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Monday, August 03, 2009

Race, Class and Henry Louis Gates in Obama's America

In the wake of the Gates arrest heard 'round the world, the media, Obama and of course Henry Louis Gates himself, have done their best to position this as a black and white incident, the collision of two men divided by race. But in fact the arrest of Henry Louis Gates was not about two men divided by race, but two men divided by class.

Henry Louis Gates was not arrested because he was black. He was arrested because he was a famous man who felt entitled to tell off a middle class police officer, warning him, "You don't know who you're messing with." Those are not the words of a powerless victim of America's racial oppression. They're the words of an important man who was warning the low paid city employee he was dealing with, that he was too prominent to be touched.

And indeed the remaining narrative, which moved from a media firestorm over a simple arrest, to a supportive statement from the White House, proved Gates right. Crowley indeed didn't "know who he was messing with". He was messing not with a black man, but with a rich and important man. A man who was above the law.

Had Gates been arrested because he was a black man, there would have been no media response and no attention from the White House. Had Henry Louis Gates been a plumber or an associate professor whose name wasn't listed in Who's Who in America, with three names, and a list of titles and awards long enough to choke a whale-- his arrest would never have made the news. Nor would Gates have acted the way he did.

Once arrested, Gates and his defenders cynically used race as a smokescreen to conceal the real issue, which was class. Henry Louis Gates was not the victim of racism, he was the beneficiary of it. And all the media's huffing and puffing about race in America cannot successfully transform a wealthy and prominent man who felt free to warn a police sergeant, "You don't know who you're messing with" into a victim.

Gates' arrest elicited sympathy from Obama, not because Gates shares a race with him, but because Henry Louis Gates shares a class with him. Like Gates, Obama has cynically done his best to exploit a racial guilt that has nothing to do, not only with him, but not even with his ancestors, to provide cover for his arrogance and sense of entitlement. Like the collision between Obama and Palin, the collision between Gates and Crowley, was a blatant clash of class, not race.

So too when Obama felt free enough to complain to his fellow upper class elitists at a San Francisco fundraiser about the middle class and lower class folks, "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion", it was not a racial complaint, it was a typically upper class liberal complaint. That same sense of class entitlement would feed the Obama campaign's fury against Sarah Palin for stepping outside her class, and proceed to portray her as ignorant white trash. So too Obama's media cult and Gates were eager enough to portray Crowley as thuggish and racist, only halting when they realized that their narrative had been disproven and was actually producing a backlash.

When black officers blasted Gates and in turn Obama, it ripped away the mask of race, and revealed the underlying issue of class. It was no longer one white man and one black man, but the middle class hardworking police officers pitted against the wealthy and powerful Henry Louis Gates and Barack Obama. And that was a dangerous narrative, particularly after Obama had run up a tremendous deficit bailing out Wall Street banks and car companies.

Obama's condescending gambit of a beer summit was meant to appeal to what he thought were the sensibilities of the middle class white men he had offended. Of course that in turn served as a forum for Elizabeth Gates, Henry Louis Gates' daughter to pen an essay snidely commenting on Crowley's daughter's eyeliner, "she was wearing an appropriately heavy and charmingly untrained amount of green eyeliner on her lower lashes", again a comment denoting a class putdown, rather than a racial putdown.

In the famous photo of Crowley helping Gates walk, Americans may have seen compassion, but Gates only saw a lower class city employee providing service to a prominent civic figure. It is how Gates truly saw the conflict all along.

While American liberals insist on exploiting the arrest to argue that race remains a serious issue for Americans, the fact that large numbers of Americans were willing to vote for a black man into the top post in the nation suggests otherwise. It is not race that haunts America, but class. Yet what class is Henry Louis Gates?

Gates is not a captain of industry. He did not make money or gain fame inventing anything that people needed, or marketing a product that millions of Americans want. Instead Gates is a racial profiteer. A cleaner more academic version of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, running an institute named after W.E. Du Bois, a well known Communist who supported virtually every atrocity the USSR carried out, and was even willing to back Imperial Japan's massacres in China, in the name of race.

That is something which Gates has in common with Obama. Neither of the two men honestly came by their fame, fortune and positions. They came by them by exploiting racial guilt, not for any larger benefit, but for their own class standing. Behind all the twaddle about role models, is the elitism of two men, neither of whom have worked for a living, but who built up images of themselves as representing a race, in order to partake of the benefits of a class.

The rise of Obama, like the rise of Gates, is a story not of race, but of political parasitism. It is also the larger story of an America in which hard work no longer matters, in which it is safe to sneer at the middle class values of a Crowley or a Palin, because they represent an old fashioned dedication to achievement and duty, that is no longer meant to be relevant in the "New America".

In the "New America" you don't get recognized for hard work. You get recognized for being the squeaky wheel. For turning yourself into a brand. For finding an identity and marketing it for all you can. Race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity are only counters in a larger game of media politics that everyone can play, but only a few can succeed at.

It's not about the 9 to 5 anymore. It's about the 12 to 3 in a four day week. It's about the triumph over the middle class by people who excel at talking, but not at working. It's about playing divide and conquer with a multicultural America, certain that no matter how it goes, you will always pocket the winnings. It's not just about class, it's about the new class. The one that doesn't earn money, but has it transferred over from the coffers of the taxpayer. It's not about America. It's about the New America. It's about the Obama's America.

And if you're "unfortunate" enough to still believe in hard work and doing your job as best as you can, you don't belong in it anymore. Here have a beer. Then help Henry Louis Gates, Jr, down the stairs.

19 comments:

Keli Ata said...

