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.

Again, I think this makes sense, if you believe racism to be the province of societal pariahs, not people who hawk their wares on MSNBC. But if you believe that we live with it every day, that the worst part of racism is how it hides in the hearts of otherwise decent people, than this is rather puzzling. If you've had friends who've looked you in the eye, and said something racist, you may feel differently.

This is say nothing of history, obviously. I think when we have black people driving slaves and perpetrating terrorism, when we have the Nation Of Islam hunting Jeff Sessions, all while yelling "Get the racist!" we will be close. When whole blocks start relocating because they suspect a racist has moved into the neighborhood we will be close.

I am sorry guys. Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.