Chris thinks Gates that by calling the officer a racist, Gates bears some of the responsibility for the incident. He goes a bit further in responding to an e-mail:
In my mind there is no equivalency here, but the reader does raise a good point: there is, and never will be, a white equivalent to the N-word, but "racist" - when unsubstantiated - comes close.
Chris is good dude, and a smart writer. But I think, even in its hedged, qualified form, this is quite wrong. I think we'd all agree that if my spouse gets mad and calls me a sexist, and I fire back by calling her a bitch, I've gone somewhere else. I think we'd agree that if a gay person, without proof, calls me a homophobe, and I fire back by calling him a fag, I've ventured into another league. We are not "close" in terms of the level of our offense. The question then becomes, why is it different for "racist"?
My only answer is that it's because we, again, equate racist with "immoral." Michael Jackson once called Tommy Moottola, a racist. From what I know, it was unsubstantiated. The only way I can close the space between that, and Mottola, say, calling Jackson a nigger, is to think of racist as the equivalent of rapist, or child-molestor.