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Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates on blackness, whiteness, and the first African-American president in the White House.

Black scholar Henry Louis Gates made headlines last summer with a local white police officer, an angry standoff, and a “beer summit” on the White House lawn. 

But Gates has made headlines all his professional life, for deep scholarship and sharp cultural interpretation. Lately, he’s been writing about roots – black roots, white roots, all kinds – as America has been engaging its first African-American president, and some criticism has become racially ugly. 

We wondered what Gates was thinking. We ask about race, roots, hard politics, and President Barack Obama.

-Tom Ashbrook


Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. His new book is “Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora.” His latest television program for PBS is “Faces of America.”

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  • Joshua Hendrickson

    I’m very much looking forward to Dr. Gates’s perspective.

    I know that the Tea Party has disavowed racism as the viewpoint of its own fringe and denied that racism is in any way central to its concerns.

    But if economic woes are what the Tea Party is all about, how can they explain their nonexistence during all the spend-happy years of Dubya Bush, when the Clinton surplus was completely wasted and turned into a deficit? Why is it that they only showed up when Obama took office and inherited the Bush mess?

    Maybe race had nothing to do with it–though it plainly does have everything to do with the Birthers and the Kenyan Radical comments, and that loony “lovechild of Malcolm X” rumor. In fact, I am positive that the Tea Party would be just as vociferous with a white Democrat in office, and probably just as toothless had McCain won. But the coincidence is just too great to dismiss out of hand.

  • cory

    I’ll never be able see or hear Henry Gates without recalling the foolish police incident he was involved in. Overbearing police and a perpetually offended and highly sensitive African American intellectual figurehead is a recipe for disaster.

    The very existence of PHDs in African American studies is akin to the tongue being drawn repeatedly to the canker sore in the national mouth. We should be moving away from these silly racial distinctions instead of highlighting them and making a course of college study out of them. A sociology or history class yes, a degree program no.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I’m with Cory. The Gates / Crowley incident in Cambridge and the resulting “beer summit” makes Gates’ opinions on things like race relations and Obama as the first black President suspect.

    It seems to me that’s Henry Louis Gates is breathing a bit too much of his own exhaust.

  • Lou

    This man is a race-baiter. I’m not interested in anything he has to say.

  • John

    Cops need to show deference to citizens. Gates may have been rude, but he was right to be offended when the cop invaded his home.

  • michael

    “Cops need to show deference to citizens. Gates may have been rude, but he was right to be offended when the cop invaded his home.”

    Exactly, when the cop saw is Harvard ID matching the name on the address he should have left but instead decided to abuse his power because gates was rude(this was explain in the report done by other higher police officers and civilian that when the Officer was presented with ID he should have then left) .

    Anyways Gates PBS show was interesting least the one I saw, esp when he when on Colbert report and did Steven Colbert

  • Brett

    Actually, the “beer summit” offered some hope; but, on that fateful day, just as ruffled feathers were smoothing from the applied social lubricant and participants were beginning to direct their attentions away from wounded pride and toward potential Biden gaffes (no doubt their probability being likely to increase after imbibing), Officer Crowly remarked, “my beer tastes great!!” To which Professor Gates countered, “MY beer is less filling.” Crowley retorted with, “I said tastes great!” Gates argued, “and I said less filling!” This went back and forth a bit until the invariable escalation, then–voomp–out came the handcuffs all over again…

  • cory

    John and Michael,

    The police in the Harvard fiasco were responding to a call from a neighbor who thought they were seeing an attempt of forced entry at a neighbor’s home. The responding officers asked for ID from Gates and he was immediately beligerant. Try shouting and waving your arms about during a routine traffic stop and see how that works out. The police have to get a little leeway on this sort of thing. What do you think would have happened if Gates had been patient and reasonably polite in this instance? Does anyone think he would have been cuffed?

  • Ann

    Cory, you are SO INCORRECT about college departments of African-American studies! These departments have helped students, often African-Americans, to learn a broader and deeper understanding of AMERICAN HISTORY! They have also allowed for a BROADER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS, compared to the suffering alone, OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS TO OUR ECONOMY, OUR CULTURE, TO OUR POLITICS AND UNDERSTANDING OF DEMOCRACY, TO OUR HEROISM IN WAR, IN EDUCATION, etc., etc. If you read some of the wonderfully readable books or watch some of the splendid documentary films and television shows created by people who have studied African-American history, you will be able to fill in my “etc.’s”, above!

    Africans were on the South, Central, and North American continents as well as in the Caribbean since European Colonialism began. Some may have come willingly at first (real, hard-to-earn scholarship helps with accuracy on this topic), but then Europeans, who were already trying to colonize Africa itself, began importing Africans against their will.

    So much of the SPLENDID NEW SCHOLARSHIP on AMERICAN HISTORY has been done by young African-American scholars, or other graduates of a Major in African-American History, whose thoughts on what questions to pose, and whose exposure to more recent technical research techniques (advanced statistical analyses, for instance) have EXPANDED OUR SENSE OF AMERICAN HISTORY!!!


  • edwal

    o jeez not this guy again… isn’t his 15 minutes up yet?

  • cory


    Sounds like a great subject for a 300 level history or sociology class, not an entire course of study producing PHDs. Sorry, I don’t agree.

    I also wouldn’t agree on a doctoral course of study in Irish/American studies, for what it is worth.

  • Ann

    In fact, I’ll say it even more strongly: without the concept of democracy held by generations of African-Americans throughout the Americas, the overall idea of democracy held within the Americas would be radically truncated!!!!

  • John

    One has more constitutional rights when confronted by the police in one’s home rather than in a car.

  • Ann


    Your choice. Open, curious, productive, energetic minds ARE sitting in those classrooms.

  • Brett

    There WAS one little tidbit of the Gates/Crowley incident I found concerning: an officer arriving on the scene after Crowley said Gates was not arrested and cuffed until he left his front porch and was in his yard. Clearly, the officer’s observations were inaccurate. In one photograph, Gates is already handcuffed as he is being led out of the front door of his house.

    Both men let the moment get the better of them (or worst of them, I should say). Each had an opportunity to diffuse the situation but participated in its escalation. Blame can be assessed on either side; however, the onus of propriety falls more with the officer. If one takes into account the statements by other officers on the scene, as well as the police report, one can readily see that the Cambridge police not only behaved unprofessionally in their handling of the incident (they are trained to diffuse such domestic situations) but in the reporting, as well (they are supposed to be trained observers).

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Ann et al: The Gates / Crowley issue was less about race, more about class. Gates was flummoxed that Crowley had the nerve to question who he was.

    One might argue that Crowley might not have escalated this if Gates were white but one might also argue that Gates might have reacted differently had Crowley been black. We don’t really know and it’s impossible to tease out from the class issue.

    If someone plays the class card: I’m a Harvard professor, I know Obama, I’m on TV, how dare you question me, that might get in the face of a Cambridge cop who deals with a lot of “privileged brats” on a daily basis.

    I think this class issue is what caught the attention of most of us, just like the Jet Blue issue (even if Slater ultimately wasn’t a hero).

    This class issue overlaps with tea party and progressive anger although exactly how and where I’ll let others flesh out.

  • tom

    Please ask Professor Gates to speak about Prince Hall and his legacy.

  • jim thompson, fort millsc


    Thanks for having Dr. Gates on. He has contributed so much in a positive way. I hope he is enjoying the Harvard Square area, I have many fond memories of growing up in the area.

    I found D’Souza and Ginbrich’s comments rather odd. Obviously they are meant to make the President into “the other”. However, I am not getting their negative reference about anti-colonial behavior. Isn’t this country founded on anti-colonial behavior?

  • Yar

    The comments are just the polarization I have been talking about.
    Racism, class-ism, sexism, gender-ism, politic-ism, are all perverse and pervasive in world, our country, and in our mind.
    Prejudice is an essential component of our mental processes. It has kept our species alive. We should not attempt to downplay prejudice, we should back away from the emotional cliff and build safe spaces to examine our prejudices and what prejudices are not helpful to our survival.
    Prejudice has less power when we are comfortable looking at our own motivations.

    We have a long history of not wrestling with our demons.
    Lets wrestle.
    It will be healthy.

  • Dave

    I’m wondering about Dr. Gates thoughts about adoption and what that means about ones roots. My daughter, was born in China, and will never know anything about her ancestors and while I can help her explore her culture, I can never tel her about her genetic ancestors. She doesn’t share the genetic origins of her mother or I, so does focusing on genetic ancestry still matter in our case?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Yar: well said.

    Frankly, I like everything Gates is saying on this show. I just have issues with his Cambridge arrest being turned into a poster case for police racism. That situation was complex and Gates hasn’t done a lot since to help us better understand it.

