Living While Black in Cambridge

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

None of us African-American residents of Cambridge are surprised or shocked by the humiliation and harassment Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, of Harvard University encountered at the hands of Cambridge police.

My partner, Dr. Thea James, an emergency room physician who would drive from home to work was stopped all the time for “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge cops realize she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaces. Thea now takes the bus.

My girlfriend’s kids and their friends hang out at the Cambridge’s Galleria Mall like kids do. The Cambridge police in the mall stop my girlfriend’s kids and their friends — all but one white and two Asian friends — because “shopping while black” is always mistaken as shoplifting.

These constant shakedowns of us have been deliberately on the “down low” to the public because Cambridge, proudly dubbed “The People’s Republic of Cambridge, is ranked as one of the most liberal cities in America. And with two of the country’s premier institutions of higher learning — Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — which draw students and scholars from around the world, Cambridge’s showcase of diversity and multiculturalism rivals that of the United Nations.

Cambridge is also proudly known for a lot of “firsts” in this country. For example, it was the first city in Massachusetts to issue a legal application for same-sex marriage. It’s the first major city in the country to elect an African American, openly gay mayor — Ken Reeves. And Cambridge elected its first African American openly lesbian mayor in the country this year with E. Denise Simmons. Deval Patrick is the first African American governor of Massachusetts.

Cambridge is no doubt a progressive city. However, when you scratch below Cambridge’s surface there is also a liberal racism that is as pernicious, vile, and intolerant as Southern racism. But unlike Southern racism that sees race and tries to keep blacks in their place, liberal racism claims it does not. Ironically, Cambridge’s liberal ruling class maintains its racial boundaries not by designated “colored” water fountains, toilets, or restaurants, but rather by its zip codes, major street intersections known as squares — for example, the renowned Harvard Square — and residential border areas with designated numbers such as the notorious Area 4, a predominately black poor and working-class enclave.

It did not matter that the call to police by a white woman, who doesn’t live on the block let alone the area, stating that two African-American men were breaking and entering one of the expensive homes on a tree-lined street was false. It didn’t matter that the house was actually Gates’s home. The woman’s call was her civic duty in preserving the neighborhood’s integrity. because after all this was happening in the zip code area of 02138, which is Harvard Square.

And it did not matter that once Gates validated his residency to the police officer with a legitimate Harvard I.D. and the whole incident should have, at that very moment, ended. Instead, the arresting officer called the Harvard University police to once again verify Gates occupancy in his own home.

Also, it did not matter that the suspected robber is a Harvard professor, public intellectual, and recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. (Some say this incident serves as a cautionary tale to those who want to now define America as being post-racial with the election of Obama.)

What was of great concern for both the white woman who called the police and the arresting office who eventually had to handcuff Gates was the shock and perhaps outrage they experienced seeing this unknown black man in this well-known, high-income, and professional area of Cambridge breaking and entering into someone home’s and not in the city’s known and expected troubled spot — Area 4.

Segregation in this city is not only along race lines but also class. And poor working-class whites and white immigrants do not experience the fullness their white skin privilege would abundantly afford them if they too were part of Cambridge’s professional or moneyed class.

Area 4 has been labeled a troubled area of Cambridge, an area plagued with all the problems of urban blight and very little resources to ameliorate them. As a densely populated area, its average household income was $34,306, according the 2005 city census. On the other hand, Harvard Square had an average household income of $79,533 in that same year.

Area 4 used to house the city’s police station. White Cambridge police officers assigned to this area unabashedly target and aggressively patrol neighborhood blocks and activities of black male residents, young and old. Their reasons for doing so can easily be attributed to the Cambridge Police Department’s lack of funds to do cultural sensitivity trainings. But their reason is just as much about this country’s horrific racial legacy between the two groups as it is also about Cambridge’s liberal ruling elite exploiting these tension by their claims to not see race — until, of course, an unknown black man appears in their neighborhood

The tension escalated between Gates and Sgt. James Crowley when Gates flipped the script. As the person in question, Gates exercised his legal right to also ask:

irene-headshot.jpg“Is this happening because you’re a white cop and I’m a black man? Is this why this interaction is still taking place? ”

The charges against Gates have been dropped. But many white Cantabrigians chiming in on this incident felt that Gates was being uppity, feeling entitled, and exploiting the race card.

And who would know better about this than them.
Rev. Irene MonroeAmen.


  1. kelly says

    I do understand in uber ethereal world of enligtenment that the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award receipients float around in must find themselves somewhat befuddled whence a public servant responds to a call of potential distress from a citizen (doing his job that he was hired to do, no questions asked) and the ‘genuis’ flashes his school ID card, gets called on his bullshit and must run to the cable networks and cry racism, who wouldn’t??

    Gates is an entitlement prick. Lives on the public dole and then bitches about the public servants that are there for the citizenry of the hamlet. The cop would have went running to the same situation if a green person would have called and found a purple person with a school ID.

    The ‘genius’ is an idiot. Cop says sit, sit. Cop says shut up, shut the F(*% up. The situation will go away eventually. But NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

    The lead weights of perceived BS dissertation that has become ‘chic’ in America are not going to take anyone anywhere except for the writer’s and orator’s self delusional aura’s being stroked by the same cirlce jerk participants, rinse repeat. I like oranges, I hate apples. Not gonna fix it no matter how much sugar or ‘refinement’ you put on the apples.


  2. James Thomas says

    This is definitely a case of racial profiling but even more this is a cop thing.If you are colored or poor you are in the crosshairs.I am a white male who lives in Georgia.As a young man I was struggling to make ends meet and lived in a crappy little trailer.One day a knock on the door and I answer.Before a word was said the cop steps in and grabs me.He was looking for someone else.No apologies no good day just a warning that if I struggle or protest that I would be arrested.My brother on the day he graduated from college was grabbed and drug out of a cars back seat and slammed against the car.He had the audacity to say something and was struck by the pig.Chris swung back.He spent six months in prison.He now has a difficult time getting a decent job because he is considered violent.Everyone I know has a story like this.They are cowards hiding behing a badge.As far as I am concerned they are no more than organized crime.Its time to take our freedom. Thanks and great article

  3. Ginny Perkins says

    Rev. Monroe, I would like to send you my comments, however, I feel they are too long for this space. Is there an e-mail address for you or a site I might use?
    Ginny Perkins

  4. says

    At his news conference last night, Pres. Obama summed up the entire sad story about Prof. Gates correctly: “The Cambridge Police Dept. acted stupidly.”

    As a journalist of nearly 40 years, I have witnessed or reported on one incident after another where police officers harassed, detained, arrested or assaulted people suspected of “breathing while black.” Regardless of how many official commissions or the number of investigative reports in print or on the air uncovering racial profiling and outright racism practiced by police, as an institution policing cannot rid itself – if it even wants to – of a disproportionate number of officers who suffer from a plantation mentality: If someone is black, beat ’em first and then arrest ’em because if they aren’t doing something wrong this minute, they probably did yesterday so they deserve a good thumpin’.

    .-= Charley James´s last blog ..Ten Totally Weird Days On The Far Right =-.

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