Sgt. Crowley did indeed show Gates compassion. He cuffed him with his hands in front, not behind his back as usual. In that famous photo Gates looks like his out of control.

Gates like his buddy Barack are snobs. Nothing to do with race at all. And that drink over beers at the White House with Obama, Gates, Crowley and Biden was very demeaning to Crowley.

I felt sorry him.

People like Obama and Gates confuse money with having class. I was talking with my sister a couple of weeks ago about an assistant DA I knew.

He's the nicest guy in the world, very educated, successful and comes from money, but the thing is, to talk to him, you'd never guess that he comes from money.

My sister told me that most people who come from money don't act like it--unless their snobs and basically mean-spirited people to begin with.

Sultan Knish said...

noveau riche can be a formula for snobbery

Lemon said...

however, Crowley knew the cameras were rolling and police are conscious of PR also. I am sure his people prompted him on behavior. But again, I don't know for sure. So we praise the effort.

I am also pretty sure that the Prof was highly embarassed.
Embarassed people often lash out unreasonably.
All the neighbors seeing cops at the house... then they gossip and talk. I am sure he hated that.

The media tried to make this more than it had to be.
They were taken down a notch when everyone saw that the officer was no racist.
Obama wanted mileage out of it. The guy is an opportunist who doesnt care about facts, just results.

Gramfan said...

Another well-thought out, and well-written piece!

(I think I should have a computer function that "automatically" adds this type of comment to your 'blog!)

Anonymous said...

I think you put into words what many instinctively felt about this incident. A self-important nouveau-rich snob insecure of his standing but at the same time, feeling somehow entitled to special treatment put down his ''social inferior'', race being only an incidental factor or perhaps a contributing factor.
I have no doubt that Gates has made a profession out of being a racist just as Obama, who is after all half-white, ''used'' race opportunistically to further his career.
As I've often said, I'm from an Arab country - I was raised in a very authoritarian, hierarchical, society where your social standing depended on what group you were born into, where inequality was ''built into'' the system. No one was an individual, only a member of some hereditary class.
Over time, there arose a new class of nouveau-rich & the similarity to Gates' behavior is striking, a low-class man without manners or grace, full of false pride.

A Jew With A View said...

Very interesting. I have to say I was taken aback at the blatant spite shown by Gates' daughter in that quote.

Sultan Knish said...

Thank you Gramfan

Sultan Knish said...

Anonymous,

class snobbery always comes easiest for those who have not earned their money honestly, we're creating our own class of sheiks through political correctness and bureaucracy

look at who california is paying its six figure pensions out too for example

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. Great piece.

I want to contrast the Gates arrest with a small incident that happened a few years ago at a professional basketball game.

Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett of "Margaritaville" fame, one of the wealthiest musicians in America because of his constant touring, was sitting at courtside and cursing out loud. Mr. Buffet, who is white, was asked to keep quiet by the referee who did not know of his fame and wealth - and was not told so by Buffett. When he continued being drunk and disorderly, the referee ordered him thrown out of the arena and a private guard escorted him outside. Buffett did NOT sue or call a press conference after the incident to demand an apology.

Notice that multi-millionaire Buffett did not use his fame to either demand an exemption from discipline or seek redress of his hurt feelings in court or in the media. One of the factors that probably lead to these wise decisions after the fact is that Mr. Buffett knew he would get no sympathy as politically correct victim member of a socially accepted victim group. He would be seen as a pompous jerk in need of comeupance, which is how one could describe Prof. Gates.

Anonymous said...

As a recent visitor to your blog, I must say I have been so impressed by your wisdom and that ability only a few have of expressing exactly what other people have felt but haven´t yet verbalized.

Keep up the good work

Sultan Knish said...

Thank you kindly and glad to have you as a reader

Prescottstyle said...

I feel that Obama really overclocked on this one! The proper thing for O to do was to stick to doing his job and not chime in on petty criminal stuff that most of the neophites glaum onto.

Very small of the man I must say.

Keli Ata said...

The entire affair brought Philip Roth's "Goodbye Columbus" to mind. Ali McGraw's rich family were so mean to librarian Richard Benjamin.

Remember the anger he displayed while playing ping pong with the little girl who accused him of stealing cherries! Oh how I hated that little snobbette! I would have hit the ball hard, too.

Poor Richard Benjamin (whatever his character's name was).

I don't know..it all smacks of "Goodbye Columbus." Which is actually a good movie/novel about class bias and self-hatred. Richard Benjamin's character as I recall starts giving his own working class family an attitude of contempt yet he hates the superiority he receives at the hands of Ali McGraw's family.

Grammy Blick said...

I regret that I've been slow to find your blog. The articles read as well thought out and are expressive. While I appreciate good writing, they are also informative. We're told not to be judgmental, and you've given us a lot of fruit to inspect. Well done, and appreciated.

Sultan Knish said...

Thank you, there's always a deeper perspective to every story

Thomas H said...

I always felt that Gates saw an opportunity to create a racialy charged incident and took it. He was only interested in press coverage, which of course he got.
The President who also loves these kind of "plays" just couldn't resist making a big deal out of it.
Definitley an Al Sharpton moment.

Sultan Knish said...

Gates certainly loved the idea of taking center stage as a victim of the white male power structure and all that

ranter said...

You wrote what I was too lazy to write. But I think there's another angle, at least for me as a constitutionalist libertarian: property rights are now (and probably always were) a privilege. Whether that privilege is garnered through class, connections, or racial card playing (in this case all three), only the privileged are able to retaliate sufficiently to keep the government off their land.

Sultan Knish said...

I would argue that the more constitutional liberties erode, the more property becomes a privilege rather than a right

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