Friday Feeback: A Professor’s View on the Teachable Moment


Most Fridays the LA Progressive features a comment that was particularly noteworthy. This week we are featuring a comment submitted by Anonymous from Claremont, commenting on Charles D. Hayes’ “A Teachable Moment: Police Authority and Racism.”

Here’s Anonymous’ comment:

As a professor, I am able to offer some perspective on the other side of the Gates arrest. Academicians who specialize in particular social issues (such as Prof. Gates and Black Studies) tend to see their particular cause as central in every facet of society. They all but fantasize about having some historic altercation that will visibly punctuate the relevance and urgency of their cause.

We at Claremont had a professor who specialized in Judaic Studies who had her car severely vandalized with anti-Jewish statements panted on it; it had been beaten with a baseball bat. The entire school used this event as a “teachable moment”. The faculty and student body walked around in proverbial sackcloth, observing an entire day of campus reflection on the remaining bigotry of our campus culture. We all felt horrible and completely deflated. How could some of our own students have done such a horrendous deed?

Upon further investigation, the police found that the professor herself had vandalized her own car, that nobody else had participated. She had done so as a stunt to help amplify the importance of her career. This is all documented as a sad and disgraceful part of our campus history. Of course, the administration made no apologies for the situation and made no effort to atone for the false accusation which had deflated campus morale to an all time low.

The charge of “racism” needs to be used with great care and precision. Neither Cambridge MA nor Claremont CA would tend to be the likely locations of such problems in our nation; these are two of the most progressive communities in North America. If time permitted, I have some other stories to tell you about another Black Studies professor here and similarly false accusations of racism.

We also host the nation’s largest Women’s Studies program here at Claremont. Unfortunately, this also has resulted in a myriad of false accusations of sexism. The doctoral students in that program become black-belt activists and come to see a spectre of patriarchy lurking behind every rock and bush. The truth be told, sexism still exists as a horrible force of injustice in U. S. culture(s), but the Claremont campus is probably the lowest on the list of places that need improvement. Again, we are arguably the most progressive campus (along with Berkeley perhaps) this side of the Mississippi R.

What an amazing coincidence~! The leading professor of Black Studies at Harvard had what has become the most visible “teachable moment” in racial discrimination history since Rodney King. The reverse caution needs to be heeded to that of Charles Hayes (given in the link you provide). By my experience, it is indeed likely (I am about 95% certain of it myself) that Prof. Gates produced this situation, characterizing it as fundamentally “racial” in substance, thus empowering himself, having found himself in a less than powerful situation (namely being questioned by the Cambridge police). Being a “friend” of the president no doubt emboldened him to assert himself and his ready-made accusation, thus conjuring and delineating a battle that revisits his own importance as a scholar.

Thank you for the provocative news letter.

[Anonymous member of LA Progressives]
Claremont, Ca.


  1. says

    I remember, back during the Tawana Brawley “controversy,” that the Rev. Al Sharpton, at one point, said that the incident needn’t have actually happened to serve as a teachable moment. At the time, I found the remark bizarre. After all, one can always teach in the abstract, but when one fabricates an event for the purposes of illustration, there inevitably are victims – -in this case, the police officers who were accused of being rapists and worse. Now I’m not judging the facts in the Gates case one way or another, but using events in which the facts are in controversy is a very dangerous area to step into.

    BTW, I must say that my opinion of the Rev. Sharpton has evolved dramatically in the two decades since the Brawley incident. I now respect him for what he has become and for who he is.

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