Henry Louis Gates

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s “Ending the Slavery Blame Game”: Has Skip Gates Lost His Mind?

In an April 22, 2010 article, “Ending the Slavery Blame Game,” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html) in The New York Times, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an African-American and Harvard University professor, offered an interesting response to the controversial issue of slavery reparations. In the article, he explained how Africans were also participants in the slave trade that helped to create and maintain the institution of slavery in America. He also further divulged that the more interesting query about slavery reparations “just might be from whom they would be extracted.”  I could not agree more with Dr. Gates about this question. Unfortunately, the following comments that he made I could not disagree more with: “Fortunately, in President Obama, the child of an African and an American, we finally have a leader who is uniquely positioned to bridge the great reparations divide. He is uniquely placed to publicly attribute responsibility and culpability where they truly belong, to white people and black people, on both sides of the Atlantic, complicit alike in one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization. And reaching that understanding is a vital precursor to any just and lasting agreement on the divisive issue of slavery reparations.” The purpose of this article is to respond to the aforementioned comments of Dr. Gates.

Has Henry Louis Gates, Jr. lost his mind? In this article, he suggested that Blacks and Whites are both responsible for the institution of slavery in America. For a professor and director of an African-American Studies department at Harvard University, I have to think that he has lost his mind or he is on the verge of losing his mind. Just to remind you, this is the same man who was harassed by a White police officer for trying to break into his own home, but was arrested by the police officer. Next thing we know, Gates and the White police officer are enjoying one another over a beer with President Obama. Dr. Gates, was that beer in the cup or Kool-Aid? It must have been Kool-Aid because Kool-Aid is the drink of “post-racial” folk; that is, people who are here to please White folk and excuse racist White people for the legacy of slavery. While I have tremendous respect for Dr. Gates (Skip Gates) as a scholar and intellectual, he has gone too far to try to be “post-racial.” Let’s be real—the effort to be post-racial is problematic in the first place. At the core of this notion of being post-racial is an assumption that such great progress has been made in terms of race that we do not have to consider race as an important and central factor anymore. I certainly don’t need to be a Harvard professor to know that being post-racial is a foolish concept for people of color to fall prey to. The presence of President Obama in the White House does not remedy the enduring impact of slavery on African-Americans!

The Institute of the Black World 21st Century is holding a special conference on Saturday, May 8, 2010 from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. in Brooklyn, New York at Historic House of the Lord Church to respond to the article penned by Dr. Gates. I am sure that they are going to expose the many weaknesses of the article and I wish I could be there. Although I do not support slavery reparations in the traditional ways in which they have been argued for, I do believe that this nation owes African-Americans real economic, social, and educational opportunities. African-Americans deserve the idea of equality of outcomes to become a true reality. I do, however, think that the notion of getting “40 acres and a mule” should be seriously considered in 2010.

I urge people to read the article that Dr. Gates composed and find ways to respond to it. I would even encourage you to email him to let him know how you feel about what he said in the article. When some African-Americans reach a certain economic and educational level, they begin to lose sight of the harsh realities of life Black people have experienced in the past and in the present. Black people should never let anyone, not even a Black Harvard professor, tell them that their own people were just as responsible for the institution of slavery as White people were. It is my hope that Professor Gates will revise his article for the better, and we should give him an opportunity to revise and extend his remarks. I will be looking for his response to the outrage his article has conflagrated.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison