An Officer and a Gentleman

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date





The New Press




Conscious racism - a person's surface racial attitudes as well as the actions that result from those attitudes - has undoubtedly diminished over the past generation. This decrease in conscious racism has led many to contend that our society has moved beyond its old racial divisions and to make such claims without acknowledging the harm of unconscious or implicit biases. Unconscious racial biases are those prejudices and stereotypes that people are unaware they hold and that, in many cases, do not comport with their own values and beliefs regarding race and equality.

Our failure as a society to confront our own unconscious biases has prevented us from truly improving our nation's race relations. This essay exposes the ways in which we can begin to move beyond racism by acknowledging, confronting, and analyzing our own unconscious racial biases. Specifically, this essay examines the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a fifty-nine-year-old black professor at Harvard, by Sergeant James Crowley, a white officer who had lectured about the harms of racial profiling, as a means of demonstrating how Crowley, a man with considerable antiracist credentials, could have responded to Gates with actions that seem to manifest race prejudice.

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