In college, some of my friends majored in history. Others braved the pre-med gauntlet. I graduated in 2001 with a degree in something or other, but my concentration was really in what you might call police scanner science. For three years, I covered the police beat for the Harvard Crimson, which was - is - the city of Cambridge's only breakfast table daily. When my friends would be out studying or dating, I'd be chasing cops. If the crime happened to be near Harvard's campus, I'd get there before they would, which occasionally proved disconcerting.
During my four years at Harvard, I got to know quite a few Cambridge police officers - black officers, white officers, Hispanic officers - and I became familiar with the tinder box that is racial politics in Cambridge. Take wealthy white (or nonwhite) patricians affiliated with Harvard, add liberal activists (not always so rich) who were attracted to the city because of its progressive legacy, add diversity that mirrors the composition of the United States, add blue collar, mostly ethnic white cops who were lifers in the police department...and it's not hard to see how racial sensitivities could be so acute. But in Cambridge, class sensitivities are often as touchy. Town-gown relations ebb and flow but always create tension between anything that suggests "Harvard" and anything that suggests "Cambridge." Cops tend to be working class joes and janes, and professors tend to be patricians. Intermixes like this happen often.
Filed under: Henry Louis Gates
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