My first reaction to watching the unfolding Saga of Skip Gates's Cambridge Arrest was that America's postracial bubble, like its recent economic troubles, was about to pop. The fact that some observers had never bought into the story of a race-free America purged of its past sins by a watershed presidential election had done little to diminish either that narrative's moral resonance or political weight.
Since America's racial disparities remain as deep-rooted after Barack Obama's election as they were before, it was only a matter of time until the myth of postracism exploded in our collective national face. That they would rear their ugly head in the form of an intellectual and racial cause célèbre is fitting, since black scholars and activists have been engaged in a robust debate over the meaning of race in the Age of Obama.
Suddenly Obama's recent declaration before the NAACP—that American blacks have come farther than at any other time in our country's history—seems suspect, our national progress undone by the fact that Gates's predicament has become a metaphor for the nation's legacy of racial discrimination.