In Impromptus today, I have an item on the Henry Louis Gates business — specifically, the importance, or non-importance, of the races of the policemen who were present at the Gates home. I thought you might enjoy this letter from a reader:
You asked in your article whether we should be thinking about the race of cops at all, and, true, in a perfect world, we shouldn’t have to. Last weekend, I was pulled over by a motorcycle cop who happened to be black. I had made a U-turn in a place where it was permitted to make left turns into driveways, but not U-turns. The officer politely, but firmly, explained that my assumptions about what I had done were mistaken, and then handed me a citation. It was all very friendly, although I wish he had just given me a warning. Oh, well. But, his race, or mine (I happen to be a white American), had absolutely nothing to do with it. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
And the reader goes on, quite interestingly:
However, in other cases, it is helpful to be able to point out the rainbow of people present in the situation. In a former job as a technical trainer, I was once accused of sexism and racism by a student who happened to be an Asian-American woman. When she complained to my supervisor, she stated that I was racist, and especially prejudiced against Asians. My supervisor replied that she found this very interesting, as my wife is Asian. That ended the complaint.
In a perfect world, my wife’s ethnicity would not have had to be brought into the discussion, because I would not have been accused in the first place. As things turned out, it was a huge argument in my favor. In the case of Sergeant Crowley, yes, he should have been judged strictly by what he did. But the fact that witnesses were multiracial just made those witnesses more credible. Hopefully, we will someday reach a place in race relations where those kinds of references are unnecessary, but we aren’t there yet.
Okay, okay, but what if the letter-writer’s wife had not been Asian? (What luck that was!) That wouldn’t have made our friend any more sexist or racist. You know?
You can’t always depend on racial luck — an Asian wife, black and Hispanic officers on the scene, at Professor Gates’s home. Sometimes the facts have to matter as much as skin color (if you can imagine). (How un-American to suggest that something, anything, may be as important as — even more important than — skin color!)