  • Hank

    Disastrously, the U.S. continues its neo-colonial and imperial invasions – Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. It’s to our detriment that Obama continues to pursue the imperial strategies of his presidential predecessors and the financial and military industries. Half his genes came from the target of colonial rule – Africa – and the other half came from one of the giant imperialists – the U.S. It’s long past time the U.S. became anti-colonial.

  • Victoria

    I live in a neighborhood in California where there are several very conservative, older Republicans (I am not one of them). As the presidential election neared, all of them made the decision to vote for Obama. Some of them have never voted for a democrat in their entire lives. They voted for him, not because he was black, but because he was smart – the best man for the job. This thrilled me! I felt like the Nobel Peace Prize he won, was actually intended for the American people for voting for him. Things have gotten ugly since then, but the fact that we as a nation voted for him will never go away.

  • Yar

    We are in a generational battle in politics, we are using race as a proxy for the war over generational conflict.
    Think about social security, Medicare, the stock market,
    The young fear the burden of the soon to be elderly.
    The 50 plus crowd fear they are never going to get to the ‘good life’ or ever be able to quit work.
    Race and class are the proxies for this division.

  • John

    Richard, how many white Harvard professors have their neighbors call the police when they enter their own homes? There were probably class issues underlying the altercation but the cop but he has a responsibility to act professionally. Gates has a right to be rude in his own house.

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    I think I first heard the post-racial thing from Colbert. It was everyone else’s fault for actually taking him seriously.

    If we have been in the Postmodern Era since WWI proved the dangers of modernization, then perhaps we’ve actually been in a Postracial Era since the civil rights movement made everyone aware of the inequity of racism. We are still trying to tame the beast of modernity which has been recklessly trampling the natural environment. Just because (by the above conditions) we can say we are in a Postracial Era, the beast of racism is still trampling our cultural environment.

    A question for Dr. Gates, and anyone else who might have an opinion on it: can someone be both Muslim and Christian if they follow both ideologies?

  • Rick Evans

    Does Dinesh D’Souza explain himself as channeling through the schizophrenia of his anti-colonial Indian half and his formally slave colonial Portuguese past. His opinions make great fertilizer.

  • Ray

    Colin Powell for President and Condalisa Rice for VP on the Republican ticket.
    This old white guy would cast his first Republican vote for a president.

  • michael

    According to the report’s Findings

    once he saw Professor Gates’s identity, Sergeant Crowley could have taken greater pains to explain the uncertainty and potential dangers of responding to a serious crime-in-progress call. Perhaps he could have expressed why, in the early stages of such a call, police officers must focus on the safety of the public and their own safety, and why his need to assess and mitigate any risks may have caused him to adopt a seemingly abrupt tone.


    In a statement released with the report, Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said that the current model of policing did not adequately address the reality of interacting with highly diverse communities, because officers’ emphasis on safety above all other factors can interfere with the officer’s ability to reach a successful outcome as their actions are often misinterpreted…and thus erode confidence and legitimacy. The department, he said, has undertaken training aimed at enhancing officers’ understanding of how they are perceived as they deliver their services conversations with the MIT and Harvard police

  • Rick Evans


    “and his former slave colonial Portuguese past. His opinions make great fertilizer.”

  • michael

    Anyways thanks for the show tom, very informative.

  • dnxtlvl

    Gates just supported Colin Powell. Powell could have made the biggest difference in American History by speaking out about 011 – BUT – he did not. Powell could have made it clearly known about the relationship with the Bush family and Osama Bin Laden and his family that ocurred over 20 years. There are many things he could do to stop this insanity versus make us go through all of this chaos. Those who are worthy of leadership can not be corroborators.

  • LP

    DNA testing shows that African-Americans tend to have a high percentage of “white” ancestry. We know that much of this is because of the rape of African slaves by white masters. I am curious about Mr. Gates’ thoughts on how people react to this knowledge. Does the discovery anger and upset African-Americans? Do white Americans atone for this aspect of history or try to deny it?

    Thank you.

  • michael

    “One has more constitutional rights when confronted by the police in one’s home rather than in a car.”

    Such is correct, hench even after the cop found him to be the resident of the home he asked him to come outside

    “What do you think would have happened if Gates had been patient and reasonably polite in this instance? still possiable,countless stories to back such up

    Does anyone think he would have been cuffed? again still possiable,countless stories to back such up.

    My question to you and others what do you like would happen if no one was around outside to take pictures?

    I do agree with Gates on folks trying to demonize obama as the other (muslim,Kenyan, not born in the U.S.) with a racist favor to it.

  • BHA

    Current caller is right.

    The more the press repeats the ‘news’ of the ridiculous comments made by people opposed to something or someone, the more other people will believe it. It doesn’t matter WHAT these people say.

  • Sunil

    Dinesh D’Souza would be considered “black” in UK, as all South Asians are. I wonder if Mr. D’Souza has reflected on how much of his views have been influenced by the Racist ideas of his Rapacious Portugese forebears, who surely left some of their genes and bequeathed his name when they had outposts in India.

  • Aaron

    Getting quite tired of people making the charge of ‘race baiting’ to anyone that talks about race reality in a view different from their own.

    Also, those of you who think the only reason Gates is given a public voice on this topic don’t know what the #@*! you’re talking about. The only reason you know about him is because of the police incident, and the beer summit that followed, and anything Fox News has told you. If it’s not too long for you, read his Wikipedia page.

  • Sunil

    Apologies to Rick Evans. I posted my comment before I read your earlier and much more concise point.

  • Carol

    Mr. DiSousa is acting as an evil shaman, using his “superior” knowledge in occult ways to manipulate the emotions and fears of people who don’t have the background to critique his disingenuous arguments. Is there a witch doctor in Mr. DiSousa’s ancestory?

  • John Campbell

    Wait a minute- are you telling me that Barrack Obama’s father fought in a rebellion against the British? You mean like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? We couldn’t possibly elect someone like that to be president!

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    John: “Richard, how many white Harvard professors have their neighbors call the police when they enter their own homes?”

    Sorry to belabor this but he wasn’t simply entering his home, he was forcing the front door open because he was locked out, that’s what probably triggered the call.

    I really like almost everything Gates is saying here except the idea of supporting Colin Powell for President. Gates knows as well as anyone that Powell lied to the UN and the world about Iraqi WMD. Powell may have said many wise things about Obama and racism in the US but for Gates (a Democrat) to support him feels odd and possibly like race favoritism to me.

  • BHA

    BTW, I heard Mr. Obama isn’t black, he is actually green. Spread the word.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Aaron: I’ve been following Gates since long before he was on PBS and I’ve seen almost every one of his PBS shows.

  • Yar

    If we tell the polarizers that we are united as a nation and show we are united by voting.
    I want to see 80 percent voting.
    The media should push non-partisan get out the vote campaign.
    That will change the divide and conquer rhetoric.
    If the polls don’t work to predict behavior it will change the game.
    It shows respect to our fore-fathers to exercise the responsibility of voting.

  • Beth

    The caller is mistaken re: European ancestry. Here is an excellent website that explains how it is that we can interpret our staggering variation within this context of our unity as an African species: http://www.understandingrace.org

  • Dave

    Obama has been described as a racist, a socialist, a Nazi, and recently, a tribalist. And yet, during the presidential campaign, he was described as an “elitist” because of his ivy-league education. This came from Senator McCain, himself the son of an admiral and owner of seven homes. It just shows how ridiculous these depictions are, and how easily any individual can be portrayed in any way that fits the politics at hand. Let’s not take D’Souza seriously, or Glen Beck ,or any other media figure.

  • Beth

    I am a biological anthropologist, and can confidently support Dr. Gates’ assertion that the scientific consensus of African ancestry of all living humans (see above posting with the link, which is produced by the American Anthropological Association). All other interpretations of human polygeny are completely and utterly unfounded.

  • Sandra Barrett-Hoomani

    Don’t you think that blacks referring to themselves as “African Americans” keeps the racial wedge firmly in place?

  • Marian Hackett

    During the McCarthy era, my grandfather said he believed in the wisdom of the American people to see through the danger and folly of McCarthites. Eventually, one Senator did speak up and thus turned this scourge on its head. I believed him because I was a child. Now, however, I am not so confident. The accolytes of Lee Atwater use racism, demonizing, and fear mongering as a means to an end which is to keep their power. Regardless of whether they believe what they’re prostlitizing, this is a dangerous game. We can blame the media just so much. I hear the rationales for why people are buying into this game and it seems as though that makes it’s all right because we ‘understand it’. That so many people are buying into this belies my grandfather’s assertion, I am sad to say.

