Misdirected Outrage

I was going to preface this with a note about being “off-topic”, but race and class are not single-issues for black people. To be black, woman, and vegan is to be marginalized triple fold. We don’t have that luxury (see here), and since this is our blog, we get to post whatever we want to.

Now that Skip Gates is resting comfortably in Martha’s Vineyard (Picture that shit: Where can an urban black man go to recover from such a trauma?), charges having been dropped, I’m going to express my outrage at his presumption that he knows what it is to be a “black man in America”, based on this one experience.  Professor Gates has not been THAT “black man in America” for over 20 years.  Sure, he’s been documenting race and class in America, but his education has bestowed upon him a level of privilege that he has wholeheartedly embraced, effectively removing him from this particular category of “black man”.

So, while I am a product of a semi-bourgie upbringing – blurring the lines between uppity Negro/Oreo and  “down sista”, enjoying the privilege of middle class and quality education alongside the duality and complexity of blackness, (see here, and here) and apologizing for none of it, I have no sympathy for Professor Gates’ ordeal at having been reminded of his blackness in this country and abroad. (Or Oprah Winfrey, for that matter: see here).

I find it amusing that black people should take this kind of injustice seriously.

What I would like to know is:

Why isn’t he outraged at the NEIGHBOR who called po-po on him in the first place?

Git dat bitch!

Ahem, um…You’ve been living there for TEN years and your neighbors don’t know you? This “neighbor” could see that “two black men with backpacks” were attempting to break in to a home, but she couldn’t see that one of them was indeed the owner in residence? She didn’t notice the car that belonged to the car service? She didn’t notice the uniform the cab driver was wearing? And when the cops showed up, and Professor Gates answered the door, where was she to say, “Oh, that’s my neighbor. He lives there.”?

(Interesting how no one was present at the event which caused his door to jam.)

If I called the police on suspicious activity going on at a neighbor’s house, you’d best believe I’d be outside when they arrived to make sure my neighbors and their house was OK. I wouldn’t put it on blast that I was the one who made the call, but I’d be outside looking like Nosy Nellie trying to get info.

Why is no one mad at that chick?

The problem I am having with this is not the police officer’s response – I don’t agree with his behavior, but I understand and will get to that later – but with the reaction of Professor Gates and the community at-large.

‘Cuz bourgie Negroes like to think that higher education, white-collar jobs, and suburban living is akin to a spiritual experience that allows them to transcend race. They seem to think that racial profiling doesn’t – and should not – happen to well-dressed, well-spoken (cringe) and poised black people.

What does a white man call a black person with a PhD.?

(Ask Bill Cosby.)

And if Professor Gates is so clear on what it means to be a black man in America, and knew to keep his ass in his house as he went for his wallet, why did he then follow the cop outside to continue to question him? Why didn’t he close his door and immediately find the number to the precinct and lodge a complaint?

Why did he – educated privileged black man and all, feel the need to “jump bad” with po-po?

Every time I hear of someone exclaiming, chest all puffed out no doubt, “Do you know who I am?” or “I will have your job”, my imagination swells with the hope of a little Divine Intervention to straighten out that kind of audacity.

I imagine the police officer, upon hearing those words, feeling condescended to, and thinking, OK, Mr. Harvard Professor, you want to tell  me who you are? No problem.  I got a trick for dat ass.

Ahem…Excuse me. This is as much about class as it is about race. Police Officer – working class. Harvard Professor – upper class.

I do not condone the officer’s behavior.

But, who are we mad at?

Did we think having a black-identified President would change things?

Did anyone think that they would wake up on January 21st to find that all forms of racism magically disappeared?



What I would like to know is:

Why do black people continue to expect all white people to accept black progress?

Why do we support businesses who do not make investments in our communities?

Why do we continue to support misogynistic, self-hating music?

Why do we support businesses who have historically denied us full access and publicly announce their dislike of us?

Why do we insist on moving to predominately white suburbs, instead of holding each other accountable to create communities that support a positive, life-affirming experience for black people?

I’m not saying that black people do not have the right to move where they want to and work towards a quality of life of their design, BUT, if you’re going to put yourself in that kind of environment, you’d better be willing to handle the consequences.

No one owes black people anything.

Black people have been here long enough that they should own everything they need, instead of waiting for white folks to apologize and hand out reparations.

Black people keep asking, and white folks keep showing us the door.

The back door.

There are black people in this country with enough money to pool their resources and buy their own zip codes.

Be outraged that predominately black schools are graduating students that can barely read.

Be outraged that predominately black neighborhoods, even affluent ones, do not have access to fresh, quality produce.

Be outraged at BET.

Be outraged that black people continue to perpetuate a slave mentality around their sexual health.

Be outraged that black people are more likely to die at the hands of another black person than by a police officer.

Be outraged at the loss of black-owned farms.

Be outraged that the money black people make does not stay in their communities.

Be outraged that Koreans dominate ownership in the black haircare market.

Be outraged that  black men do not think they should wear their pants at the waist.

Be outraged at the housing scams causing elderly black people to lose their homes.

Be outraged at all black people losing their homes to mortgage scams.

Be outraged that it is easier for a non-resident immigrant to open a business in a predominately black neighborhood before a black person who lives there can.

Be outraged that black people are dying every day from diseases that can be prevented through adequate nutrition and exercise.

Be outraged that black people collectively do-nothing, but complain when someone from the “outside” comes in and sets up.

Be outraged that black people do not share information that can help other black people before they “get theirs”.

