That quote is from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Harvard University professor, accusing a police officer Sgt. James Crowley of racism during a robbery investigation.
Gates was trying to pry open the front door of his home in Cambridge, Mass, when an onlooker called 911.
With all due respect, Dr. Gates, I think it's a bit more complicated than that.
I've been listening to some interesting, if not difficult, conversations among some of my Black professional friends.
Emotions are running high. Very high.
After all, the news has not been very good in the past few weeks or so. Black men, even college-educated black men, are losing jobs in the Northeast at a much higher rate than everyone else.
This incident comes on the heels of African-American and Latino children being disinvited from a suburban Philadelphia swimming pool just last week.
Police profiling and the stereotype of black men as criminals are still very real, even if there are African-American men in power in the White House, Massachusetts, and New York.
By all accounts, the Cambridge Police Department is known for not arresting or not incarcerating people unless necessary. Cambridge is, after all, a very progressive place. If you can't 'talk someone down' in that town, it can't be done.
President Obama attempted to cool things down by calling Crowley and Gates and inviting them to the White House for a beer. He said the incident was an overreaction on both sides.
That has only served to produce even more reaction - and overreaction - on all sides. In his remarks on Monday, the usual conciliatory tone he strikes was missing. He said the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, "acted stupidly".
Unfortunately, President Obama stuck his finger into a hornet's nest where race, poverty and class buzz angrily inside.
I'm reminded of the film 'Prom Night in Mississippi' which has been running on HBO. It's the documentary of the 2007 first integrated Senior Prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi. Oscar-winning performer, Morgan Freeman, had offered to pay for the prom a decade earlier on one condition: that the Prom be fully integrated.
His offer was largely ignored. Ten years later, his offer was taken, but his generosity ends up fanning flames of racism among several generations of Charleston residents. It's a fascinating if not painful study of the complex nature of race and class and the process of social transformation.
However, it is this article, "Skip Gates, please sit down," written by "a Phantom Negro," which has many of my friends in serious, difficult, sometimes painful conversation.
The author says that what we are seeing here is what he calls "The Ivy League Effect".
Here's the quote that seems to be most troublesome to some of my friends:
As a black Ivy Leaguer, something funny happens as you become ensconced in ivy. You’re smart enough to understand that race and racism are a reality you deal with on a daily basis, but you also know that your university ID sets you apart.
Does this mean you are kept from hurtful incidents? No, but it is to say that much of the outrage felt at a racial slight is replaced by outrage at a class slight. Sure, we get pissed, knowing we’re getting hassled because we’re black, but the real indignation comes from being hassled as members of an elite group. How dare you hassle me? I go to school here. I go to work here.
That second part of the thought is always present. I go to school here. I go to work here. When the Ivy League Effect is going full tilt, our black compass gets confused; the realities we know to exist become other people's problems.
And then there's this:
Skip Gates thought that he’d worked hard enough, achieved enough, become Harvard enough that this sort of treatment did not apply to him. And now, rather than channel that outrage in a way that is subtle but effective, he’s very publicly suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, having "joined the ranks of the million incarcerated black men in America."
That’s laughable. He does not see those million men as kin and he doesn’t, by and large, give a damn about those guys. He’s merely annoyed that such an irritation as police misconduct found its way into his home. If he read about this story happening to a plumber in Roxbury, he’d shake his head in disappointment and then go on with his life.
So before we heed the call of racism, let’s be mindful of the tower from which that call came. This has something to do with race. But it has a lot more to do with messing with Skip Gates.
The Ivy League Effect, people. The Ivy League Effect.
I only know this much to be true: life is much more complicated at the intersection of the various prejudices. I know this because I am a woman who shares her life with another woman. I know this because the women of color I know who are also lesbian suffer a different, more complicated form of prejudice than I and my beloved.
I remember, several years ago, that the conventional wisdom in the LGBT community was that it would be a gay man who would be elected to the episcopacy before a woman. And, it would be a white gay man at that.
Why? The reasoning went that a lesbian represented two issues - sexism and homophobia - which were more powerful together than the "ick" factor of dealing with a white, gay man. Two issues - any two issues - would be two too many, went the forecast.
Obviously, that prediction has proven correct. And yet . . . the first woman to be elected bishop in the Anglican Communion was none other than Barbara Clementine Harris. If you hadn't noticed, she's not only a woman, she's black.
Life is not only complicated at the intersection of race, poverty and class, it can become dangerous. It does not take much to rip off the scab that has formed over the scars of racism.
It doesn't take much to inflame the ancient, unseen but very present scars of slavery.
It will be interesting to watch as the events unfold over the next few days - how much our ethnically diverse / black President can help to bring about reconciliation at the intersection of three such volatile issues.
As a white lesbian woman, I just hate the way this feels - primarily because I feel left out of the conversation. Or, at least, unable to participate in or impact the dialogue in a meaningful way.
Here's where it's at for me: On another whole level, this feels like a 'guy thing'. It feels like it's a part of the social construct of the dominant male power paradigm.
When I get to this emotional level of social discourse, my mother-stuff (Vice Principal) kicks in. What I really want to do is to take both men by the ears and trot their asses into the President's (Principal's) office and keep them there until they find a way to shake hands and figure out how they are going to live in the same neighborhood with their perceptions of their own unique power base intact.
Hear me clearly: that is NOT to diminish the important issues of race and class. It is to say that it is also complicated by issues of perception of different forms of power - specifically, male power.
Mixed in and among the tangle of issues is the classic battle pitting the power of the sword (Crowley) over the power of the pen (Gates).
It's just to say that we've almost completed the first decade of the third millennium. There are many battles for justice that have been hard fought and well won.
We've come farther along than this. We are at least clearer about what the issues are. And, if we know that, we have a better chance to come to a more positive resolve.
C'mon people. We can work this out.
If The Episcopal Church can make its way through the volatile issues of human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, the rest of the country can navigate the intersection of race, class and poverty.