    Marian Hackett
    Arlington, VT

  • jeffe

    I’ve watched some Gates’ series and I found it fascinating and moving. Some of the people he interviewed and researched such as Stephen Colbert were very moving.

    It’s interesting how many people are still harking on about the incident with Crowley at his home in Cambridge.

    I read some of “How Obama Thinks” by Dinesh D’Souza and I had to stop a few pages in. If anyone thinks that D’Souza is not a racist I don’t know what else to call it.

    You have to love the guy calling up getting all hot under the collar about finding out he’s also from Africa.
    Gates is right, humans walked out of Africa some 50 thousand years ago. They became Celts due to evolution.

  • Marian Hackett

    My apologies for the typo’s.
    Marian Hackett
    Arlington, VT

  • BHA

    Wouldn’t it be sad if everyone alive today that is descended from people who owned slaves 200 years ago (and I’m sure there are a great many that have NO IDEA there are slave holders in their family tree) were demonized NOW as being descendants of slave holders?

    Suggesting that Mr. Obama’s father’s activities, whether good or bad or otherwise, reflect on him personally is just as unacceptable.

  • Kristine Koutout

    I think it is incorrect to associate Republican economic policy with anti-black sentiments. First, the correlation is more accurately characterized as anti-”poor people.” The reason that it is generally considered anti-poor is that the economic policies are more long-term and it is is difficult to perceive how these policies are actually beneficial to all Americans (poor, middle-class and high-class alike). For example, Republicans generally oppose increases to the minimum wage. This is not to prevent people with minimum wage jobs to increase their living standards. The problem is that minimum wage increases are correlated to increases in the price of basic items such as bread and milk. Therefore, the living standards for minimum wage workers actually stay the same and the actual income of middle class families decrease because they have to pay more for the necessities. In a more recent debate, the tax cut for the wealthy is not just because we “like them.” It is because when the taxes increase for the top 5% of the population, they (like everyone else) decrease their spending and investing. When their spending decreases, that obviously decreases the overall consumer spending, which as we have heard over and over again recently, is an indicator of economic health. When investing decreases, economic growth in the long term decreases because it is the foundation of this growth. Overall, Republican economic policy may be perceived as racist or anti-”poor people,” but in reality it will benefit the country as a whole in the long run.

  • Willy Roentgen

    The man has a chip on his shoulder, is biased and is trying to rewrite history not based on creditable research.

  • John

    Perhaps Dinesh D’Souza’s racial determinist views are the result of his being South Asian ancestry where light colored skin in prized compared to darker skin (just pointing out the ridiculousness of his argument – not seriously advocating a stupid racist theory).

  • Mercy Gathoni

    I am a Kenyan residing in the U.S, I’m well educated and highly regarded and loved in my field of work. Whites and Blacks say its always a pleasure to be served by me. I know they say this about many of my Kenyan counterparts. We are not barberic , we are a unique ethnic people well cultured, religious and loving. Newt Gingrich comments about president Obama hurt so bad, I wish he would get to know us as a people before making such ignorant comments.

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher

    I feel in my heart of hearts that if we ever want to get “post-racial” here in America we (meaning white people) need to be willing to stand up and apologize for how blacks have been treated in this country since its founding. I know only a few blacks well. I have apologized to some of them, and intend to apologize to more. For now I do not offer my apology until their is a level of rapport between us that indicates to me that we can really talk to one another. My apology goes something like this.

    “I want to apologize to you for anything I or my ancestors has ever done to hurt or oppress black people in the past. I strongly suspect there was slave ownership by my ancestors. That was wrong. I am sorry. In the past I myself have told racist jokes and harbored racist attitudes. I was wrong and should not have done those things. I am sorry for having done that.”

    This simple apology does not erase the past, that will take generations in my opinion. It is however an essential first step. Without recognition and acknowledgment the healing and an honest conversation can not really ever begin.

  • BHA

    Posted by jeffe at 11:56

    “You have to love the guy calling up getting all hot under the collar about finding out he’s also from Africa.”

    That was classic. He REALLY didn’t want to believe that HE is descended from people in Africa even if it was FIFTY THOUSAND years ago. I wonder how he will deal with it:
    1) accept it and figure out his latent racist feelings need to change since he now has to deride himself as ‘one of them’.
    2) figure out a way to *believe* it is not true (probable)

    “Gates is right, humans walked out of Africa some 50 thousand years ago. They became Celts due to evolution.”

    That is a BIG problem for those who do not believe in evolution. Perhaps Mr. Gates can run Christine O’Donnell’s DNA. That could be fun :) I’ll bet she finds some gays and people who ‘pleasured themselves’ in her lineage. Too bad she is unmarried and has no children. It would be classic if one of them ‘came out’ :)

  • dnxtlvl

    Thank you @ Charles A Bowser. I hope you all will speak up for reparations also. Thank you.

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    Kristine Koutout Are you kidding? Trickle-down (or on) economics does not work. Folks at the high income levels you are talking about are not spending their tax breaks, they are hoarding them. It is the lower income levels who will spend nearly every penny of any tax breaks they receive because we are broke! It has been one-sided class warfare on the middle and lower income levels in this country for far to long.

  • jeffe

    Overall, Republican economic policy may be perceived as racist or anti-”poor people,” but in reality it will benefit the country as a whole in the long run.
    Posted by Kristine Koutout

    How? Explain how this will come to pass when the evidence points to the opposite of what you claim.

  • Kristine Koutout

    Charles Bowsher- you may not have noticed that I said they will either spend their money or invest it (hoard it, as you say). Investing is one of the pillars of economic growth. An economy cannot grow unless their is money spent on innovations, money spent on providing locans, money spent on education. That is what the investing market is for- to take unused (hoarded) cash to direct it towards areas in the economy in need of a cash influx.

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    @ dnxtlvl – My personal jury is still out on reparations, I do lean in favor of them in some form or fashion, but they are an incredibly complex issue. Unraveling and compensating for the economic impact of slavery is beyond my expertise and may be beyond our collective acceptance.

  • Kristine Koutout

    Jeffe- let me first clarify by saying that I do not agree with all of Republican economic policy. I also do not disagree with all of the Democrats policy. For example, the success of the bill to support small business is phenomenal since it will support enterpreneurship, another pillar of economic growth. My point was that the economic policies that are accused of hurting the downtrodden are, in fact, investments in the long-term. The old saying “give a man a fish…” applies here. Yes, we can take tax money and put it into welfare programs, but that is not going to help people with lower income in the long run. Raising the minimum wage is not going to help people living at the level in the long run. What will help them is to create a stronger economy. Will that vague goal be tangible to the people who are struggling to feed their children? Unfortunately, it will not, but it will prevent people from facing that struggle in the future. Poverty in this country has steadily decreased as our economy has grown over the past 200 years. What makes you think that will not continue to happen? We need to focus on long-term goals, not avoiding the fundamental problems by making ourselves feel better when we give out a loaf of bread.

  • Ann

    Yes, without the contribution of African-Americans to our UNDERSTANDING OF THE TOTAL CONCEPT OF DEMOCRACY, WE WOULD NOT HAVE the Democracy we have today in the United States.

    I believe that one of the biggest lacunae in historical understanding of too many White Americans is an understanding of the Jim Crow years. Too often I’ve heard, “blah, blah, slavery ended a long time ago.” Recently, I’ve heard, “a lot of whites died to free the slaves, so what’s your point?” Even tho both statements are TRUE, I believe that one can HEAR the racism in these statements. I think that that racism slips in there because too many people do not understand enough about the economic effects of THE LAWS OF THIS COUNTRY, from the day that Independence was declared, really on up thru the Civil Rights Act of 1965. One could argue that the INTERPRETATION of LAWS that have for so long incarcerated Blacks for crimes for which Whites see NO jail time, suggests that the legal landscape is STILL skewed towards protecting Whites more than Blacks.

    Into this I love to mention the legal contributions of my African-American ancestors, especially my grandmother’s brother and her mother’s first husband to our understanding of democracy. They both were active early civil rights activists during the Reconstruction period up thru 1944, ended only by death. Well, actually…. NOT ENDED. Life after death?! YES! At least one of the laws my grandmother’s brother helped to get enacted probably made educational opportunities somewhat better for Black school children in Maryland thruout that long, long period until Brown v. Board of Ed in 1954. Perhaps that slight, but hard-won change in educational opportunities helped kids who later as parents were not so disempowered as other African-Americans elsewhere, where majority power kept Black kids in inferior schools. And, YES! Because I have been able to read books that my grandmother’s brother wrote wherein he speaks eloquently about the CONTRIBUTIONS OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS to the life, economy, culture, science, and arts of this nation. The book was written in 1916 or 1917.

