Racist remarks from African American Professor Gates… come on now… Obama and Governor Patrick defend him… the shock is drawn on my face. Racism against “whitey” has always been allowed.
Gates, an intellectual drawn back into the arena
By HILLEL ITALIE
AP National Writer
(AP) – Decades ago _ long before Harvard, long before his books and documentaries _ Henry Louis Gates Jr. and some friends nearly set off a brawl trying to integrate a West Virginia club.
Gates and the others were circled by a white mob. The owner screamed at the black students to leave, slamming one of them against the wall. The club was shut down, but Gates had been marked: West Virginia police, he would write in his memoir, placed him on a list of those who might be detained should race riots break out during election time.
“Someone in authority had decided I was dangerous?” he wrote. “I mean, I liked to think so.”
Gates rarely has been considered a dangerous man. Gregarious, outgoing, media savvy _ yes. But in the years after the incident in Keyser, W.Va., his unrelenting focus on black life in America was intellectual. He has written essays, compiled reference works, searched for slave narratives, produced documentaries, assembled a mighty team of colleagues at Harvard.
“He’s unquestionably one of the great public intellectuals. He puts people together, he makes a million speeches. He’s on airplanes a lot. I think he has 50 honorary degrees by now,” says David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, for which Gates has been a contributor.
Now a dispute with police has brought Gates down into the arena once again.
Reached Thursday by telephone, Gates told The Associated Press he had no further comments to make about the incident, in which he was suspected of breaking into a house _ his own _ and then charged with disorderly conduct when he raged at a police officer.
“I’m tired,” he said.
The charge was quickly dropped, but the news did not end, for Gates is the most well connected of men, a friend of at least two presidents (Clinton and Obama) and a scholar whose arrest was worthy of mention at a White House press conference.
Responding to a reporter’s question Wednesday night, Barack Obama said he didn’t know all the facts but that the police “acted stupidly” by citing Gates for disorderly conduct. He later said he regretted his comments, though he believed that both Gates and the officer overreacted.
Gates’ life has been an almost perfect arc of energy and ascent. A mill worker’s son, he graduated with honors from Yale and has devoted himself to discovering and explaining the very marrow of the black past.
As head of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, Gates has consciously attempted to build upon Du Bois’ scholarship and to live out, and up to, his place in what Du Bois called “The Talented Tenth” of black elites.
Gates’ projects have included an encyclopedia of Africans and African Americans, an anthology of African American literature and documentaries about Abraham Lincoln and “The Wonders of the African World.” His books include an influential work of cultural criticism, “The Signifying Monkey”; and a compilation of essays, “13 Ways of Looking at a Black Man,” which features pieces on Colin Powell, Louis Farrakhan and O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.
“He does all of these things _ the historical work, the literary theory work _ because they excite him,” says Princeton scholar and sometime Gates collaborator Kwame Anthony Appiah.
“One of the things it takes to do so many things is he has a gift as an organizer, as a manager. You have to learn to identify the parts you have and those you don’t and then find the right people. He’s fantastically good at that, and does it with enormous enthusiasm that energizes the other contributors, too.”
“There are people who talk about President Obama being a three-dimensional chess player, operating on a lot of levels at once, and that’s a good description of Skip,” says fellow Harvard professor Lani Guinier, using the nickname Gates has had since childhood.
“He’s entrepreneurial. He has an eye for investments and for networks that are a potential source of support. He has an eye for talent, for bringing in the best people he can to Harvard. And he has an eye for the media, for positioning himself and knowing how to present a story.”
He has told his own story in a memoir, “Colored People.” Gates was born in 1950 in Piedmont, W.Va., then a segregated mill community. His first knowledge of whites was through television, in sitcoms such as “The Life of Riley,” which featured a factory worker, like Gates’ dad. His family initially had little interest in protest, wondering why blacks would want to eat at white-owned restaurants since it was well established that whites couldn’t cook.