'An Accident of Time and Place'

"...I thank God that I live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, I’ve come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf."

Posted:
 
dinner
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

I would like to applaud President Obama for bringing Sergeant Crowley, me and our families together. I would also like to thank the President for welcoming my father, Henry Louis Gates, Sr., who for most of his life has been a Republican! My dad turned 96 this past June, and the fact that he worked two jobs every day is the reason that my brother, Dr. Paul Gates, and I were able to receive such splendid educations. I am honored that he chose to join me at the White House, along with my fiancée, my daughters, and my brother.

Sergeant Crowley and I, through an accident of time and place, have been cast together, inextricably, as characters – as metaphors, really – in a thousand narratives about race over which he and I have absolutely no control. Narratives about race are as old as the founding of this great Republic itself, but these new ones have unfolded precisely when Americans signaled to the world our country’s great progress by overcoming centuries of habit and fear, and electing an African American as President. It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.

Let me say that I thank God that I live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, I’ve come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf. I’m also grateful that we live in a country where freedom of speech is a sacrosanct value and I hope that one day we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon over beers with President Obama.

Thank God we live in a country where speech is protected, a country which guarantees and defends my right to speak out when I believe my rights have been violated; a country that protects us from arrest when we do express our views, no matter how unpopular.

And thank God that we have a President who can rise above the fray, bridge age-old differences and transform events such as this into a moment in the evolution of our society’s attitudes about race and difference. President Obama is a man who understands tolerance and forgiveness, and our country is blessed to have such a leader.

The national conversation over the past week about my arrest has been rowdy, not to say tumultuous and unruly. But we’ve learned that we can have our differences without demonizing one another. There’s reason to hope that many people have emerged with greater sympathy for the daily perils of policing, on the one hand, and for the genuine fears about racial profiling, on the other hand.

Having spent my academic career trying to bridge differences and promote understanding among Americans, I can report that it is far more comfortable being the commentator than being commented upon. At this point, I am hopeful that we can all move on, and that this experience will prove an occasion for education, not recrimination. I know that Sergeant Crowley shares this goal. Both of us are eager to go back to work tomorrow. And it turns out that the President just might have a few other things on his plate as well.

 

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is Editor in Chief of The Root.