One reader request

Tim Gray asked:

You rarely write about race, yet I can't help but wonder–as a fellow
prof and a social scientist–what your thoughts are about the Henry
Louis Gates flap in Boston and what, if anything, you think it says
about the larger questions of race relations and psychology of

My view is simple: everyone involved will come out of the "flap" looking worse.  Most of all, engaging with the incident has been one of the few major tactical mistakes of the Obama Presidency.  Presidents (and many others) make big mistakes when they "respond" to people with much lower status than themselves, in this case the policeman and his ilk.  The net effect is to lower the status of the Presidency and this will prove especially important when Obama is trying to pass a controversial health care plan.  Today he looks less "post-racial" than he did a week ago and although it was only one slip it won't be easy to reverse that.

On the substance of the altercation I do not know the details but some time ago we decided, for better or worse, to give policemen a lot of discretion in intimidating individuals, including innocent individuals and especially African-Americans.  I don't think we chose an optimum but it is disingenuous to be suddenly shocked by what happened.

One reason I don't cover "race" more is because it often doesn't make for a very good discussion in the comments.  It's also hard to add to the material covered on other blogs.  It is a topic I read a good deal about, especially in the areas of the history of slavery, race and popular culture, race and sports, the economics of discrimination, and the history of Africa.  But I don't expect to do a lot of blogging in these areas anytime soon, interesting though they may be.


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