Thursday, July 23, 2009

Prof. Gates, Men, and Anger

There are plenty of posts about Henry Louis Gates and his arrest and what it means and lots of information about the conflicting reports by Dr. Gates and the arresting officer. I'm not going to add to that. Others have analyzed this much better than I ever could.

I just want to do a quick hit on something I noticed over at Crooked Timber, which recently posted a statement by Brandon del Pozo (NYPD captain and Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at CUNY). The people in the comments are doing a good job pulling apart most of the potential problems with del Pozo's post (e.g., timeline issues, doesn't take Gates' account into consideration, etc.) What I'm not seeing (yet) is a reaction to this statement:

Around this time, the person begins to accuse the officer of racism, at first refusing to cooperate with the investigation. This makes the investigation more difficult, and might make the officer wonder if he is safe. To assume Gates isn’t the type of man to use violence when he is angry and using obscenities is to emasculate him, or patronize him, or to resort to stereotypes based on age, stature, type of employment, etc. Anyway, early on, the sergeant concludes this man is not a burglar, but reports that the man continues to be verbally belligerent.

Does nobody else have a problem with the implications here? Because I am reading this as saying that to NOT assume Gates would resort to violence and profanity when angry is to emasculate him, and that this is a Bad Thing. I might give him the benefit of a doubt; I mean, sure most people consider the term "emasculate" to be bad, but maybe he was just being descriptive? But the rest of what he wrote indicates otherwise. Patronizing? How? And by associating aggression with masculinity, isn't del Pozo resorting to some stereotypes of his own? Then saying it would be offensive (emasculating) to Dr. Gates if we don't fall back on this stereotype?

Am I missing something?

Also, in the interest of disclosure: When presented with conflicting accounts such as this, given by people we don't know, we almost have to resort to stereotypes in order to decide who to believe. We extrapolate from our personal experience, as we've interpreted it, to make "educated" guesses about this new experience.

So, I realize I am totally resorting to some stereotypes of my own here, but I believe Gates' account. He's an academic. But maybe that's less about stereotyping and more about ingroup bias.


Anonymous said...

I read the post and I think del Pozo was pretty clear about when he was relying on one account or another, and ackowledging the potential for discrepancies. And it seems to have been shown, in the lower comments and using written documents, that his basic timeline was plausible.

Gates has yet to make a written statement about what happened, whereas the police officer has filed a written statement with the court. I doubt we will ever get a clear written version of events from Gates to compare to the officer's.

About emasculation, I assume he was being somewhat figurative. To assume a man can hurt you because he's an angry old geezer Harvard professor is probably not only an imprudent decision for a cop to make, but also patronizing to the professor.

Finally, he makes some good points not about the legality Gates' actions, but the propriety of them. Looks like the man doesn't know how to properly treat people he looks down on.

Anomie said...

Anon- Here's Gates's statement.

Yeah, both versions of the events are plausible. I would imagine that neither are entirely true, and both acted improperly to an extent.

And yes, I think what you said regarding the patronizing comment makes much more sense, but that interpretation is not clear from del Pozo's statement. There's a big difference between assuming someone can't hurt you and assuming they aren't inclined to try. Del Pozo discusses the latter ("type of man to use violence"), and not in terms of prudency (it's in the best interest of the officer) so much as emasculation, patronizing, and stereotyping (it's offensive to Gates).

Anomie said...

And here's an interview Gates gave on the incident