    The African Diaspora eventually included some members so pale yet they were STILL enslaved (indicting the LAWS of the land!) ; at some points, tho, some members were so pale that they “passed as white”, including my grandparents when they were about ages 23 and 29. The heritage and contribution of their relatives was what my grandmother PROUDLY passed onto me and my brother. I have written before about how I have used her story to FIND MY ANCESTORS, REVERSING THE DIASPORA! In that process, I have been exposed to more direct statements of racism than ever before; yet I know that EXCEPT FOR PREJUDICE and the LAWS THAT PREJUDICE ENACTED, my relatives were ALWAYS no different than other Americans around them in wanting to live in a democratic, freedom-loving United States. They should have been as seamlessly “at one” with the population as a whole, LEGALLY SPEAKING, from the outset, just as I SEEM, due to my pale coloring, to be seamlessly “American”, in the sense of too many bigotted speakers in the past and again now.

    But the LAWS WERE AGAINST the freedom of African-Americans, and, it was the LAWS OF THE COLONIES, and later of THE STATES AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THAT WERE THE FOUNDATION THAT ALLOWED RACISM FREE REIGN. Which came first: the racism or the laws? The racism almost certainly, but the LAWS, including the laws enacted by the Founding Fathers, HELD THE RACISM SO FIRMLY IN PLACE, that that “seamlessness” of being an American was ONLY defined one way. And that inequity still has structural ramifications today, and that is WHY we do NOT live in a post-racial society. BUT, I LOVE to look like a person a bigot would feel comfortable around and then bring out the CONTRIBUTIONS OF MY RELATIVES IN THE MAKING OF OUR DEMOCRACY! I have been calling for other people whose relatives “passed as white” to join me in FINDING OUR ANCESTORS and researching WHAT THEIR LIVES WERE LIKE! At the same time that two of my relatives got college educations, my great great grandmother “took in laundry”. Our family included both enslaved African-Americans and free people of color. And, thru so much wonderful scholarship, I have been able to find out so much of what their lives were like, including this:

    Both sides of my family went to Philadelphia from Virginia, one side after the Civil War, the other in about 1900. By 1900, Philadelphia Whites no longer wished to appear like their “southern gentry cousins” with Black servants (instead of slaves) and waiters and barbers. No, by 1900, racism in Philadelphia was getting worse, and the jobs for African-Americans were drying up. This is a guess now, but an educated one, I think it is POSSIBLE that my grandfather, having arrived from the rural south hoped for work in Philadelphia just when work was drying up. He met my grandmother and her family there and that included some older women. I believe that it is possible that his “passing as white” was ANOTHER FORM OF MIGRATION, ANOTHER PART OF THE DIASPORA. I believe that it is possible that the ONLY way he could start to work for himself, instead of being jobless in Phila., was to “pass as white” and move to the suburbs. THAT WAY, he could ALSO be able to provide for the older women in his wife’s family. I’m not at all sure that this was the impetus, but my grandmother’s PRIDE in her family suggests to me that passing was never about being embarassed about being other than White.

    I am PROUD to have found my relatives, and I enjoy spreading THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF DEMOCRACY with others, as their concept (which I can read in several of my grandmother’s brother’s books I found) still have incredible power and beauty!!!

    Thank you so much for a wonderful show! I will listen to the podcast, as I missed some while holding on the phone hoping to get onto the show. I have said some of this before, but each time you have a speaker, I realize there is even more to say from the WISDOM OF MY BRAVE AND PRODUCTIVE ANCESTORS who just happen to be a bit more visible than some others, but I’d LOVE to hear more from other family’s roots!


  • Charles A. Bowsher

    @Kristine Koutout – All depends on where they “invest” their money. If it is in collateralized debt obligations, gold or some such I don’t see much benefit from that. Corporations are currently sitting on over $2,000,000,000,000 (that’s trillion) because they think the future is uncertain…. It is greed, boundless greed which mainly motivates them to hoard now. To fight health care for all. They want to have it all, they want to write all the rules. The rich complain about the unfairness of the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), are you kidding me? Have they no conscience?
    As for innovation, much of the innovation you speak of comes from research at our Universities. Without our government supporting higher education our research future looks mighty dim.

  • michael

    “Overall, Republican economic policy may be perceived as racist or anti-”poor people,” but in reality it will benefit the country as a whole in the long run.”

    yea just look at the last 30 years on this one, or the “Southern Strategy” or the increase in the Defiect under Republican Presidents, there fight for health-care, Welfare momma,Biggest gap between rich and poor, wage stagnation .

    ooopps it seems what you said does not add up. Can you point to where this reality exist?(since it’s clearly not in the U.S.)

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    Kritine Koutout- just read your latest. YOur serious?
    Have you been out of the country? The latest numbers from the census bureau show that poverty has risen to its highest recorded level ever. 14.7%, which translates to one in seven Americans. It further translates to something horrible like one in five children in America Living in Poverty. Read it again, it is not made up. Yes, the Republican policies have really been amazing! You need and deserve to spend a long time poor. Bill collectors calling at all hours. Not knowing if the lights will be on when you get home from your minimum wage job. You need to learn how much a loaf of bread is really worth when you are hungry. “Raising the minimum wage is not going to help people at that level in the long run.” So what is the magic that the Republicans propose? More tax cuts for the wealthy?

    The problem with your “teach a man to fish” cop-out is that we are not teaching in our schools because of Acts like “No Child Left Behind”, remember that? Open your eyes, open your ears, open your heart!

  • Brian Thibodeau

    Tom – I’m sorry but and honorable war – give me a break – tell that to the 58,000 + families of men and women KIA in Viet Nam never mind the countless others who gradually fade away from apathetical government beaurocrats who withheld services or gave less and kept more! There may be a justafiable war or necessary war or even a war that is thrust upon us, but do not say an honorable war! I am a Viet Nam vet and when I entered the military I was psychological broken down, physically built up and fed that propaganda about a fledgling democracy – the everyday vietnamese work on the “rice bowl” principle.

  • Alex

    “Thank you @ Charles A Bowser. I hope you all will speak up for reparations also. Thank you.”

    I would be in favor of reparations paid to the actual victims, survivors of slavery. I don’t support the idea of paying money to people several generations removed from the events of the 1600s-1800s just because of the color of their skin. They were not slaves themselves and I was not a slave owner.

    In contrast, my grandparents (all Jewish) on both sides were paid reparations by Germany 50 years after the WWII ended. Both sets of my grandparents were living in Belarus when the Nazis invaded in 1941. Both grandmothers dropped everything and fled to Kazakhstan where they spent 3 years until the Nazis were kicked out of Belarus. Both grandfathers went to the fron to fight. Both grandmothers (and not their kids or grandkids) received reparations from Germany some 50 years later. These kinds of reparations I support, just as I would support reparations to the actual Japanese survivors of the WWII internment, etc.

  • Rick Evans

    Posted by Sunil, “Apologies to Rick Evans. I posted my comment before I read your earlier and much more concise point.”

    No apologies needed Sunil. It’s nice to see I’m not alone in seeing the irony in Dinesh’s pseudo-intellectual demagoguery.

  • Kristine

    Charles Browser- to your first comment:
    We were talking about individuals, not corporations. The two are not one and the same and should not be treated as such. As for your attacks on the wealthy, are you seriously saying that you are not greedy and that, if given the opportunity, you wouldn’t want to write all the rules or choose the person who did?

    Michael- check the data and statistics yourself. Statistics can and have been manipulated by the news media and used by people to their own ends. I am not saying that it hasn’t been done by both sides, but I suggest you look at the methods of the research you are quoting from. I am very glad that you brought up the last 30 years, because if you do look at economic data from the last 30 years, we are not doing half bad despite being in a recession. We have more disposable income and our GDP is higher. Regarding the gap between rich and poor, the “biggest” is very vague. The “biggest” since when- the late 90s?

    Charles- on your second comment:
    Do those statistics also say that the standard for poverty has risen significantly? Or that the standard for poverty does not take into consideration government aid such as Medicaid and food stamps? News media (in general, not specifically NPR) likes to create a panic and make you feel like you are living in the worst of times because it sells. Our standards have just risen so much over the last 60 years that we don’t know what true poverty is. Check out Africa.
    As to saying that I deserve to be poor (very kind, by the way), I have been, at least by American standards. I have lived on $20 a week for gas and food, and less. I have felt the horror and shame of pleading with a bank over overdraft charges. I know what it is like to have to make difficult choices over what to pay and what to eat. I have worked 4 jobs simultaneously to get myself out of it. Yes, I was lucky to have not grown up that way and extremely lucky to have been able to get out of it. I am even luckier to have been born into a country where one can break the cycle of poverty and being poor is just really not that bad in comparision to poverty in other countries. I want to keep it that way and even when I was at the bottom of a pit, I never changed my views that long-term goals should take the place of short-term.

