I’ve seen a lot of talk about racial-profiling recently. This talk is good in that it brings to the forefront a huge problem in our culture.
Since Trayvon Martin’s death and the subsequent trial finding George Zimmermann innocent, there’s been more attention to the effects of Racial Profiling. The President even made a speech about it–one that was quite good.
Since then, attention to various shootings is putting more attention to the practice of racially profiling people. And it should.
In a post over at a blog that I read, the topic came up again–and it was about the fear that motivates racial profiling–and if that fear isn’t justified.
This was my response to that post–and my response overall to the idea of racial profiling…
Please keep embracing the fear. It can only make your life so much more pleasant, when–as everyone points out–crime rates–and violent crime rates especially, are down significantly over the past 30 years.
I would say that I rarely racially profile people. I almost said “never”–but I cannot be sure of it. In any case, what I do try is to stay aware of strangers in my midst and make smart judgments. I’ve been attacked only a couple of times in my life–both times as a kid–and one time it was by white kids–the other by black kids.
The white kids were just cruel and hit me for being different (I had just moved to a new school). Nothing more came of it–but it did reinforce in me at an early age that people are generally dicks–especially to people they view as outsiders or different. Me–I was just a Midwestern kid transplanted to southern California. They hit me because I was so white (they all had tans) and I was new. And we were relatively poor, so my clothes were not as fashionable. Lovely people.
The black kids hit me because some idiot at my school had been talking smack about the local public school junior high–and they “decided” to come teach us Catholic kids a lesson. Luckily for everyone else–but not for me–I was the only 8th grade boy at the bus stop when they showed up. One kid hit me a couple times in the face–and missed a couple of times. I ended up with a split lip and needing stitches above my left eye. I still have the scar.
You know what happened though–another black kid came over and stopped them. Ya see–the year before, I had gone to that public school and we had played “smear the queer” (the name of which totally appalls and angers me in retrospect–but I didn’t even link it to homosexuals at the time…) which is a game where you throw a football up in the air–whoever catches it runs off with everyone else trying to tackle them and get them down. Then the process repeats.
As it stands, in that year at the public junior high–playing that game, there was a short black kid named Scotty who was tough as hell and fast. But I was also fast, and although I was this blond-haired, blue-eyed, super white, extremely brainy, Irish/German catholic kid–I could tackle anyone.
And while few could get Scotty down–I could.
I got his respect that year.
And the next year, as he saw what happened to me–he came over and he helped me.
Were any of the white kids who I went to school with around to help? No. Did any of the white kids who I had been in school with at that public junior high come and help?
So.. do I profile–yes.. yes I do–but not necessarily in the way many do.
I look to see who’s scared and who is stupid–and I watch out for them. Because those are the people who are usually dangerous.
Using skin color as a marker for these things, however, is itself stupid. I try not to be stupid. I try very hard. And I teach my kids not to be stupid. In fact, our one prime directive at home–called “the house rule” is “Don’t be Dumb.” If you violate the house rule, punishment follows–but it’s already clear why–and often the punishment comes from reality itself–teaching you that what you did was dumb.
As for the end of my story–the two kids who attacked me (1 hit me, the other was more of “back-up”) were caught and we all eventually went to court. One of them–named Tyrone (the Back up)–apologized to me. He offered his hand to shake, and I took it. In high school–by the end of our four years–we were decent acquaintances and almost even friends. (We had a ceramics class together senior year, I believe…) He’s gone on to work as an oil-rigger in the gulf and is very successful. I have him on my facebook and we chat occasionally. (I heard about the Deepwater Oil spill from his facebook page before it hit the news..)
The other kid–well he was in Juvee by the end of Freshmen year, dropped out of high-school by age 16 and I’ve never seen him again.
In all of my subsequent years, fear of people would not have done anything for me but limit me and make me stupid. Forgiveness and paying attention to people without relying upon stupid stereotypes, on the other hand, has served me well.
In the end, it’s worth remembering the Litany Against Fear:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.