”
    i always, *ALWAYS* list myself as Native American. i am 5/8th Native (more, if you count the ancstors who were adopted into tribe, or who married a person and got that person adopted into the tribe… Sam Houstan, for instance, was considered 100% Cherokee, and i am decended from one of his wives Tiana) the ONLY reason people don’t automatically think i am cherokee is because i have porphyria, and it leeches the melanin from your skin.
    Nurse freaked out and left the little cubby-hole. she never came back. i was given a better nurse and a person from admiistration to take my complaint about her racism.

  42. jeana
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    They didn’t treat you in a timely manner because they didn’t want others to get upset? That is ridiculous. Shouldn’t the worst-off people be treated first? People are morons. I guess it would have been ok if you had died. Then you really wouldn’t have put up a stink (being dead and all).

  43. reverie
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Why do you believe that Gates is the one with class privilege here? I think police officers have class power, namely the deference, right to use force, and ability to arrest that they receive as a result of their occupation. That privilege clearly won out on the scene, as Gates was taken into custody against his will.
    In the aftermath, Gates did benefit from class privilege – being a friend of the president and professor at an Ivy League school allowed him to bring attention to the abuse of police power he suffered and the general abuses of police power POC have to deal with on a daily basis. I think that is a positive use of his class status – do you disagree?

  44. alixana
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    As far as your “facts” – would a white person have been arrested for disorderly conduct for the same behavior? Would the cop have refused to give a white homeowner his name and badge number? Would the cop have viewed the white person’s anger at being suspected of breaking into his own home as warranted and understandable? A cop does not arrest every single person who breaks the law – they exhibit discretion about which actions to make an arrest for, especially with such broad charges as “disorderly conduct.”

  45. denelian
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    i know…
    i mean, the racism all around was baffling – and the *overtness* of the racism – “we’re going to ignore you and not treat you, because the POC will throw a fit and destroy stuff if they have to wait”
    the *fuck*?! i can’t imagine *anyone* getting mad and destroying stuff for normal waits – i read it is “we discovered that if we IGNORE POC then they get mad and do things. but we can’t be intelligent and just treat everyone the same, oh NO! the problem isn’t that we were discriminating against POC.” they were. they have been sued numerous times *recently* for ignoring POC in various life-threatening situations (the worse, i think, is the black janitor who works *in that ER*. he had a heart attack while working a couple years ago – and NO ONE WOULD TREAT HIM – they said shit like “we thought he was faking so he didn’t have to work”. even though the guy had worked there over 20 years and was well known as a good, hard worker – the *ONE TIME* he “slacks”, ever, because he’s having a heart attack, everyone working in the ER just decides that *NOW* he’s a bad worker? just *RAGE*)

  46. WIDave
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    “… would a white person have been arrested for disorderly conduct for the same behavior?”
    From a legal standpoint, I don’t see why not.
    “Would the cop have refused to give a white homeowner his name and badge number?”
    Gates and Crowley differ on whether name and badge number was given, so I really can’t comment on that point.
    “Would the cop have viewed the white person’s anger at being suspected of breaking into his own home as warranted and understandable?”
    What makes one person’s anger different from another person’s anger is the way they present themselves.
    Because this is a “he said/he said” situation, there are three sides to this story: Gates’ side, Crowley’s side, and the truth. I have yet to see any proof that the truth is closer to either one of their stories. Plenty of speculation, but no proof.
    As the law was explained to me, Gates put himself in a situation where he was committing disorderly conduct. This grants Crowley the ability to place Gates under arrest. I fail to see how this makes Crowley a racist. Gates is responsible for his own actions.

  47. Leslie
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I agree that the comment Professor Gates made was classist.
    I also agree that the cop involved was being ridiculous to say the least and that if the Prof. had been white it most likely would have been an entirely different story.
    I’m wondering if the professor was responding to the assumption the cop seemed to be making that because he’s black he is more likely an intruder than the homeowner… “Do you know who I am?” as in I’m not only NOT the criminal you think I am but I’m VERY well connected.. I don’t know obviously but it’s just a thought.
    I would have wanted to rub it in that arrogant cops face that I knew the the Prez as well. I also would have LOVED to see the look on his face when he realized just WHO Prof. Gates was.. :)
    Racial profiling needs to be done away with and someone needs to tell the cops (especially the white male ones) that being a cop is more than wearing a shiny badge and toting a gun… It SHOULD require use of common sense as well.

  48. Leah
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you! This post really made me reconsider my stance on the Gates issue.
    Check out my response at Jewesses With Attitude,

  49. katicabogar
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    hey, angryblackbitch…
    i am hungarian, i am white, i am female, i am middle-class, and educated.
    and still, i have come into these very same situations.
    my classmates harassed me, because i had toothbraces and eyeglasses.
    shop security guards follow me allover, because they think, that i want to steal something.
    and if i step up on my beliefs, get angry over malechauvinism and mysogyny, speak out loud, i will be called “frustrated, frigid bitch”.
    and i have tried the same: holding back my anger, not step up against assholes, not yelling. it doesn’t get us forward.
    so yell, step up, do whatever pleases you, and do not please their shame-blaming techniques, because then they won.
    here in hungary, 5 policemen gangbanged a girl, for “not having identification documents”… who was white, middleclass, etc. for not behaving as an inferior citizenship agaist the policemen. after the assault, she reported the case to the police, and wonder what happened? countrywide shame operation against the girl, including elimination of evidence, false investigations, and now the girl is sitting on the guilty party for “falsely accusing the policemen for rape”, as the case was dropped against the kind gentlemen for “lack of crime”… thanks, hungary, 2009.

  50. ignatzh
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    Here’s a few more elements to this story, which has been a wonderful opportunity for the corporate media to remain distracted or disinterested in the stories that should have massive coverage – including the massive failure of the Dems, despite their majority and mandate, to do something about a number of very important issues that deal with class disparity. Health, unemployment, etc.
    1. Gates is a rich, privileged, two-house owning reified Ivy League asshole. He’s arrogant and clueless in a way that only someone in his position could afford to be. There is a time to know better than to escalate a situation, but this would be the reaction of a man with more dignity and street smarts then Gates will ever have. There is a time to shut the fuck up. This is not a man who’s been kicked around his whole life, leading him, in the presence of not only the white cop (who it should be said happens also to be an arrogant asshole for different but equally stupid reasons), but in the presence of a Hispanic and a black one as well, to get into the cops face and start claiming that the cops were acting out of racism. There is a time to call attention to passers by when confronted by the police, but that should be reserved for when you’re about to receive a beating, or you’re about to be hauled off and killed. Not for a situation like this. Both parties behaved stupidly, and either or both should see the damage they’re causing by allowing the corporate whores in the media to use this incident for their own ends.
    2. It pains me to see Obama behaving in such an un-leader-like fashion. A real leader knows when to calm people down and de-escalate a situation, and this was one such case. I’m starting to suspect that he’s a lot more stupid than he looks, or that we’ve been led to believe. All great leaders, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King included, knew when to bring on the heavy rhetoric and when to go about calming the waters in order to foster meaningful discussion. To do so is to be an effective leader. Sadly, in this country, stupid, emotional reactions make news…and being an effective leader gets you killed. If this supposition is correct, Gates is perfectly safe.

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