  • jeffe

    Kristine Koutout, are you paying attention? 1 in 7 Americans are now living in poverty. The largest downward movement in about 50 years. Wages for about 70% of the population has been stagnant for about 30 years when adjusted for inflation. People are losing there homes in droves, our schools are failing. The roads are falling apart along with all the infrastructure. That huge gas pipe explosion in California last week seems to be from age as it was about 50 years old.

    The Republicans do not have good track record in this area. Then there is health care.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    dnxtlvl: I’ll bet you laughed when that person supported a Powell/Rice Presidential ticket. Powell is a collaborator (traitor to the People) because of his false testimony at the UN preceding Iraq (2003), and because of his Mai Lai cover-up among other crimes. I will not dignify Rice with a biography since she has already had an oil tanker named for her. You also hinted about 9/11 Truth and how insiders (like Powell and Tenant) could uncover false-flagging crimes (treason).

    As for Skip Gates, he is my buddy, I could never think a bad thought about him, even when he accepts tainted research money. If you haven’t seen him in person he is tiny and is crippled with hip dysplasia, can barely walk with a cane. Not only could he not force a door (He keyed it but it had swollen.) but he is child-sized beside Sgt. Crowley. The situation indicates both classism and racism on the police side.

    I am particularly sensitive to bodily stature issues because I’m 3’2″ tall and weigh under 70 lbs. I have been abused by sadistic police several times, as little and polite as I am.

    I like Skip because he came from poor people in West Virginia and Maryland and has not lost his common touch. He is approachable though I would not ask him, “How was that beer?” (“Cold.” he’ll answer resentfully.) His scholarship is above reproach, though his TV specials are cheesy with celebrities to get attention.

    And Ann: The Black Studies courses I’ve taken were some of the best and most informative. We need minority history departments (Amerindian, African-American and others) just as we need Women’s Studies and Critical Thinking disciplines. Sometimes these are the only niches where oppressed minorities can find a toehold. I am aware of Appalachian Studies for native mountaineers too. So I do think poor college students need special assistance. I want to thank Ward Churchill for the sacrifice of his career for our freedom and Bradley Manning for doing the right thing.
    beretco.op@hotmail.com Don’t forget my documentary about older workers. Any aged people should have job opportunities.

  • Kristine Koutout

    Jeffe- I would like to know what your data source is for your statement on wage stagnation. The data that I have seen shows a 15% increase in median income after inflation is accounted for. I am genuinely interested (trying to keep an open mind), so please tell me where I can find this data.

  • michael


    • 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
    • 61 percent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
    • 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
    • 36 percent of Americans say that they don’t contribute anything to retirement savings.
    • A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
    • 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
    • Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
    • Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
    • For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
    • In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
    • As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
    • The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
    • Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
    • In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
    • The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America’s corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
    • In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
    • More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
    • or the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
    • This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
    • Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 – the highest rate in 20 years.
    • Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
    • The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.


    The Middle Class in America Is Radically Shrinking.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Dave Eger writes:

    “A question for Dr. Gates, and anyone else who might have an opinion on it: can someone be both Muslim and Christian if they follow both ideologies?”

    I am neither Muslim nor Christian, but I’ll offer an answer anyway. Since Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet though not as Son of God, a mingling of the two faiths might be more problematic from a Christian point of view than from a Muslim point of view. However, the Muslim point of view doesn’t look kindly on the concept of any human being equating himself with God. So it would seem the two are incompatible. But let’s be clear on this: since both are man-made religions, one could pick and choose and contradict oneself and not actually be in literal danger of divine retribution, since no such danger exists. Human contradiction is boundless; I actually know of a famous comic-book creator who underwent a severe religious conversion (along with a swing to the far right) and who since has been a devout follower of a personalized blend of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

  • Kristine Koutout

    Jeffe- ok, I am just going to address the first statistic to start off with and I will get to the others later.

    Read the chart; don’t just pay attention to what the media is showing you. Yes, 1% of the people own 83% of the stocks. In 1962, 1% of the people owned 94.4% of the stock. That tells you that the situation is getting significantly better over time, not worse. Second, look at the increase over time. The 1% of the population have increased the dollar amount of stocks they own by a little over 80%. In comparison, the middle 20% have increased their stock holdings by 10 fold and the bottom 40% by 6 fold. That also looks to be improving with time. Statistics need to be studied before judgements are made.

  • Kristine Koutout

    By the way Jeffe, thank you for taking the time to write that out and find the statistics. I will certainly take a closer look at them after work.

  • Rob L

    What’s Colin Powell babbling about? Did he find the WMDs, or is he lying about something else these days? The guy has all the credibility of the promises on a jar of Creatine at a GNC.

  • http://none sam taranto

    Typical knee jerk liberal program that is so pro Obama the truth is not even discussed. This Gates HARVARD liberal softens up Obama’s African heritage of his father, but mentions NOTHING about his white mother and white grandparents, who were COMMUNISTS.
    This heritage of Obama has carefully been covered up by the pro Obama media, academia, and the entertainment pro Obama media. A lot of evidence seems to indicate that Obama was NOT influenced by his African heritage. His economic and social policies are more in line with socialism and Marxism. This far left Harvard idiot tries to make this a RACE CARD issue. No wonder Obama got elected and if this continues, he will be RE elected in 2012. Finally, the liberal NPR reporter calls Obama an AFRICAN AMERICAN president, which is not true. He was of MIXED race. With this obsession with race, no wonder the US is getting screwed up so fast. Instead of the races getting along, the hostility is worse than ever. These rotten liberals do NOT want the races to get along. They want the conflict to stay in business. This is disgraceful and downright subversive.

  • Scott K

    It’s kind of ironic that Dr. Gates attacked all Tea Party groups for being the latest stooges who established interests can agitate with racial fears.

    This subtle political jab used by Democrat spokespeople and echoed by many media outlets is wielding racial fears the other direction. Dr. Gates is using fears about a minority group of racists to distract independent voters from important issues. He’s helping the same established interests stirring up racial fears in the first place and perpetuating the problem.

    At its heart, the tea party is a patriotic call to return to citizen involvement in government. The fundamental core of tea party philosophy is contained in the history of the title, a group working to end onerous taxation by a distant, unresponsive government. The main political aims are a smaller, responsive, decentralized government that costs less to run and takes less from the people in taxes.

    Of course there are fringe elements trying to tack their pet fears onto the tea party. Lack of formal structure allows lunatics and poseurs from the other end of the political spectrum to hijack the message. Instead of Dr. Gates playing into this distraction, it would be fantastic if he’d support government reforms that help all Americans live prosperous, free lives.

  • JonS

    Henry Louis Gates sees everything through the race prism. It’s time he left the cloistered environment of academia and realized much of America has moved on beyond race.

  • Ann

    “The African Diaspora eventually included some members so pale(;) yet they were STILL enslaved (indicting the LAWS of the land!)” (September 21, 12:47 p.m.).

    By that rather awkward statement, I did NOT mean that DARKER people should have been enslaved, and paler people spared bondage. What I meant to point out was this: the LAWS (of this land) were written WITH RACE as a LEGAL factor; race was a major component in many, many laws! I meant to say that these race-based laws OUGHT TO BE INDICTED when we look at what they did historically and at the lingering inequities we still see and/or experience today. Altho the phrase, “one drop of (Black) blood” did not appear until the twentieth century, the concept had already been in place IN OUR LAWS for centuries (colonial & federal times), and would continue to be so until the 1960′s. Our LAWS WERE RACIST; and yet many people believed that these laws represented a legal standard based upon some racial “truth”. Even tho these laws were based on presumptions that were completely false AND exploitive, the laws determined how society and its economic and political power bases grew and developed. The consequences of these developments are the structural racism we see to this day. The vibrancy of spirit and creativity, within the African-American community and within its individual members, thrived in spite of this LEGAL BACK DROP, called the laws of the United States of America and its various states!

