Zero Sum
How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress. — Neils Bohr
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Posted Jan 1st, 2011 by ravi    / Permalink /

When Henry Louis Gates Jr. told Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge police, “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” he was speaking truth to power, albeit in a manner more akin to arrogance than erudition. The big shock here, according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson, is not that a Harvard professor misused the subjective case (“who” for “whom”) and inelegantly ended a sentence with a preposition; it is, rather, that Gates belongs to an elite enclave beyond the sergeant’s experience or imagination.

Thus starts an entirely positive review of Eugene Robinson’s The Splintering of Black America by Raymond Arsenault in the New York Times. Arsenault approvingly details Robinson’s thesis – as he puts it – that it no longer makes sense to talk monolithically of Black Americans but instead acknowledge and account for the disparate and at time competing claims of the groups that Black America has splintered into.

Without reading Robinson it is not possible to pass judgement on the strength of his claims, but Arsenault’s own reasoning is not well served by the anecdote he begins with. The Henry Louis Gates episode, if it demonstrates anything at all, is that however high a black American might rise, he is subject to the same old racism that stalks his less fortunate brethren.

Arsenault pays attention to Gates’s words in an attempt to show that Gates has risen far above a lowly police sergeant, even a white one. However, Gates’s words merely demonstrate the delusion he lived under (apparently shared by Arsenault and Robinson), while the policeman’s actions and ensuing false outrage forced the President (another black person whom Arsenault might claim has risen above black identity) to apologise for describing the police action in straightforward terms.


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