Be outraged, and do something about it.

As long as middle and upper class black folk continue to defer race and class injustice to their undereducated and “classless” cousins, I will have no sympathy for the “injustices” inflicted upon them.

0 thoughts on “Misdirected Outrage

  1. I <3 you for this post! Especially this part- Black people have been here long enough that they should own everything they need, instead of waiting for white folks to apologize and hand out reparations.

    Black people keep asking, and white folks keep showing us the door.

    I’ve been saying for the longest that we as a people should have our own resources so we can build a community for ourselves & our children, instead of looking to others to provide us w/our fundamentals.

  2. You make some interesting points. But you miss these two:

    1) Professor Gates did make a statement to the effect of: “I’ve been writing about this stuff for years but it is one thing to experience it.” Point being, he did acknowledge that he has been in a position of privilege and therefore, mostly shielded from such blatant racism. Another subpoint also is: just because someone is a “privileged” black person ( and let’s not forget, must have worked very hard to attain such “position”), that does not mean such person is “exempt” from racism and its deleterious effects. Professor Gates, priviledged or not, is still a human being. And one that seems to have been mistreated (because of his skin color), and thus justly, should be outraged. Whether he is in a position where his outrage is heard by the national media, and perhaps mine wouldn’t, does not matter to me. As a human being, I can imagine the trauma of being asked to justify one’s presence in one’s home.

    You make much of the neighbor’s actions of calling the police and seems to think that Professor Gates should go after the neighbor rather than the police. Two points about this:

    a) The neighbor is a private citizen and thus is free to discriminate (that is the law). However, the police, as agents of the state (based on the 13th and 14th amendments) are not free to discriminate (particularly not on the basis of race).

    b) Also, since there had been several break-ins in that neighborhood, it is perhaps the case that the neighbor was just nervous and not motivated by racial animus. Perhaps. The ultimate responsiblity was on the police to properly ascertain what the situation was.

    c) Both Professor Gates’ account and the police officer’s accounts agree that Gates did show two pieces of identification (his driver’s license and a Harvard ID card). Gates’ driver’s license had both his photo and his home address.

    I think it is important for the healing/unity of the black community as whole (African-Americans, Africans, the Carribean diaspora) to stand united in outrage any time there is a visible case of racism. While I understand that the poor and unprivileged might encounter racism (and classicism) on a more frequent basis than “privileged” members of minority groups, that should not take away from the fact that, “any” kind of racism is bad and that we, the community, as a whole, should denounce it when we can.

    P.S.: Reading this post struck a chord with me, particularly, because I had just been reading in Essence magazine about how (as a result of slavery, and socilaization in the American “zero-sum” game society) many African-Americans tend to view each other as competitors rather than collaborators. This leads to people in the black community making much ado about their differences (whether “bourgie” or “ghetto”, whether straight or gay, whether vegan or not), rather than focusing on the one most important obstacle in their collective success: racism.

    Here is President Obama’s response to the Gates incident: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23race.html?hp

    Note that just a few weeks before, President Obama had delivered a speech admonishing African-Americans to take personal responsiblity for their future and not to make excuses for themselves (a speech that was almost in the same vein as some of the points the contributor makes on this post). However, Obama was still quick to show his outrage for the arrest of Professor Gates when questioned about it on national television. Now, some might just dismiss that as elitism/cronyism (Obama attended Harvard where Gates currently teaches and he did admit that he and Gates are friends), but I choose to see it as solidarity. United, we stand, divided, we fall.

  3. Keeping in mind that much gets lost when attempting to communicate over the Internet, I wish to first say that I appreciate and welcome all comments, regardless of which “side” or “position” a commenter takes.

    I am not discounting the validity of anyone’s outrage over injustice.

    What I would like to point out is the lack of “solidarity” with regard to this issue and others that disproportionately affect black USAmericans of low-income and urban backgrounds within the discourse of black racial politics. Professor Gates’ acknowledgment of his privilege and protection from blatant racism proves this, as it has only occurred to him through this incident, to focus on the relationship with black men and the criminal justice system in this country.

    Just now?

    After 20 years of research, scholarship, interviews, travels, etc, this has never come up?

    This has never been of interest until now?


    He’s from West Virginia!

    Again, I have no sympathy for Professor Gates simply because this issue continues to be dismissed as having something to do with the way a black person dresses or speaks, and/or being of a lower socioeconomic class, and less to do with simply being black.

    There has been no solidarity on this issue because it has been suggested that if one simply “pulls their pants up” and/or modifies their behavior, this wouldn’t happen to them.

    Why did this have to happen to a “prominent” black person before it received national attention? The suggestion that his experience receiving media attention over yours does not matter is interesting.

    While it may not be the media’s responsibility to report every single incidence of racism and unprofessionalism, the fact that this happens to countless black men across the country is enough to have been a mainstream media focus long before July 16th.

    I too would appreciate a neighbor looking out for me, but I find it strange that there is not one account of a neighbor coming to Professor Gates’ aid.

    Was there NO ONE home at any time during this incident?

    Was there NO ONE at any time during this incident that could have went up to an officer and inquire about what was going on?

    Nevermind if the police would have denied the neighbor the right to that information, I just find it curious and strange that there was no neighborly intervention.

    You’re absolutely right, we are more competitors than collaborators.

    But what, exactly, are black people supposed to unify around and for when we can’t even address how class and privilege separate us more profoundly than our experiences with systemic racism?

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