  • Charles A. Bowsher

    @KristineKoutout That’s right, I am not greedy, at least where money for myself is concerned. I have lived on less than $8,000 income/year for a very long time. My income used to be substantially higher in the 1980′s and 1990′s. For the last four or five years I could have qualified for food stamps and medicaid probably, but my pride prevents me. My ex-girlfriend (of 13 years) thinks I should have applied for disability years ago because of ADD + Depression + whatever else you want to name. Instead I have resigned myself to living without Health Insurance for the last five years, and living a rather small existence. At age 50+ it is frightening to think what would happen with just one illness. It keeps me close to home, trying to avoid any risk or injury. There is a whole litany, but you get the idea. I was raised to think of others, not myself first. So no, I would not change things to benefit me, I would change things to benefit the largest group of people possible, those who need it the most. There is nothing wrong with giving people a hand up. If you are a Christian as many on the right are then you simply need to read your bible to see that the Republican way is not the way of Jesus.

    If you are honest you must admit that the wealthy and their bought and paid for congressmen have skewed the system to their advantage, time after time for decades now. This has not been a Democracy for a very long time. It is survival of the richest which is just another way of saying “Law of the Jungle”. I really thought God would have designed Evolution a little more wisely than this. It’s that dang free-will again rearing it’s ugly head.

    Your last comment “being poor is just really not that bad in comparison (sic) to poverty in other countries. I want to keep it that way and even when I was at the bottom of a pit, I never changed my views that long-term goals should take the place of short-term.”

    Do you even hear what you are saying? What else are tax cuts for the wealthy but a short-term gain and for a very small number of people at that! (2.0%!!!). The Dems are actually going to cave and give into this absurd Republican notion that a tax cut on the first $250,000 of income for a wealthy person is not enough of a tax cut! Has your and their greed no bounds????? Wasn’t ten years of unpaid for tax cuts enough? Over a trillion dollars on a war completely outside the budget until Obama included it. A war I would not have contributed a penny for. Yes, I am mad! I am sickened.

    If this were a fair democracy, your party would not even have a voice for at least the next four years. Your party’s policies have all but destroyed this country, and now, after he has been in office barely 20 months you want to reverse all his policies as if you were impatient little children. Quit listening to politicians and pundits. Spend some time thinking more long-range, with a wider view of yourself and the world. Things are really screwed up, but we can get to a better future for all.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    sam taranto writes:

    “This Gates HARVARD liberal softens up Obama’s African heritage of his father, but mentions NOTHING about his white mother and white grandparents, who were COMMUNISTS.”

    The use of ALL CAPS seems to suggest that these words are somehow BAD. All my life I have heard from right-wing commentators the claims that Harvard and Communists are bad. Just once, I would like to hear a detailed explanation as to why these are supposed to be bad. So ignore my autodidactic education and political studies, ignore my age, treat me like a naive child, and please, would you explain to me, in your own thoughtful terms, just what is supposed to be so bad about Harvard and the Communists?

    I’m waiting….

  • jeffe

    OH NO! His mother and grandparents were COMMIES! Anything but that! Not only is Obama anti-colonial but he’s a communist sleeper mole for a dead ideology!
    Lock the doors! Pull down the shades and turn off the lights! Be very very quite… I think I here those black helicopters…

    We better exhume Joseph McCarthy and get started on those

  • jeffe

    Woops I meant hear those black helicopters…

    Man I’ve heard a lot of bunk in my day, but that communist bit takes the cake.

  • Jackson

    Why is it politically correct for non-whites to refer to their race/ethnicity as “our people” but if a “white” person says this would be politically incorrect. Why is the the term “white” not politically incorrect? Why is Obama considered “black”? Mr. Gates fans the flames while his ego glows in the fire.

  • http://WHRO/89.5 Pat Kennedy

    I tuned in to the program and rather enjoyed listening to Dr Gates. I think he was quite interesting. According to what he was asked to discuss, I enjoyed the program. Good job Tom! Thanks Dr Gates!

  • Ann

    By the way, here is something to read vis a vis the ORIGINAL colonial patriots upon whom the current Tea Partyers seem to like to model themselves….. This is from the Brown (University) “Slavery and Justice Report”, which can be read in pdf form by going to:


    This quote is from pdf Page 11.

    “The Seven Years War between
    Britain and France had just ended, and the British
    Parliament, facing a large deficit, announced its
    intention to begin collecting a duty, previously
    unenforced, on imported sugar and molasses. The
    result, as every American schoolchild learns, was a
    wave of protests against “taxation without representation,”
    culminating in the colonies’ declaration
    of independence in 1776. Rhode Islanders stood in
    the van of the struggle, drafting the first formal
    protest to the new duties, a “Remonstrance” that
    was personally carried to London by Stephen
    Hopkins, the colony’s governor and chancellor of
    the new college. The Rhode Island Remonstrance
    is rightly remembered as a watershed in the coming
    of the American Revolution, yet the document
    itself spoke less of liberty than of slavery. The proposed
    tax, the authors warned, would cripple the
    Rhode Island economy, destroying not only the
    Caribbean provisioning trade but also the burgeoning
    African slave trade. “[W]ithout this trade, it
    would have been and will always be, utterly impossible
    for the inhabitants of this colony to subsist
    themselves, or to pay for any considerable quantity
    of British goods,” the document concluded.”

    Knowledge of African American history is knowledge of American history. Without it, the bitter ironies contained in the motivations of the original colonial protestors can get lost. Do those in the current Tea Party movement know the context and intent of those they wish to emulate?
    And, once again it must be said: the economy of the thirteen colonies and of the United States, once formed, thru the Civil War, was a Slave Economy, meaning that slavery was the engine that drove almost all economic activities; a slave economy is not limited to the slave traders and slave owners . Besides our LAWS being racist, racism was an inherent organizing principle of our ECONOMY . Peonage and tenant farming followed slavery. We all need to understand these principles and this history of ours before we worshipfully wish for a return to our country’s own past. I believe that, instead, we need to think very hard about new approaches that are really representative of a nation based on freedom and democracy. As I said earlier, the writings and/or transcriptions of many earlier and current African-Americans who truly yearned for freedom and justice might lead us on to some good ideas! The discussion need not be racially exclusive, but freedom looks different to those to whom it has been denied.

    (And, Brown’s quote is from Donnan, “Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade”, Vol. III, pp. 203-5.)

  • Alton Hughes

    I was disappointed by this program and Dr. Gates in particular. He didn’t read D’Souza’s article but felt free to comment on it. Now that’s some sloppy scholarship. I just finished the article and can safely say that it has been mis-characterized by almost everyone EXCEPT Newt Gingrich.

    What D’Souza did was use excerpts from “Dreams Of My Father” to provide insight into the rationale behind some of Obama’s more puzzling decisions like loaning Brazil $2Bil for offshore drilling, or scolding America for using oil in his speech in June.

    The final paragraph taken out of context is a great way to smear Dinesh, Newt and the TEA Party, but a lousy way to expand knowledge.

  • millard_fillmore

    Why is it politically correct for non-whites to refer to their race/ethnicity as “our people” but if a “white” person says this would be politically incorrect. Why is the the term “white” not politically incorrect? Why is Obama considered “black”? Mr. Gates fans the flames while his ego glows in the fire.


    Boston Phoenix did an in-depth feature on Obama’s race (and using his own words) after the elections were over. A search should bring it up – it’s well-worth a read and deals with the issue in an honest manner.

    And who can forget that silly tizzy fit that many liberals threw, over The New Yorker magazine cover that had a cartoon of the Obamas in the WH?

  • Sanyarey

    Millard — comments about the Dinesh comments are surprising. Dinesh is not honest and much of what he says is verbiage.

    For instance he calls the Mosque issue in Obama’s foreign policy — even kids know this a domestic issue on land. Most of his arguments are fallacies and leave one wondering where did this guy go to school and how much education does he really have.

  • Alan

    Once again, “On Point” goes to the heart of the matter, i.e. American culture, and grapples with the truly “big issues.” Given the high quality of your programs I have taken to emailing the link regularly to friends around the nation, and this program was at the top of my list this morning. Thank you again for your incisive discussions. By the way, speaking as a Vietnam veteran, I think it is important to stick to facts when speaking of Newt Gingrich. He is a draft dodger, or as we vets would say, “a hawk who ducked.” That explains a lot about the lad.

  • Alton Hughes


    Dinesh may be a congenital liar, but his article on Obama’s rationale stemming from his father’s beliefs are the only relevant points here. If he is lying in the article, do what Gates didn’t do and show us where.


  • Paco

    Wow! The comments here are appalling. Apparently no one listened to or learned anything from this NPR piece.

    I feel sorry for you people who feel so powerless and afraid that you need to scapegoat others based on their differences from the majority.

    It’s ok you should be afraid…
    You will be a minority in America soon, you know…
    You should start praying for forgiveness and leniency now!

