A predominately white segment of America sees the incident as further evidence that the country is becoming a post-racial society. Many blacks disagree.
Thursday night, President Obama will welcome Henry Louis Gates Jr. and James Crowley to the White House in what he hopes will be a "teachable moment" on race in America.
Yet for many Americans – and especially segments of white America – the primary lesson of Professor Gates's July 16 arrest is that race never was a real issue in the case.
The arresting police sergeant accused of being a racist – Crowley – taught racial profiling awareness courses, it turned out. The woman who made the 911 call to report what she thought might be a break-in didn't say anything about Gates being African-American.
A movement is afoot to move the nation beyond race, and it has found voice in the Gates incident, where Gates's allegation that he was disrespected and eventually arrested by Crowley only because he is black has yet to find firm corroborating evidence.
But it is also taking form in a surge in reverse-discrimination lawsuits – like the one recently before the US Supreme Court – that seek to wipe away what critics say are the consequences of affirmative action: jobs where "no whites need apply."
To many blacks, the idea that America is "post-racial" is ludicrous. They note how subtly the phrase "two black men" found its way into Crowley's police report.
But the character of the national debate about Gates and Crowley hints at a shift in America's conversation on race.
"We've reached a point where white males are saying, 'We've done all that we need to do in terms of treating black people with kid gloves and giving them deference. Now let's do what's right regardless of race,' " says Ward Connerly, director of the American Civil Rights Institute, who is black.