Driving While Black: Welcome to the Club, Tyler Perry

Even if you’re as rich as Tyler Perry, chances are you will be racially profiled

(Image: ThinkStock)

Just as the light turned green, I was blinded by the officer’s floodlights bursting in from the left side of my car. Unfamiliar with what that meant I proceeded on with traffic as my friends in the car ahead crossed the intersection. Then, he flashed his sirens and instructed me to pull over. I immediately complied, making my way over to the shoulder lane and waited to find out what the problem was.

As the Nassau County officer, who happened to be White, approached the driver’s side of my vehicle I rolled down the window and he immediately hit me with, “Why were you playing with your headlights?”

All I was doing was waiting at a red light listening to music with my friends so I had no idea what he was talking about. “I didn’t touch any lights,” I replied, completely baffled.

“I saw you.”

“But…,” I caught myself, as I heard a similar voice as Tyler Perry’s mother’s go off in my head: Don’t give this man any reason to accuse you of being anything other than a Black man driving in Long Island.

The officer asked for my license and registration, which I slowly retrieved for him. While he was running my information through the system, my friends and I spent the next five minutes trying to figure out what we did to prompt this traffic stop. For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out what that was, other than being Black while driving.

When the patrolman finally returned, he handed me my documents with a warning, “A car is not a toy, Mr. Samuel.”

I clenched my jaw and bit my tongue, only managing to utter a half-hearted, “Thank you.”

The cop returned to his car and peeled of, leaving me feeling vexed at the idea of being stopped for what I saw as nothing. It wasn’t until we caught up with our friends in the other car at a neighborhood diner that I discovered why the officer pulled me over. Apparently my friends in the car ahead had noticed my headlights kept flashing off and on periodically while we were driving, but thought it was just me playing around. I knew for a fact I didn’t touch the lights, so when I got home I asked my mother if anything was wrong with the car and she revealed that it had some electrical issues that caused the headlights to flicker, which she forgot to mention when she gave me the keys.

Similar to Perry, I was technically in the wrong but that still didn’t stop me from feeling like it was a racially biased incident. Sure, I wasn’t driving a luxury car but I was a person of color in a White neighborhood. At the end of the day, no matter how rich or poor you are, when it comes to (mis)perception that’s what it all boils down to. Those police officers had no clue who Perry was and to them he was just another Black man (read: suspect).

While we’ve definitely come a long way in terms of acceptance (i.e. a Black man named Barack Obama being appointed President of the United States), we still have a long way to go. American culture is rooted in racism and no matter how many of us make it that alone won’t change the system. Tyler Perry might have a lot more money than me but our skin color is the same. When the fancy cars, suits and money is all stripped away and he’s just another man that’s Black while driving (or walking) there’s no separating someone like him from someone like me or a 17-year-old boy on his way home from buying a bag of Skittles. Well, the only difference is both Perry and I were able to walk away from our incidents and live to write about them, if only we were all that lucky.

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  • Trajan

    Trayvon Martin shot dead in Florida for walking along minding his own business unarmed, alone with his hood over his head on a rainy night. 2012.

    Tremarley Graham, another Black teenager, shot dead in the Bronx by off-duty policemen who weren’t even supposed to be on duty at all any time soon as they were ordered to hand in their badges over some problem.

    He was chased to his home for supposedly looking like he was up to no good, and locked himself in his bathroom afraid of the armed men. He told them repeatedly he had no gun, they forced their way in and shot him dead in front of his 6 year old brother. 2011.


    American Hero and ex Marine Chamberlain, a Black man who served his country, was tasered to death last year by police at his White Plains, NY home. His crime? Accidentally triggering a medical alert and when nobody answered the front door at his home the police broke the door down. The man of duty was tasered, he had a heart condition, was tasered to death. 2011.

    I could go on. As a white man (I am named after the Roman Emperor Trajan)I am absolutely revolted by the racial profiling occurring in our so called democratic country. STOP THE RACIAL PROFILING OF BLACK PEOPLE.

