While I wasn’t speeding or driving erratically, the California Highway Patrolman was nevertheless inquisitive as to why my SUV kept weaving two inches past the white solid line to my right.
Now granted, I was tired and anxious to get home. Listening to jazz and contemplating how I needed to ensure that my boys were adequately exposed to their culture over the next twenty-seven days, I truly was driving while black. My grandiose plans included checking out some books about our struggle as a people, going to some museums featuring black painters, and perhaps attending the local Pan-African Film Festival.
All these ideas came to a screeching halt when I saw those red lights in the rear.
With my two degrees, eight years as a prosecutor, and seven years as a judge, I still get uncomfortable whenever I encounter law enforcement on the street. Not that I had any reason to be uneasy. Besides my credentials, I am one of those "clean and articulate" brothers. The type that understands that when such a compliment is extended by someone — usually non-black, that the person is oftentimes completely oblivious as to why I would be left feeling slighted.
But the slight is real. As real as being forced to walk a straight line, count silently for thirty seconds, and explain that the substance in the oversized cup in the center console is nothing more than Arrowhead water.
Ironically, it was this exact moment when I found myself excited, if not giddy, about Senator Barack Obama’s upcoming announcement that he was running for President of the United States in 08. After making it official this past Saturday, Barack’s name, distinct upbringing, and racial lineage is now background noise for me. Today, he is simply another competent, qualified brother trying to make history and change the world.
When Nebraska Senator Joseph Biden recently announced his intention to make a second run for the White House, he drew attention away from his unlikely win and instead inadvertently put the spotlight back on the man from the land of Lincoln. Biden referring to Obama as "clean and articulate" was the equivalent of stepping into a racial and political hornet’s nest. Taking a page from the Will Smith/Tiger Woods playbook, however, Barack punted — realizing that not responding to being "clean and articulate" is without question the new black.
Getting angry over a sentence that usually starts with "you are so clean and articulate…" and ends with "…for a black man" is so 70’s. Ask anyone progressive and they will tell you, being ghetto and angry is out. It’s passe.
This is especially true in current American politics. Gubernatorial candidate and football legend Lynn Swann, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, New York Lieutenant Govenor David Patterson, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Maryland Lieutenant Govenor Michael Steele, former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The list is endless. These men are living history, inspiring the next generation of African Americans who know who they are and what this country needs to move forward.
Obviously Reverend Al Sharpton didn’t get the memo.
During my ordeal, I told the officer that while I understood he was just doing his job, I couldn’t help but feel that had he not pulled over an African-American male, at night, on a relatively dark street, in a luxury vehicle, the whole process would not have been as prolonged. "You being black had nothing to do with it" the officer insisted, "I’m just thorough. Besides, you were initially very aggressive towards me".
Aggressive is another word that carries with it more significance for a black man facing possible criminal charges then the patrolman could probably fathom. But unlike Senator Biden, this officer was not inclined to apologize after ultimately conceding that racial profiling still exists, and that not being sufficiently deferential during a custodial investigative stop is not the same as being aggressive.
After finally being allowed to leave some twenty-five minutes later, I relayed to the officer that he was quite verbose. "What’s that mean?" he asked. "Look it up!" I retorted before driving off.
During Superbowl Sunday, all I kept thinking was how incredible it was to lay on the sofa with my boys watching two black coaches make history. I didn’t need to go to a museum this week after all. Winning Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy was a work of art, completely indistinguishable from losing Chicago Bears Coach Lovie Smith. Both men exuded strength and confidence. They were classy, smooth, impressive, and a credit to fellow African-Americans in the same vein as Barack Obama is and will be.
Not to mention clean and articulate.
But then again, I can say that.
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross is a writer and political commentator.