So, the whole situation with Henry Louis Gates Jr. keeps perking on. I find this story a very sad one indeed. I have no doubt that there is an element of racial profiling at work--the policeman in question says that Professor Gates was unruly, but would he have thought a past middle-aged white man to be unruly if he were upset, standing on his own front porch?
In all the hullabaloo this story has generated, there is a missing piece. I have heard nothing about the anonymous neighbor who made the 911 call, saying that two BLACK men were trying to break into a nearby house.
For me, the real crux in this story is how well connected was this neighborhood that Professor Gates lived in? Did the person who made the call not know what the professor looked like? Did that person (reported to be a white woman) not know what her neighbor looked like?
Maybe I am too spoiled by my neighborhood--I know most everyone in this neighborhood. Even if I don't know their names, I know their dogs' names, their children's names. True--I might refer to the house as the place where two dogs live, or where the crazy poodle lives. But I know who lives where.
I know when people are away--not because they tell me, but because there is no activity around this house. Maybe the fact that I go for several walks a day with my dog helps.
But, I keep thinking about the professor Gates' story. How long has he lived in that part of Cambridge. Reportedly the woman who called 911 also works for Harvard. Is she so unaware that she doesn't know what a world famous scholar looks like? I have never met Professor Gates, but I know what he looks like.
In many ways, beyond the comment of what this story might say about the built-in set of assumptions almost all of us carry around about someone whose race differs from our own, there is a sad loss of community as a concept.
I appreciate that the woman made the call--it is reported that Professor Gates' house had been broken into earlier, so perhaps she was hyper-aware. But the story still speaks to a loss of community.
Maybe I should confess that I am curious (some people might say nosy) about the on-going lives in my community. I don't mean that I want the low-down and dirty on my neighbors. I just want all to be well in my small corner of the world. If a newspaper sits outside for too long, or if a trash can is not moved from the curb up to the house, I will place the newspaper on the front step or move the trash can to the garage side.
And when I see people I do not recognize in our neighborhood, I try to be cordial. We live in a very small community bounded on the east and the west by large apartment complexes. Our streets make for convenient cut-through between these points. So I frequently see young people, usually young men --some of whom are black, walking through. If I am doing something outside, I make it a point to say--Hi. I don't assume they are up to something bad.
That's the missing piece for me. Where is the sense of community in the Louis Gates' story?
Let's hope that this current news story doesn't spill over into something more toxic.