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Gates, race, and 'driving while black'

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Does "Cambridge-Gate" tell us anything about the state of race relations in America? Or was the arrest of prestigious Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. just an isolated incident that's been blown out of proportion?

The dueling perspectives are revealing. President Obama originally said the Cambridge police acted stupidly. The officers – ironically, the lead one teaches a class about racial profiling – insist they followed protocol.

In "post-racial" America, discussing uncomfortable racial encounters, especially by law enforcement, can seem like whining or victimhood.

Unfortunately, our racial discourse too often dissolves into generalities, conflations, and misunderstanding.

The fact that the nation, including Obama, interrupted an urgent debate about healthcare reform to reflect on this particular arrest speaks volumes about how race continues to matter in our society. Just this afternoon, Obama told the press he had called Sgt. James Crowley (the arresting officer) to clarify his remarks and suggested he'd like to share a beer with him and Professor Gates at the White House.

Gates's story resonated with me – a black law and medical school professor – and I wish it had not, because it recalls my pain in similar encounters.


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