Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Gates-Gate Update

I've been astoundingly remiss in blogging these days and again the only excuse I can offer is that I've been frantically working towards the completion of my dissertation. What about the other FWF contributors, you say? I'm sure they're also equally busy with work and/or summer vacations. Rest assured, come Fall I'll be back in the full swing of things and (hopefully) blogging up a storm.

That said, as a sort of peace offering for my absence, here's a little update on racial politics in America vis-a-vis Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrest, or, as my parents and I like to call it, "Gates-Gate."

You've all probably heard--billions and billions of times on every form of media imaginable--about how President Obama referred to the police officer's decision to arrest Gates as "stupid"...and boy is he regretting his words. The President's choice of words has, somewhat inexplicably, become the hot topic this past week, prompting President Obama to offer an apology and invite the two men over for a beer, in a time-honored tradition of male bonding.

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Of course, putting aside for the moment that the President certainly has better things to do right now, a significant player in all this has been completely left out. Linda Whalen, the woman who called 911 and started the whole chain of events leading to Gates' arrest, has been seriously maligned by the media. After her 911 call was released, it became clear that Whalen never mentioned the race of the alleged burglars in her call nor is she the "privileged racist white neighbor" many bloggers made her out to be:
Tapes of the call released earlier this week revealed that Whalen, a first-generation Portuguese-American who doesn't live in the area, did not mention race. When pressed by a dispatcher on whether the men were white, black or Hispanic, she said one of them might have been Hispanic.

"Now that the tapes are out, I hope people can see that I tried to be careful and honest with my words," Whalen said. "It never occurred to me that the way I reported what I saw be analyzed by an entire nation."

Cambridge police Commissioner Robert Haas acknowledged that the police report contains a reference to race, but said the report is merely a summary of events. The arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, has said his information on the race of the suspects came during a brief encounter with Whalen outside Gates' house; she contradicted that Wednesday, saying she made no such description.

Has Whalen received an apology for her vilification by the media or been asked over to the White House for a beer? What do you think?

Update (Aug. 3): I just found out (thanks Lauren for the heads up) that Gates' did thank Whalen for her call to the police, offering her flowers in a "gesture of gratitude."

On another racist-icing-on-a-racist-cake note, a Boston PD officer sent a vehemently racist email in response to an article by a Boston Globe reporter calling Henry Louis Gates Jr. a "banana-eating jungle monkey" (several times) and insisting that the female author of the article was such a "fool" that she is only good for serving him his "coffee and donuts on a Sunday morning." You can read the full email here. While the officer in question has been suspended pending a hearing, some are arguing that his email falls under the auspices of free speech.

What do you think? Where does free speech end and hate speech begin?

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