A parking flap proves this nation's still got a long way to go.
I recently took my family to one of the free concerts at Penn's Landing. Knowing I would probably write about the trip for my column, I parked in one of the press spaces at Fourth and Market with my press pass clearly displayed.
When I got out of the car with my wife and three children in tow, a guy who looked to be a cameraman yelled at me from the steps of Fox 29 Philadelphia.
"Hey, what story are you covering?" he shouted in a tone too smarmy for my liking.
"None of your business," I said in a tone just as ugly.
He yelled something else that I sensed was motivated by racism.
People often ask me how I know racism. When you've been black all your life, and you've seen it in every form-from the overt to the insidious-racism is familiar, like an old lover whose voice brings back bad memories.
With blood boiling, I put my son in his stroller, told my wife and daughters to wait by the car, and walked up to him.
"I have a press pass," I said as his nervous co-workers looked on from the steps.
"Why, who do you know?" he asked derisively. "The mayor or somebody?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do," I said, noting that he believed that I had to "know someone" to get a press pass. "And I know every member of City Council too. But I have a pass because I write for a newspaper."
"None of your business," I said angrily, because his tone brought to mind the slavery era, when a white person could demand that a black person produce papers to prove that he was free.
"You're probably lying," he said, accusing me in a way he wouldn't if I were white.
"No, actually, I write for Philadelphia Weekly. Not that it's any of your business."
He acted like he wanted further explanation. And while I could've said I'm an award-winning columnist, critically acclaimed author, radio commentator and adjunct professor at a major university, I chose not to elaborate, because doing so would've surrendered a sliver of my freedom.
I don't surrender freedom. My forefathers fought too hard to secure it. I write the naked truth to protect it. And I'll be damned if I'll allow it to be challenged.
When he saw that I didn't intend to elaborate, he chose another tactic.
"We pay for those spaces," he said, as if he were Rupert Murdoch himself, "and it's just ignorant for you to park there."
"I have a college degree," I said self-assuredly. "I'm far from ignorant."
We’re always having a beer in Philly. But we haven’t had a beer the way President Obama had a beer last week—sleeves rolled up, hanging with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley—trying, with the force of his charm and a few frosty mugs, to defuse the nation’s latest racially charged incident. “A teachable moment,” the president called it, and goddamn if Philly isn’t chock-full of teachable moments.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom