The arrest of Dr. Gates at his home is only one of a long list of real or perceived indignities blacks have continued to encounter in the so called post civil right era. There was a time when black men, regardless of their station in life, fully expected to be confronted by white policemen, particularly when they were in areas where "they didn't belong". There was also a time when I, as an American citizen (with a certification of live birth), thought I knew what my rights were. Now with the arrest of Dr. Gates, I'm not so sure. What does that have to do with my son? Follow me on the flip.
First a story. Shortly after my son was born, I was hospitalized. My roommate was an older white woman. I don't recall how the conversation started (I think someone black had been arrested for no reason), but my roommate told me that as long as my son "kept his nose clean", he had nothing to worry about.
My son is getting ready to go to college. Maybe because we are totally old school (like our parents), he's been sheltered. No aimless hanging out at the mall, no activities unsupervised or without a positive purpose. In effect, I think we've "kept his nose clean".
But I am not so naive as not to tell my son how to behave in the whiter world: don't touch anything in a store unless you buy it, don't put your hands in your pockets, if stopped by the police in the car, keep your hands on the steering wheel and no sudden moves. He wonders why I'm telling him these things while his (white) friends' parents don't tell them to behave this way.
Recently, I was researching what legal organizations advise you do when confronted by a policeman. You will note that "mouthing off" is cause for arrest. In Dr.Gates' case, the police could not have arrested him had he not stepped out of his door.
So what do I tell my quiet, well mannered Aspie who is black to do? I don't want him to become another black honor student arrested or worse, shot by a policeman. Because, it's clear that it is not enough for a black man to "keep his nose clean."