    • Annelise

      Thank you Sir!

  • Bartholomew J Worthington III

    It would seem that it is impossible to divorce increase in the outright violation of the civil rights of Blacks from the backlash against the nation’s first Commander in Chief of color.

    The blowback has been severe, especially from those who, three years in, still have yet to accept the man in the Oval Office as the democratically elected leader of the nation.

    • Longtom

      What possible relevance is this to the above article?

    • jack_sprat2

       It’s now 12 years past the first election of George W. Bush. Half of the Democrats in this country STILL have not accepted him.

  • John

    Without a dash camera recording the event, we unfortunately don’t have much information into what was said or done. We do know that police often lie, and the black men driving expensive cars are typically profiled. We also know that wealthy people often have a sense of entitlement that makes them feel they’re above the law.

    I don’t know what the “truth” is of this actual exchange, but what I do know is that if were making a left turn from the right-hand lane, I’d expect to be pulled over. I also know that if I said it was to ensure that “no one was following me”, I’d expect a very high degree of suspicion. Maybe the cop had some underlying or overt prejudices which contributed to his reaction? Maybe Perry’s expectations and suspicions led him to view this altercation through a jaundiced lens?

    Sometimes, and apple is just an apple. I don’t know the truth in this case, but personally I generally refrain from breaking traffic laws, and if I do I really don’t consider “my security guard told me to do it” to be a valid excuse.

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  • Joe Bruce

    Ya know it’s funny that the presupposition of racism is no problem for the author or for Tyler Perry (who I happen to admire).

    You admit that the cop had every reason to pull you over due to a problem with your car. But after finding out you were wrong, you don’t admit fault with you presupposition of race being the causal factor you use it as an example to prove your case. That makes no sense.

    Same thing with Tyler, he did something illegal, gave a weird explanation and then lost his temper. News flash, white folks wouldn’t get away with that crap either.

    Look man, you want to continue to make progress? White folks aren’t the only ones who need to change. A lot of black folks operate under the prejudice that white folks motives are always about race. They aren’t, we seldom think about it. On both sides people need to judge each other on character and actions. In both cases you pointed out the officers did that and you and Tyler did not.

    • Stewie Girl

      Excellent point!!

    • OldRedned

      Spot on Joe. Dear oh dear, where would some people be without their ‘victim’ and ‘repressed’ tags? They are a racial embarrassed.

      In my view some of these articles – full of innuendo dressed up as fact – seem to border on racial incitement.

  • Jill

    And for every “bad” police officer, or bad teacher, or bad coach, or bad pastor, there are a 100 that are good, honest, hard working people that are even religious, kind, and a good Samaritans. We always hear about the bad, not the good. I won’t use real names, but we have good friends, who are white, they had four of their own children, then adopted from Africa. The local police here that dig out of their own pockets to give bikes and presents to the lower income children in the communities that they serve in. One of our closest friends are black, we are white. We don’t see color, we see human beings created by a loving God. We respect and love each other. I wish everyone was like that.

  • jack_sprat2

    What I do not get is why you imagine that the advice which Perry’s mother gave him doesn’t also apply to whites when pulled over by a cop. (The correct answer to their first question, by the way, is ‘No good excuse, sir’.) I’ve never once considered doing anything else. Aside from meth heads and drunks, few white people do.

    Yet, I’ve several times seen blacks who’ve been pulled over arguing their case, even repeatedly trying to turn around to do so. Street theater.

    News flash: That cop did NOT buy a ticket. He is NOT amused. He does NOT want to hear it. What he DOES want to do is go home safe at night. What street theater does is puts the fulfillment of that desire in question. The first rule of effective policing is that a cop cannot afford to lose control of a situation. Ever.

    See, here’s the thing. Cops don’t have to let citizens argue their case on the side of the street. Save it for court.

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  • J Wellington Wimpy

    Barack Obama was not “appointed” President of the US. He was elected to the position. 6th grade civics!

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