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Posted by on Jul 26, 2009 in Politics, Society | 7 comments

Why Maureen Dowd Isn’t In Jail (And A Question For Dennis)

Maureen Dowd is a free woman because “Being obnoxious isn’t a crime.” That is the opening line of Dowd’s column from this morning. She intended her words as a defense of Henry Louis Gates, but it’s awfully tempting to see them as a sort of mea culpa.

Although Kathy offered considerable praise for Dowd’s column, I protest. Dowd’s column is an exercise is just the sort of profiling that she claims to denounce. In what way? Without any evidence to back it up, Dowd suggests that “testosterone” led both Sgt. Crowley and Prof. Gates to behave in a combative manner.

Dowd also suggests that both Crowley and Gates became more combative because their egos were in play. That is clearly the case for Gates, who warned Crowley not to mess with someone as important as Prof. Gates. But what is Dowd’s evidence for Crowley’s ego getting in the way? Just that it was an encounter of “the town vs. the gown” and “the hard-working white cop vs. the globetrotting black scholar.”

Once again, Dowd fixates on racial and class status, relying on them as explanations for individual behavior.

In contrast, our own Dennis Sanders provides a much more thoughtful and constructive take on the whole series of events. Dennis writes,

White conservatives want us to “get over it.” Maybe in time we will, but it isn’t that easy. You can’t just undo 400 years of history in a few decades.

Context is everything here. What are the real world implications of not “getting over it”? Dennis writes,

Like Professor Gates, I would also be a bit apprehensive around a white cop because I don’t know how things will transpire.

There’s nothing wrong with Dennis being apprehensive. Yet the first three words of his sentence suggest that Gates’ confrontational behavior is the natural extension of apprhensiveness, which itself is the natural extension of “400 years of history”.

This is the chain of thought that strikes many people, conservative or otherwise, as problematic. It suggests that completely unacceptable behavior may be excused, at least in part, on the grounds of racial history. Dennis does not say this explicitly. Rather, it all comes back to that enigmatic phrase, “getting over it”. What does it mean? Can we agree on what it means?

Here is the essential question I would ask about “getting over it” — If someone has not gotten over the history of discrimination against their particular group, are they entitled to any behavioral leeway to which a member of the majority is not entitled? Or are they simply entitled to a measure of sympathy?

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