  • Ishmael

    Pure fluff. Biology into the mix? Why? Of what significance is the brilliant acress, Meryl Streep’s, comments? What was the point of interviewing her on this topic? Is she supposed to be playing the the role of a biologist or a geneticist now?
    Is this discussion supposed to be about some Lamarckian transfer of political ideas and memories across generations? What WAS thie interview about?
    By now everyone knows the teabagger movement is just another one of the racists’ codes for their ideology of hatred (racism). Same is said for the GOP’s welcoming them into their ranks.
    Not everyone who dislikes Obama is racist. Some just disagree with his ideas and policies. Some are racist.

  • sanyarey

    Alto ,

    You are an intelligent person and I think you do perceive the problems of baseless generalizations that have no data to help use prove their reality in life. Some Pseudo-intellectual have tried before to explain some generalizations that demean some people and elevate others .

    Dinesh is well known pseudo-intellectual and intelligent people should not fall for his rubbish.


  • Ann

    Thanks for the Forbes link; I was missing some of the discussion points without it. In his article, Dinesh D’Souza says, “Colonialism today is a dead issue. No one cares about it except the man in the White House.” How can anyone think that?!?

    To me, that is the kind of statement that is meant to carry hip, memorizable weight all the while it totally misleads people away from the truth. It’s a Trojan Horse or a Red Herring, or Something Intentionally Disingenuous that takes up Residency illegitimately within the battlefield (all the while pretending it’s only a “playing field” with pals around (note the use of the phrase, “No one”??!!…. — a clique-building trick from junior high school days, if there ever were one!).

    IF D’Souza’s argument against Obama is this: “Obama takes on his father’s struggle, not by recovering his body but by embracing his cause;” that is, D’Souza seems to dislike Obama’s supposed affinity for his father’s struggle against colonialism and his father’s struggle to return the resources of (third-world) countries to the citizens of those countries, thus giving those citizens more economic power in order to develop more social equity; then I disagree with D’Souza and agree with President Obama. But, can we make the leap from the President’s book to the conclusions that D’ Souza comes away with about the reach of the President’s policy similarities with those of his father? I’d need to read more & ask the President some questions, but, if the President indeed has anti-colonial motivations, I’d support the President in that.

    I am not as familiar with the issue as I’d like to be, but “the new” China has been securing for itself mineral rights in Africa (similar to what the “old” China did, as well as other nations), including rights to some very rare minerals that are essential for digital media devices. The United States has private corporations that insist they have contractual mineral rights in countries around the world, including in countries that are our neighbors whom we have preferred to see as having problematic socialist governments when, if they do, it is because we neglected the poverty in those countries. for decades and/or centuries, when we weren’t busy exploiting those countries and their resources. When Conservatives complain about the amounts of foreign aid we give to under-developed nations, wouldn’t it make sense to, instead, let those countries utilize their mineral and resource wealth for their own economic development, thus bringing them into the sphere of developed nations where they could then trade within that “hallowed ground” of “the free market” which Conservatives bow in front of? Right now, “globalism” seems to me to be about exploiting the poor by paying them low wages with few benefits and often without workplace safety measures; rather than being about letting nations have economic control and use of their own natural resources!

    I admit I’d never heard of D’Souza before, but he seems to me to be a spokesman for continuing the exploitation of the resources of the world’s poor by global corporate giants, including U.S. corporate behemoths. IF, as D’Souza claims, “colonialism is dead” …… that can’t be what our corporate giants are doing??!! (And, please… do NOT define “colonialism” in terms of governmental structures only — that’s disingenuous!) I think THAT is WHY D’Souza is making the argument he is dishonestly making.

    IF I remember correctly, I think that something similar was one of Professor Gate’s main points: that a lot of political points are being made as Red Herrings (I’ve finally used the phrase correctly!) to get people to act like Lemmings, jumping off into an Ocean that, with enough Lemmings raising the rising tide, will give the Conservatives a Flood’s Worth of Supporters, thus securing their Power.

    This particular On Point show and the ensuing discussion on-line has so much depth and so many “tentacles” that I keep having to go back to listen to the podcast again and again and to re-read the postings on the website!


  • Alton

    When speaking about colonialism, I take the view that until the poor in developing countries have a revolution about ideas and not stuff, they are going to be mired in the squalor they currently inhabit.

    What I mean by this is that most all the former colonies had some kind of revolution based on wealth and power and not concerned with ideas like rule of law. Show me a developing former colony that has been free for 40+ years that doesn’t have astronomical rates of corruption.

    Unless the revolutions recognize this and act upon it, I have no sympathy for the beds the former colonials sleep in, they made them themselves. Putting the blame for that morass on colonialism is just excuse making to me.

  • Ann


    Not only are ideas as potentially dangerous as they are beneficial, but one could examine most of history along this dichotomy.

    As I said earlier, U.S. history is often written about as if the creation of the country was purely about freedom and democracy, when, in fact, powerful political players wanted to create an economic freedom for themselves that was based on the slave trade, and which included extraordinarily racist concepts that were knit right into the political structure they created.

    The excuse that the Founders were “men of their times” does NOT hold water: Native Americans thruout the Americas and the Caribbean and Africans brought to the New World and or born here had been exhibiting, thru battles and insurrections, that they had a very different concept about who should be included in this new “freedom”. The majority of colonists and later the majority of the Founders just did not want to hear.

    My own family may have been owned by a niece of a Founding Father’s wife (95% certainty). On the other side of my family, we were Free People of Color who nevertheless had limited political freedom; we had our economic freedom intentionally truncated by colonists and their descendants, and we were eventually forced to register as FPOC every year. Also, the powerfully connected descendants of the colonial families hatched a plan to “get rid of” our FPOC families, seeking, by legal manuevers, to get us ousted from our community, and seeking to possess our land. The evidence I have for all this is on the public record (as I have written before), and is written about extensively by my scholar cousin, Frances Bibbins Latimer. I do not even need to have a personal interpretation of what happened to some of my relatives: the bigotry and the laws it created are written in the words of the colonists and the Founders and their descendants in the public record for all to see — that is, if you WANT to see the hypocrisy and danger behind many, many ideas.

    More optimistically, by clearly seeing and examining the hypocrisy and danger within ideas, we may be able to steer clearer courses as we continue to try to solve the problems of being human beings sharing the planet together, as the poor, as well as the wealthy and well connected, have been interested in for millennia.

  • Justin

    I have been listening to the podcast of OnPoint for a while now, and as a Canadian it provides fascinating into the U.S. that I can’t seem to find anywhere else.

    One thing I don’t understand is how the Media including Tom, don’t realize how they reinforce certain messages when discussing some topics. How many times did Tom repeat the message of D’Souza. Maybe 10 times?

    This reinforces the message strength even when it is a ridiculous and frankly offensive message.

    The media will keep reinforcing this message and then wonder why people believe it. Sometimes if people hear something enough they lend it credence.

  • Alton


    You’re like the anti-Beck on American history, and I don’t mean it in a bad way. The fact that colonial Americans were not paragons of virtue is not in dispute. Yes, they were racist, and? That doesn’t change the fact that the founder’s wrote a very clear and far reaching document, the Constitution, that is still relevant and actionable today. That it wasn’t followed by the standards of today in the 1800′s is important to know, but not to obsess upon.

    Saying that “they were men of their times” is a bogus excuse opens up a much larger discussion. I don’t think the Indians or slaves in the early 1800′s were sufficiently familiar with the Constitution and its concepts to say they were fighting for equal rights, possible, but highly improbable. Without knowing, I will guess that they wanted autonomy for their respective kind and to be left alone by everyone else. In short, they didn’t seek some kind of multicultural nirvana that seems to be the ideal in America today.

    I suppose I could look to you and your camp to see how corrupt and hypocritical the founder’s were and Beck and his camp to see how farsighted and wise the founder’s were. It’s good to know both sides so you don’t repeat your mistakes.

    If you insist on dwelling on the past as the root of all problems and refuse to look at contemporary realities, then you will never be a useful partner “able to steer clearer courses as we continue to try to solve the problems of being human beings sharing the planet together, as the poor, as well as the wealthy and well connected, have been interested in for millennia.”

  • Ann

    Alton, you say, “I don’t think the Indians or slaves in the early 1800’s were sufficiently familiar with the Constitution and its concepts to say they were fighting for equal rights, possible, but highly improbable.”
    Actually, many, many African-Americans were aware of the ideas being talked about in the households, halls, and meeting rooms of the revolution-minded colonists. There is much documentation about this. Some, at great risk, tried to use these very words of freedom to secure their own liberty; yet, somehow, it was the colonial and citizen Whites who had difficulty grasping the meaning of the concepts! The book, Looking East from Indian Country, is excellent for describing some of the constitutionally-minded deals (as in, “how to constitute” governance in structural ways) that the Native Americans sought to work out with the colonists from First Contact. The Cherokees worked out a constitutional government for their own governance. You can find it on the internet.
    The reason I bring up history so much is that Rhetoric Matters. There IS a legitimate discussion “out there” about whether or not parts of the current Tea Party are racist. There are certainly some statements from some Tea Party advocates that warrant discussion about the racist tones many people hear in them.

    I also bring up history a lot because I have heard a lot of post-Affirmative-Action racial jealousy. Basically, the transatlantic slave trade was already underway when the first Africans known to have been brought to what became the U.S.A. arrived in 1619. Over the course of our colonial and federal history, we had a slave economy, followed by a Civil War; then a brief period of successful Reconstruction which was quickly followed by the Reconstruction that segued into the Jim Crow years which lasted, in terms of laws, until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. African-Americans have only had 45 years of legal equality, and sometime within that period, Affirmative Action was introduced; for very legitimate reasons, I believe. Within those same 45 years, we have increasing incarceration of African-Americans, especially of the males, for comparable crimes of Whites (with far less imprisonment for Whites!); and we have growing and entrenched poverty for a disproportionately large segment of the African-American population compared to the proportion of Whites who are living in poverty. The number of African-American school children who attend under-performing schools far out numbers those figures for White children.

    My father’s family was Black/Negro/Colored/Mulatto, free and enslaved, and with some Native American status as well, since at least the end of the Eighteenth Century, and maybe much earlier. For a host of reasons, including growing bigotry, violence, and “legal” discrimination, and a huge disappearance of jobs because of race bias where they lived, my grandparents “passed as white” when they were in their mid- and late twenties. Due to my grandparents’ decision to bolt from the American apartheid system, I have never had the disadvantages, social and legal, that those in my grandparents’ community who could not “pass” had to endure. I bring up history a lot as a way of studying the Structural Racism that we have the in U.S. — a racism I do not experience personally because my grandparents “passed as White”.
    When I hear Rhetoric, jealous rhetoric, from White people about the alleged “unfair advantage” of Blacks today, especially when Affirmative Action is blamed, I do my best to set the stage for a discussion. Also, there ARE politicians who use the Constitution as a roux for the racism they throw into the recipe, for their own political gain. Additionally, textbook selection in the public schools is a politicized endeavor. In many cases, the contributions of Native Americans and African-Americans to the development of our democracy and our culture are being left out in textbook revisions. When I can quote from my grandmother’s brother who was a lawyer, an educator and civil rights advocate, from about 1890-1944, I like to share information about his (and his father’s) contributions so that school children today can see that the history of Black involvement is even richer than their textbooks suggest. When I can then also describe that my grandmother’s great aunt was a slave until the Civil War, the achievements of the younger males of the family stand next to the contributions of the unheralded millions whose contributions as slaves drove our economy! Mine is just one, small statement, but others can add their family stories, extending our understanding of how our country was made, economically, culturally, socially, environmentally, legally.

    We need to understand that the Revolutionary War was as much about protecting an economic system — a slave economy — as it was about the high rhetoric of freedom. But, the rhetoric was heard by people other than those of high class who represented the majority of the signers. The rhetoric was heard by the African-Americans, and we all can read THEIR declarations for freedom by going to the books of wonderful scholarship that quote these freedom seekers directly.

    There WERE slaves and Free Persons of Color who were leaders in the fight for freedom, and many WERE aware of the Constitutional concepts you feel they were unfamiliar with. Your belief that the Blacks were probably outside the deep thinking on these matters could mix with some Tea Party rhetoric, like the statement, “take back OUR country”, making it look like African-Americans are only beneficiaries of a country begun by Whites. You may not be saying this, but, to many people, it feels like some Tea Partyers are saying this and hope to act on it.

    Believe me, I ONLY write what I do because I am looking at the present and trying to help with the future. My grandmother’s brother dedicated one of several books he wrote to his father, one of the first African-American lawyers whose study of the law came out of his personal desire and out of the impetus of the Freedman’s Bureau to help recently freed slaves in legal matters. The son wrote, “A simple tribute to my father … whose library directed my interests to the progress of democracy”. Because my grandparents “passed as White”, I did not know many of my relatives; now I am becoming acquainted with them thru the historic documents they left, which I do believe are part of our continuing dialogue about “the progress of democracy”.

  • Ken Smith

    Interesting comments here–I just listened to the program (about ten days after the broadcast) and thought I’d chime in, though I’m sure most of the commentors have moved on to other topics.

    First, I value African and African-American history very much, and in fact I teach a college course on African history and find it to be extremely valuable. Henry Louis Gates’s writings and documentaries are a tremendous contribution both to African History and to the broader study of World History. I really appreciate him and his ongoing work on tracing genetic lines.

    Second, the conversation on the On Point program was fundamentally flawed–that is, flawed so deeply as to be worse than worthless–in that Gates has neither read nor understood D’Souza’s book or essay, and thinks that D’Souza is invoking biological determinism. He’s not. So essentially this program was en exercise in torching a straw man. No doubt the smoke and light from the fire was interesting, but it didn’t really have anything to do with what D’Souza has actually written or actually believes.

    I have read D’Souza’s essay and find it also deeply flawed. In short, it’s not impressive. But the prattle on this program about D’Souza invoking genetic categories to explain the President is simply dishonest.

    I admire Tom Ashbrook greatly as a thinker and interviewer, but on this particular program he has passed a bad check. Notice I did not say Tom is intellectually bankrupt–he’s not, in fact he has a very rich intellectual bank account. But he simply did not transfer the funds to cover the payment represented by the claims he allowed to pass unchallenged on this particular program.

    Thank you for allowing me to post my comments. I remain a loyal On Point listener (I love to hear the program while running on rural North Dakota roads) and I learn something from every program. On this as on some other occasions, the lesson was conferred negatively–as in demonstrating how NOT to conduct an intellectual discussion.

  • Alton


    If I understand you right, since 1619, “many, many” blacks were aware of the details of the politics, including the meaning of the Constitution and its Amendments, but were denied full participation until 1965 at which time incarceration rates and educational achievement started to go up and down respectively due to structural racism. And because of history and structural racism, affirmative action (which started out as a program to advertise Federal jobs in black newspapers but has come to mean preferential treatment by race when hiring) is justified. In addition, the Tea Party, which is dominated by whites, has an inherently racist catchphrase in “take our country back” because most attendees are white.

    So what is your solution? Why are there such large discrepancies in educational achievement, incarceration, net worth, and single parent homes? At what point does the black community own its problems?

  • Nick

    1. Suffice it to say, the worst of racism in this country is over and our country and its institutions are making great strides in promoting equality. Weighing the success of affirmative action and the fact that nearly 60% of the country voted for Obama go to help prove this point. People like Gates and groups like the NAACP have made it their purpose to confront racism.

    Nonetheless, blacks (proportionately) still have the lowest high school graduation rate, the highest incarceration rate, highest rate of single mothers, and collectively the poorest economic position of any other race. How much of these problems are on account of racism versus pervasive problems within the black community? With this in mind, at one point should leaders in the African-American community (i.e, Gates and the NAACP) refocus their purpose from obsessing over racism to confronting the serious, perpetual cultural problems within their community? Instead of obsessing about racism, people like Gates could have a more meaningful impact on the problems facing African-American community by using their notoriety to become positive role models and speaking out against the cultural issues that perpetuate their community. Good examples of this type of leadership are Bill Cosby, Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Often times, it appears like Gates and others obsess over racism because its the popular thing to do and most blacks stand behind them in this regard. On the other hand, they refrain from confronting the even more sensitive issues in the black community of poverty, crime, single motherhood, obesity, and lack of education because it is the unpopular/politically incorrect thing to do and will offend many blacks even though it is statistically proven.

    2. Jews have been enslaved, persecuted, thrown into ghettos and massacted since the beginning of recorded history, yet they have always been resilient. I think much of the Jews’ success in spite of their history of persecution is due to the fact that they have always cherished and valued education and family. What lessons can the black community learn from the Jewish community?

  • Anonymous

    Anyone break into your home you racist slug?

Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Aug 28, 2014
Some of the hundreds of earthquake damaged wine barrels cover and toppled a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. (AP)

Drought in California, earthquake in Napa. We look at broken bottles and the health of the American wine industry.

Aug 27, 2014
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This week the Emmys celebrate the best in television. We’ll look at what’s ahead for the Fall TV season.

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Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader meet. We’ll look at Russia and the high voltage chess game over Ukraine. Plus, we look at potential US military strikes in Syria and Iraq.

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