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As someone who has been a target of racial profiling several times, and was even arrested in front of my home and held in jail over the weekend for fitting the description of a burglar, I'm paying close attention to the White House hops invitational.
People joke that I'm King Anyi Howell, the King of getting pulled over, and they suggest that because I drive a Cadillac, I'm more susceptible to racial profiling. But I can say with confidence that Cadillac designers never said to each other, "Yes! With this year's model we focused on a scientifically advanced design that will get people of color pulled over and searched!"
I've been pulled over in an assortment of vehicles, foreign and domestic, often searched and rarely ticketed. Heck, I've been "pulled over" while on a bike and even on foot, belittling the term DWB -- driving while black. No it's more like LWB, and getting a citation for living while black makes me feel like something less than a real citizen. And I certainly don't feel served or protected. For many black people, police scrutiny is a given, and pretty institutionalized. But so is the "F the police attitude" that many people of color hold about the cops - neither side gives. Once you've been unduly sidelined by police, you lose trust in them as both enforcement and protection - the protection you're paying taxes for. If you're a victim of crime, you don't call the police. If someone breaks into my house right now, I say, damn, what do I do now?
And I've been profiled so often that I've developed almost an art form for asserting my rights, while not offending the officer while doing so. I read recently that black men, when pulled over, have to be some odd combination of Samuel L. Jackson and Sydney Poitier, the former being known for his aggression and the latter for his eloquence. It may sound appalling to some, but that's exactly the tightrope I've learned to walk in dealing with the blue line of racial profiling. Creating a customer care persona, cheerfully providing necessary information to police, while showing interest in their work, even though in reality that is a complete role reversal. I'm the customer.
There’s an unspoken understanding between the offending cop and me when I get pulled over. We both know it's not necessarily because a taillight is out, or my music is playing too loudly. And we both know it will likely end up in some sort of search, and as cops often tell me, it's because my sweater and my skin match those of some dude who committed some crime last week.
I don’t act indignant because I'm the Jedi master - employing mind control to get us both out of the situation as quickly as possible. But once I've turned the corner, then I turn my music back up. Because after all, that’s why I bought it. If our forefathers had cassette decks on their horses, they’d probably want to play their music loud, too. That’s life, liberty and happiness all in one action. That's the whole balancing act. I know how to not lose my cool and how to assert my citizenship at once.
No matter the details of what actually happened on Henry Louis Gates' front porch, there's again an opportunity for national acknowledgment of a divisive problem. It might take the form of increased candor about this issue from both police, and the people of color who are wary of them. It might lead to some policy changes, like a racial profiling task force.
No matter what follows from the beer at the White House this afternoon, I don't doubt racial profiling will remain a sobering issue in my life for some time to come.
WEB EXTRA: Youth Radio is curating other inspiring voices on the issue of racial profiling. Here is comedian Dave Chappelle in San Francisco: