Beyond Racial Profiling

July 23rd, 2013

gaudi lizardEveryone had warned us about pickpockets in Barcelona; apparently some of the more creative thieves in the world. We were well prepared, carrying our valuables in the impenetrable Pac safe money belt. We were watchful, but had no problem. The only time we felt like we might be targeted was in the famous tourist spot, Gaudi Park. Incidentally it’s an amazing place to visit, and entry is free. One strange thing was that behind every tree there were suspicious looking men with ear pieces surveying the park guiltily. I was convinced it was an elaborate, but not well hidden, pick pocketing network, and we were their next victim. Unnerving!

I later found out they were street vendors, and they were alerting each other when police were near. Here was I thinking I’d foiled them with the Pac safe!

What shocked me is how I had profiled them, and jumped to such quick conclusions. I guess we all do it. We don’t easily recognize our prejudices, but it would be a good thing if we did.

The problem with judging a book by its cover is that you might miss a great story.

Comedian Chris Rock said, “In America, an African- American is born a suspect.” This is the ultimate profiling tragedy. People suffer and die because of it, and it is SO unfair.

After arriving back from a 6 week Europe trip, I caught the news of the acquittal of George Zimmerman. My blood boiled. While not wanting to second guess the trial or jury, I felt cold, disoriented as if America had just changed, been left vulnerable.

As Maya Angelou said,

What is really injured, bruised, if you will, is the psyche of our national population. We are all harmed. We are all belittled.

I was angry, and I was in awe of the grace and courage under fire of Trayvon’s parents. His mom put the problem into concrete reality when she said, “What do we tell our kids now about how to act in public?”

If you walk too slow, you’re a target. If you walk too fast, you’re a target. If you dress a certain way you’re a target. If you stand your ground you’re a target. If you run, you’re a target.

I’d like to see an end to the Stand Your Ground law. It’s a recipe for violence. Instead of Stand Your Ground, I’d like to see us sharing common ground with more openness and acceptance.

If the black community wants to talk about how young people need to act in public, that’s fine. But speaking from my position of white privilege, I want to say that the burden is on white people to conquer our prejudice and fear, and not on black people to become invisible.

I’ve had my own harrowing experiences on inner city streets, so I don’t think I’m being naïve. The only people who have every threatened me are white people. The majority of psychopathic mass killers are white men. The problem is white men; both the problem of violence and the problem of prejudice.

The problem with white men is primal, unexamined fear, and fear can only be conquered within. I will do my part, and give Spanish street vendors the benefit of the doubt next time I’m in Barcelona. In the end prejudice hurts me because I miss all the interesting and inspiring stories while I’m busy judging the cover.

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  1. Kua says:

    You are so right… what can we agree on with Trayvon and Zimmerman?* That both are irreconcilability changed by this incident. Trayvon’s life is gone: Zimmerman’s will never be the same.* That had Zimmerman not gotten out of his car–a teenager would still be alive.But not staying in your car is not a crime. Did he hate African-Americans? I don’t know… Did he profile Trayvon? I think so–and all of us need to examine how we do the same thing every day. And an individual profiling, legally, is way different than the police….so again he was not in violation with the law….We cannot bring Trayvon back; God, how I wish we could. We can’t spare the prejudice that will now be leveled at Zimmerman by individuals. All we can do is go forward–wiser, and more seasoned…taking what we do know and working on that.  

  2. Margaret says:

    Hear! Hear!. In Australia asylum seekers are now the ‘people’ that so many see as the enemy , and the fear keeps them off our shores. A scandal!