My friend Erik Fleming has an interesting take on the controversy swirling regarding the arrest of Professor Gates.
I think some of the talk about whether Sgt. Crowley was racist in his actions has been imprecise. "Race prejudice" is a term that covers a broad array of beliefs, gut feelings, and actions. Those who harbor the belief that non-whites are inferior are obviously prejudiced.
But there are far more nuanced and complex interactions of the mind and heart that also fit the definition of race prejudice. "Prejudice" -- to me at least -- means a state of mind in which one assigns meaning to a factual scenario in order to avoid logical processing of those facts. It's not always a bad thing. Every morning, I walk through the bedroom doorway, because I take for granted that the open space I see with my eyes means that it is safe for me to walk through. If I had to stop and take empirical bearings every morning, I would get to the office even later than I do now.
When I'm in my car, stopped at an intersection, and see a man in a business suit, I look to see if I recognize him. If I see an African-American man in baggy pants and wearing a baseball cap sideways, I look to see if my door is locked.
Prejudice or protective instinct? The line isn't so easy to draw.
I would like to think that if I was throwing my body against the door of my house in Belhaven, and the police came by, the first thing they would do is ask, "DO you belong here? Show your ID."
Maybe Sgt. Crowley did that. If so, it isn't what Professor Gates heard. He heard, "You DON'T belong here. Show your ID."
Was Sgt. Crowley acting on the basis of his prejudice? Was Professor Gates? Perhaps they both were: the Sergeant on the basis of his years of experience dealing with street level crime, and the Professor on the basis of our years of experience with racially prejudiced treatment of minorities by our law enforcement and criminal justice system.
I understand that Kamikaze is going to be discussing this issue this Sunday at 2 pm on Mississippi Public Radio. Let's talk.