T. J. Holmes, a former CNN news anchor who’s now associated with BET, was stopped by police Monday while driving near his home in Atlanta. Some might question whether this was yet another case of DWB (driving while black).
Mr. Holmes certainly thought so. He documented the incident on his Twitter feed and snapped a picture of his side-view mirror showing police lights behind his car.
“Driving while black ain’t no joke!” he tweeted.
Holmes asked the officer why he was stopped and became frustrated when the officer seem to fumble through, trying to come up with an answer. (The officer eventually said he wanted to make sure Holmes’ car was insured.)
Sound familiar to any of you?
The real reason this story caught my eye is because my sister told me the other day that one of my nephews had been in a slight accident with a few of his jock buddies, but that when police arrived, my nephew was the only one in the group who was searched.
Maybe it was because he didn’t have his ID. Maybe it was because of how he was dressed. Maybe they searched him because of his usual teenage surly disposition. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because he was the only black kid among his group of friends.
See, this is what causes so much of the anxiety around issues of race: On the surface there are all these intangible elements present, but on another level you suspect the real reason may have something to do with skin color.
James Cleveland, one of my favorite old-school gospel singers, used to say during one of his running monologs, before he told people to shush and signaled the choir…lol…He would say, “Sometimes you just know what you know.”
I thought of Mr. Holmes sitting in his car. I thought of the first time I was detained in a similar situation, like my nephew, and questioned and searched. I thought of my nephew standing on the side of the road being physically searched while his buddies and onlookers took in the scene, and I thought how angry and maybe even humiliated he must have felt.
Just as I taught my nephews how to tie a tie, I now must talk to them about the “ritual” when being stopped by the police. My ritual is to immediately roll down the windows, take off my sunglasses, open up the glove compartment, change my radio station to gospel music and place my hands at 11 and 2 on the steering wheel while staring straight ahead. Oh, and if time permits, I throw on an emergency tie I keep in the back seat. And most importantly, I perfect the art of keeping a respectful tone, even if the authority figures does not.
I have written about how much we as a community contribute to this culture of profiling, how the media portray black men as angry, aggressive and dangerous predators, even how we see too many young black men play right into that stereotype with their attire and behavior.
It is a rite of passage or even a fraternity of men, but we have no step shows, community service or even colors, except for the flashes of red emotions full of bitterness.
It is almost like we need a support group: “Hi my name is Charles, and I was stopped, questioned and touched inappropriately.”
I know that at some point I must have a conversation with my nephew and help him process the ugly truth – that he was in a car with friends who study, party and practice together and created relationships that defied racial and cultural differences, that there will still be folks who treat him differently based on what he looks like.
My hope is that at some point this rite of passage will cease to exist and that my nephew may possibly never have to have a similar conversation with his son.
Until then, Holmes’ final tweet regarding the Atlanta incident pretty much sums up the situation and how most of us regard the process: “Still pissed beyond words right now.”