Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. cried foul when a neighbor’s call to the police resulted in his arrest at the door to his own home, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Refusing, allegedly, to identify himself to a responding Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer didn’t help law enforcement appreciate that the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research was the rightful owner of the home — a far cry from the intruder his neighbor feared.
Professor Gates Jr. may not have intended to bait the officer into arresting him, but that’s the effect his apparent refusal to cooperate had.
“Is this what it means to be a black man in America?”, the professor rhetorically opined.
If “what it means” refers to negative racial assumptions applied to oneself — ascribing to the color of one’s skin the power to draw negative and unfair treatment — then yes. But in very real way, who or what is proposing the racism — the past or the present? Someone else — or the professor himself?
Psychologists call the phenomena of blurring the lines between the motivations of self and others “transference“. It’s no secret that sometimes we project our own assumptions on others, in this case an officer caught between a nosey neighbor and a prejudicially-minded professor.