Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Am Henry Louis Gates Jr.

By now I'm sure Baha'i Thought readers have heard about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If not you can read about this strange tale that has prompted commentary from even the President of the United States here. I will leave it to others to continue debating whether or not the incident represents racial profiling by the officer involved or playing the race card by an angry black man. What I'm thinking about is the class dimension of this incident, especially as a middle-class, Ivy League educated Black man. Usually when I hear stories of Black men having questionable interactions with the police they involve men from the urban or rural underclass. What these men and I share in skin color, we lack in socioeconomic status a distinction that shapes our experiences of the color-line differently. When I look at the photo of the arrest of Dr. Gates however, I see not only a Black man but a Black man who represents who I am and who I aspire to be. I see myself in that photo and am reminded that my class privilege does not guarantee dignified treatment. I believe it was the poet Audrey Lourde who said, "Your silence will not protect you." To paraphrase Lourde, the Gates incident suggests to privileged African Americans, "Your class will not protect you."

"Immeasurably exalted art Thou, O Lord! Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. Verily, Thy protection over all things is unfailing." The Bab