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Masculinities, Post-Racialism and the Gates Controversy: The False Equivalence Between Officer and Civilian

Frank Rudy Cooper

Suffolk University Law School

March 22, 2010

Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 11, p. 1, Forthcoming
Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 10-16

On Thursday, July 16, 2009, white male police officer James Crowley was called to the home of prominent black male scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on a report of a potential break-in. After confirming that no break-in had occurred and Gates’s identity, Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. Gates was promptly released without charges, and claimed he had been racially profiled. After the event became a national controversy, some people said that Gates was the true racist for assuming Crowley was racist. Only the parties “beer summit” with the President and Vice-president cooled the controversy. This article asks why Crowley arrested Gates and why some view Gates as the culprit.

The answer to the first question is that this was not just racial profiling, but also a masculinity contest. The arrest can be conceived of as resulting from the ways the parties challenged each others’ masculinities, which resulted in a masculinity contest. Specifically, Gates’s violation of the unofficial rule of deference to the badge created a masculinity challenge for Crowley and resulted in a masculinity contest between the parties that Crowley resolved by arresting Gates.

The answer to the second question is that race was indeed the dominant factor, but because of post-racialism, not traditional racism. Whereas colorblind ideology presumed the best way to reach an egalitarian society was to pretend race does not matter, post-racial ideology assumes we have reached that state. The ironic result of Obama’s election was to make it harder for the mainstream to see Crowley as implicitly biased and easier for them to see Gates as the true racist for having called Crowley racist.

The complicated nature of the Gates arrest and controversy reveals the need for a scholarly program demonstrating that norms of masculinity, while invisible, strongly influence behavior and that post-racialism, while explicitly progressive, hides implicit bias from view.

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Date posted: March 24, 2010 ; Last revised: October 15, 2010

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Frank Rudy, Masculinities, Post-Racialism and the Gates Controversy: The False Equivalence Between Officer and Civilian (March 22, 2010). Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 11, p. 1, Forthcoming; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 10-16. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1576751 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1576751

Contact Information

Frank Rudy Cooper (Contact Author)
Suffolk University Law School ( email )
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States
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