Drinking Past Racial Profiling: Obama and the Gates Arrest

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: King Anyi Howell

Pundits lampooned President Obama for his comments about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., accusing him of perpetuating racial division. But 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 felt the president's comments didn't go far enough.

The "post racial America" argument that Gates and others put forth after Obama's inauguration wasn't an idea I took seriously. It's not as though Obama's assumption of the presidency single-handedly banished racism from the United States, and the clash of egos between Sergeant Crowley of the Cambridge police, who happens to train fellow officers in cultural sensitivity, and Gates, one of this country's most eminent black scholars, could be the superlative example that the race card is more than in the deck, and on the table.

When President Obama famously criticized the Cambridge Police Department for "acting stupidly," he also said that racial profiling is a "fact." And I would add that it's not just a fact, it's abuse. When officers, sworn to serve and protect, racially profile innocent people, just as I have been many times, it leaves people like me feeling unnerved and powerless.

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.

Sure regular racism and prejudice are out there, but I care most about racial profiling, because it's one of the hollowest feelings I've ever felt. Most black men know that they can be searched, seized, and detained at anytime by a cop who might simultaneously be taking the "just doing my job" line too seriously and not seriously enough.

Now that he has invited Gates and Crowley over for a beverage at the White House, and said that he wishes his words were more carefully calibrated, I worry that the president could squander an important opportunity.

If President Obama is really interested in ushering in an era where racial issues and misunderstandings are understood and resolved, he needs to turn this mess into a teachable moment by organizing a task force to address our many racial divides. Anything less is merely lip service to a serious threat tearing at the unity of our nation.

And as far as that pint of beer goes, I worry that it may take many shared kegs before we finally come together as a nation.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org