Published: Aug 29, 2009 02:00 AM
Modified: Aug 27, 2009 09:31 PM
I wonder what we, as a nation, learned after Gates, the cop and the president met to drink a beer at the White House.
For a few weeks Henry Louis Gates became the national poster boy for racial profiling. Excuse me for asking, but what took us so long to have this conversation?
Let me go on record. I've been stopped for driving while black. I have been followed for shopping while black. I have even been stopped for walking while black.
It happened eight years ago. Like so many of my neighbors I took advantage of the walking trail in the Woodcroft subdivision. An officer stopped me one day and asked where I was going. "Home," I responded.
I was walking home.
I was taking a stroll to reduce the stress caused from dealing with outlandish circumstance in both my life and in the lives of people I worked with. I didn't deserve to be stopped for walking. What I needed was time alone to meditate on life. I needed time to reflect on my work. I needed space, alone, to unload the pain caused after witnessing countless people caught up in cycles of frustration: addiction, abuse, poverty, incarceration, death and fear.
I walked and prayed, searching for answers after enduring the despondency of one day of disappointment stacked on top of the previous day of the same.
I needed a reminder of God's presence in the hub of my pain. Each step, each breath, and each teardrop sought sanctuary from the sadness that comes with the work I do. There, walking down the manicured landscape of Woodcroft Parkway, I tried my best to forget, for a moment, the stack of ills was too much for me to carry. I walked in search of some comfort from the sorrows of those residing in the Northeast Central Durham community. "God, grant me the courage and strength to keep pressing forward," I prayed. "Give me reason to believe that those over there, on the other side of this place where I live, will break free from the misery caused by living with their lacks."
Then it happened. A reminder. A reminder that my living in isolation from those who feel victimized by their human condition did not protect me from the perceptions my skin stirred. In that moment I was no different from those living with less. The police stopped me because of an assumption linked to my race.
I felt that rage brewing. None of it mattered, it seemed. The work done to make a difference, the neighborhood where I lived, the degrees earned, being named a News & Observer "Tar Heel of the Week," all of the community accolades and boards I served on -- none of it mattered.
In that moment, I was reduced to all the externals -- black man walking.
It's difficult to put into words how it feels when none of what you have done matters. That rage brews deep in the belly of those who have fought through all the stereotypes coming from those incapable of understanding the burden black men carry. It's hard to explain how painful it feels when you catch hell in your own house. It's one thing to endure it over there, but leave me alone when I'm at home.