2) Where race clearly was the dominant factor is with the person who called the police because she saw a black man pushing on a door in a fancy neighborhood.
3) But concentrating on the particulars of the case is a distraction. The reason an incident like this turns into a topic of national conversation is that it dramatizes major social issues. But instead of confronting these issues head-on, people get bogged down in irrelevant details and only indirectly express their feelings on the actual matter at hand.
4) Opinion has broadly fallen into two categories: 'if even some fancy professor who is black gets arrested for doing nothing, that proves racism is alive and well', and 'it's not racism, stop making me feel guilty about being white'.
5) The 'racism still exists' side is clearly right, especially when you consider the massive disparities in incarceration rates between whites and blacks. But more than a little of the outrage on the liberal side has to do with the fact that it was a black professional who was targeted. After all, poor blacks come in for this kind of harassment every day but it's just a matter of course. This point was nicely displayed in the comments of a white person married to a black professional, who said, “Even here in this diverse area [Chicago's Hyde Park] I’ve heard people say, ‘Look at those black guys coming toward us.’ I say, ‘Yes, but they’re wearing lacrosse shorts and Calvin Klein jeans. They’re probably the kids of the professor down the street.’ You have to be able to discern differences between people.” Or as New York Time columnist Charles Blow put it regarding his own first experience of police abuse, "We were the good guys — dean’s list students with academic scholarships. I was the freshman class president. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us."
6) In other words, many liberals would be satisfied if we could only replace racism with class hatred - in particular, class hatred directed against the ghetto underclass. No surprise here - liberals have always found race-based inequality repulsive but considered class inequality part of the natural order of things.
7) Ironically, the existence of the ghetto underclass is one of the main social phenomena that still make racist ideas plausible, and which drives the substitution of race markers for class markers that is such a striking part of the urban experience. It's this process of misrecognition that is behind some white people's casual fear of blacks (criticized by the proponent of class hatred above), as well as racial profiling by police and the hysteria at the suburban Philadelphia swimming club earlier this summer. After all, the ghetto is horrifically violent - undergoing a perpetual crisis far more disturbing than the groundless arrest of a privileged black Harvard professor. Let's say you see every night on the evening news that yet again some black kids have shot people, but you have no knowledge of history or the economy to make sense of this (lord knows the media don't provide it, and politicians, pundits, and even community activists don't discuss it). If you do have a set of racial stereotypes to draw on instead, it's not at all unreasonable to conclude that there's something about black people that makes them dangerous.
8) The point is, racism is not a communicable disease. People don't internalize ideas simply because someone tells them to. For these ideas to be compelling, there need to be social phenomena that seem to confirm them. The existence of a racially-specific ghetto underclass, in concert with nearly universal ignorance of how the ghetto was made and why it persists, and combined with the suppression of class as an explanatory variable in this country, is one of the most powerful factors behind continued acceptance of racial stereotyping.
9) If you want to eliminate this kind of racial inequality, you can't simply rail against "American racism" or demand that ignorant white people recognize the difference between good (professional) and bad (poor) black people. You have to attack the structural sources of the problem - by abolishing the ghetto.