Leaving South Beach in Martha's Vineyard today, I found spirit -- the spirited Henry Louis Gates -- sitting on his bicycle. I first noticed the back of his t-shirt that read, "Inkwell," the name of a famous beach in Oak Bluffs. I immediately wanted that same shirt! As I approached him from behind to ask him where he got the t-shirt, I noticed a woman standing behind her car, filming him. Then, my husband, Tim, whispered in my ear, "You know who that is, right?" I looked at him strangely (feeling like an ignoramus) "It's Professor Gates," he says.
My 13-year old daughter, Bea, says out loud, "Professor Who?"
"Don't be afraid," says Gates to the cloistering videographer. "I'll answer your questions."
The questions popped from everywhere. "Mr. Gates, do you think the officer acted out of line?"
"Mr. Gates, what's going to happen next?"
Mr. Gates responded, "Well, we're meeting at the White House this Thursday. I'm sure he's a nice man."
Then we took advantage of this photo opportunity and a robust conversation in the car on the way home. I won't even begin to imagine what took place that night in Cambridge but I will say that I am grateful this unfortunate circumstance has opened up an opportunity to talk about an issue that oftentimes goes underground. Whether this instance serves an example of racial profiling or not, it opens up the door for people to discuss lingering forms of racism around dinner tables across America -- and, hopefully, very soon, as a history lesson to our children.