This essay is a much more serious take on what Chris Rock was saying
Here's a few excerpts:
This gets to right to the heart of my point. As an African-American male, I have always been taught to show respect to the police, even when or if I feel that the officer is wrong. As a survival technique, I am teaching this to my son and I convey this to my students and all of the other young people that I engage in my lectures. My parents and other elders have always taught me "an argument with a cop is an argument you will always lose ... if you don't get along with the police, you will probably go along with the police and that's a trip you do not want to take. Even when you're right, if you fail to comply, you're wrong. You're objective during an encounter with the police is to leave that encounter in the same manner in which you entered it, in one piece. You can challenge the officer later in court. That's 'Black Man - 101.'"
Taking it is a prerequisite for survival. There are no grades. It's strictly "Pass or Fail." There is no mid-term exam, no final exam, and no graduation ceremony at the end. There is a ceremony at the end, but you won't see it. There is no diploma, either. But there is a certificate, and everyone know will know you've graduated if under "Cause of Death" it reads "natural causes" or something else that is not caused by any officer of the law.
There is no class picture. Just pictures of those who didn't make it, as a reminder that you can be tested at any moment. And, yes, the test is often rigged.
The next time I can remember is when I was in college. I was walking back from class, on my way to the dining hall for dinner, dressed like most of my friends dressed on our predominantly white campus, in torn jeans and a t-shirt. I was halfway across the parking lot of one of residence halls when it happened.
I'd seen the police car when I was waiting to cross the street. I didn't give it much thought, because I wasn't doing anything. But the officers had paid a lot more attention to me than I had to them. They turned into the parking lot, and stopped right in front of me as I walked across.
One of the officers got out of the car and began asking me questions. Was I a student? Where was I going? Where was I coming from? Could I show him my student I.D.? I did, and he told me that there had been some cars broken into in that lot, and some break-ins at the nearby dorms, and that I fit the description of someone seen in the area around the time of the earlier crimes. And then more questions. Did I know anything about the robberies? Did I know who might be responsible? Did I walk through that lot every day? (Not after that day, I didn't.)
Eventually, the officer finished his questions and let me walk away. They sat parked in the car as I went on. Keeping an eye on me, I'm sure. I thought about how differently that situation might have ended, because I knew even then the truth in what Anthony Williams said: "You never know what to expect when you get pulled over by the police, and that's how it is when you're black."
And here's the meat of it:
Of course, there was a point at which both Gates and the officer could have backed down. Instead of turning it into an public "Alpha Male" ******* match. Once Gates proved that he was in his own home, the officer could have ignored his ranting as that of a cranky old man, and just gotten into his car and walked away.
Once Gates proved his identity, and that he was in his own home, he could have simply walked the office to the door, thanked him for making sure he and his home were safe (and here Gates would certainly have been able to manage enough irony in his tone to get his point across), and close the door behind him. He could have remembered that first lesson from Black Man - 101, "an argument with a cop is an argument you will always lose," and not gone all "yo mama" on the officer. (In the second week of Black Man - 101, we learn that you don't go "yo momma" unless you plan to fight and know you can win.)
But I'm also not Henry Louis Gates, who had just flown back from China to find his front door jammed-which would annoy anyone.
Add to that being greeted by police because a passerby saw you trying to get into your house, assumed there was a robbery in progress, and then hung around to watch the outcome.
Add to that the shock of finding out that, utterly without warning and wholly unprepared, you've been busted back to "Remedial Black Man." There can be many reasons for this, but the two most common ones are being so busy living your life that you forget you are still enrolled in Black Man 101 and that class is in session, and thinking that you've actually graduated.
I don't know which of the two is the reason for Prof. Gates getting busted back to Remedial Black Man. I do know that our time in that class is usually short. A brief quiz serves as our ticket back to the ongoing Black Man 101 class. It consists of just a few questions based upon the circumstances under which we were sent back to the remedial class.
They are the questions that we ask ourselves in anger, exasperation, and shock in the moment we find out we're headed back to the remedial class. In Prof. Gates' case, I imagine they were the questions he asked himself internally when he realized the police were at his door and why.
Question: My God. I'm a Harvard Professor now. Is there nothing I can do to get away from this?
Question: Is there nowhere I am safe from this?
Question: Am I to be subject to this even in my own house?
Simple questions. Simple answers, already known. The remedial class is brief because it serves only to remind us of what we already know.
In 2009, in Cambridge and in most other towns in America, even with his Ph.D., Henry Louis Gates Jr. is still an African-American male in America. The lesson to be learned from this: If you don't get along with the police, you will probably go along with the police and that's a trip you do not want to take. Even when you're right, if you fail to comply, you're wrong. Is this fair? No, but it's real!