Dr Boyce Watkins: Henry Louis Gates and His “Teachable Moment”

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested last week on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Boyce Watkins
Professor, Syracuse University

I’d hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are infected with a disease. The disease that has infected you is called racism. The disease is a silent killer, not of our bodies, but of our society. It also deteriorates the brain and makes us delusional, as we sometimes see things that are not really there or refuse to see things that are actually right in front of us. What’s worse is that we know the disease is in the fabric of our institutions, but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location. This leads to sloppy missteps, embarrassments and damaging accusations.

Henry Louis Gates, the Prominent Harvard University Professor who was arrested this week at his home by Cambridge Police Officer James Crawley, may have been a victim of the disease of racism. Even he has gotten to the point of stating that this story is no longer about race and his buddy, President Obama, has been back-peddling faster than a free safety in the NFL. In the midst of letting go of his allegations of racism against Sgt. Crawley (which I thought was a very good idea) Professor Gates has stated that we should use this situation as a “teaching moment.” It is also my hope that Dr. Gates understands that the first step toward being a good professor is to learn how to be a good student. As a professor myself, I am hopeful that he will allow me to teach the first class.


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Published in: on July 25, 2009 at 4:29 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. We certainly do have a long weary road ahead. But for crying out loud, look how far we’ve come! The slave fortresses are closed, at least those that sent Africans to the USA. It’s been a long long time since the KKK strung someone up in Ol’ Mississippi. I wonder how many public transit commuters had civil conversations across racial lines this week? Not a very headline-grabbing story, I will admit. But it’s beautiful anyway. With those thoughts in mind, I’d like to share this:

    One of the many lessons to have come from this debacle
    Is that blacks have work ahead – work that they must tackle.

    Someday, to achieve equality we must see that it’s arrived,
    But it won’t happen all at once, it’s not so cut-and-dried.

    It’s not just whites that oppress blacks, that is a crude delusion
    Because on his porch in the first moment Gates leapt to a conclusion.

    I suppose it was inevitable since he dwells upon what is WRONG.
    Yet this is only half the truth which sadly will prolong

    The injustice and the hate and the fear that he despises.
    By researching what is going RIGHT he may be in for some surprises.

    Many whites work long and hard to see folks as human beings.
    Despite social conditioning many whites have been freeing

    Their minds and hearts to see all folks as folks, just as they were born.
    Blacks should pause to think of this before they stomp and storm.

    Give the white folks a chance, that’s all that I am saying
    Before you hoot and holler and commence to braying.

    I’d love to see the doctor do a show on PBS
    That probes these issues and the work ahead, and yet

    The glass really is half full, many things are going RIGHT.
    It’s just not as good a story as an ugly fight.

    Hopefully the doctor can find a way to also tell
    At least some stories of success, overcoming racial hell.

    Newbis Pertusus (Piercing the Clouds), Pennsylvania

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