It's no time to be complacent about racial progressby Kim Hines
I don't know how to react. I don't know if I should shrug, sing slave songs or let loose some swear words. These incidents always make me weary.
I'm talking about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. A very-well known Harvard professor was arrested for trying to get into his own house, because a neighbor mistook him for a burglar. The police didn't think that his Harvard ID and driver's license were enough identification.
Did I mention that Gates is a black man? Does it matter? If you live in America, it matters.
I don't know how to react to the news, because I keep looking at the calendar and seeing the year 2009. I'm 53 years old and I thought America might actually be trying to outgrow this type of behavior toward its black people.
I was clinging to a branch of hope, but the Rev. Al Sharpton smacked me back to down to reality. Sharpton mused that he had heard black folks get arrested for "driving while black, and even shopping while black." But he had never heard of someone being arrested for "going to your own home while black."
"Amen," I thought. It sounds like some kind of a joke. It's something I would expect to see as a skit on Saturday Night Live.
But I shouldn't be surprised. Something similar happened to me back in the early '90s.
I was living in the inner city, the only black person in my immediate neighborhood. My partner and I, at the time, had a burglar/fire alarm system. I had been shopping and had many bags and boxes to bring into the house. Once I got inside, I was slow in turning off the alarm. The security company called; I gave the password and hung up, thinking that everything had been dealt with.
I went out onto the porch and continued to carry things into the house. The next thing I knew, two policemen were standing in my doorway. One had his gun drawn.
They asked what I was doing. I explained that I had just been shopping. They demanded my ID -- my driver's license still showed my former address, but they allowed me to go into the house and bring out a bill with my name on it. Then they asked to look at the entire collection of IDs in my wallet. It took a while to convince them that I actually lived in that house.
Had I been a white person, I imagine no gun would've been drawn and hardly any questions would've been asked. The racism that afflicts many police departments across America is not going to go away with a departmental retreat or a couple of workshops.
The police are supposed to be there to "protect and serve." Gates' arrest, along with others across the United States, suggests why some populations feel the motto is a hollow one.
Don't think for a second that race problems have been eradicated because a black man got into the White House. (Actually, President Obama was the best man to do the job, whatever color.) There are plenty of stories about people of color, some of them quite prominent, who are still being treated as though it were 1955.
You're going to hear more about these incidents, and not only because of Twitter and Facebook. You're also going to hear more because people are growing more determined to make sure that you know the truth.
I may not know how to react to news like the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, but they do: They are tired of this nonsense and they want it to stop.
Kim Hines, Minneapolis, is an actor, playwright and director, as well as a coach for artists.