I was understanably embarassed and upset when I read about Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard professor who was arrested when trying to gain entry into his own home. Mr. Gates returned home from a trip overseas and had to force his way into his house when he was unable to open the door.
A neighbor called police and reported that “two black males with backpacks on the porch” were trying to break in. Mr. Gates was arrested shortly thereafter.
Many things upset me about this. Namely Mr. Gates’s clear ignorance of the Oreo way to do things.
1. Backpacks. Backpacks are acceptible a) for middle schoolers, b) on homeless people and c) in hostels in Europe as wealthy tourists pretend to be middle class.
A good Oreo knows that s/he should travel with rolling luggage and pressed garment bags with clearly identifiable name brand insignia plastered about the fine leather skin.
2. Off-label polo. If you look at Mr. Gate’s mug shot, you will see that his shirt, while collared is unmarked. Any animal or set of letters embroidered above the left breast lets anyone seeing you know that you belong…in this gated community.
3. Weakness in Numbers. Mr. Gates arrived at his home with another black man. This simply cannot be done. One of us can slip by unnoticed. More than one in the same place and you run the risk of being noticed and slipping into conversation about similar experiences. As cathartic as that can be, the risk is simply too high.
3. Improper Introduction. When police showed up at Gates’s home and asked him to let himself be arrested, Gates responded by saying: “Why? Because I’m a black man in America?” Two things are wrong with this statement.
a) Admitting to being black. An Oreo must never do this. People will always be suspecting. Do not give them the ammunition they need.
b) The sentiment was not followed by an ironic burst of laughter or scones. Nothing assuages uncomfortable admittance of faults like some properly pressed flour.
Mr. Gates is back at home now and all charges have been dropped. While I am glad for him, I worry that this kind of sloppy behaviour will continue. We must all be vigilant.
Excuse me now as I grab my Prada bag and sit on my porch with some creme fraiche and wave at my neighbors.