On Profiling

I usually try to stay out of politics, but with the recent explosion over the Tayvon case, I can’t help but to add in something. Sometimes I hate being an author because I feel like I have to keep my opinions to myself all the time for fear of alienating a good chunk of my fan base. But then I think about all the authors who do spout their opinions, and I sort of just have to run with the idea that if you’re going to judge my entire existence from one opinion, I probably don’t want you as a fan in the first place. I’m not really going to talk about the Trayvon case though. It’s a messy case. I have heard so many things and don’t know what to believe. I personally think the stand-your-ground law is dangerous (and the cases that have been judged with this law have been contradictory and hypocritical), but I also wasn’t there to really judge what happened. In any case, what I want to talk about is profiling and how I think profiling is sometimes okay.

When I was a high schooler in my freshman year, I was playing basketball with a group of black boys. For some reason, they kept calling me a ‘white bitch,’ for no reason at all other than I was playing basketball with them. It wasn’t even in a teasing tone. It was in a very menacing tone. They continually harassed me throughout all of gym class, calling me a ‘white bitch.’ After gym, they followed me out and kept calling me the same thing, harassing me, asking me what I was going to do about it. I tossed the ‘N’ word at them and they left me alone. I had no further contact with them…ever.

Was I in the wrong? Could I have resolved the issue without using the ‘N’ word? I probably could have, but I was 15 at the time. I wanted a quick way out, and I didn’t know any other way out than to toss a racial slur at them, something I knew that would be harmful, just as ‘white bitch’ was to me. To this day I still wonder what I could have done differently, but it got them off my back, it kept them from harassing me.

I have experienced other instances of harassment by groups of black boys at my school. This is what happens when you are the majority race that is a minority in a school where the minorities are the majority, I guess. You get bigoted resentment. I could walk through a group of black guys and hear things like ‘Who does this white girl think she is?’ ‘Why is that white girl walking by us like we ain’t here?’ And so I started profiling groups of black guys as dangerous and bigoted. And I had every right to, especially as a white female.

I hear in the Trayvon case that people are angry because Zimmerman profiled Trayvon. I’m not going to get into the messiness of that because I wasn’t there and so don’t know if Zimmerman was right in profiling Trayvon. I’m not Zimmerman. I’m not Trayvon.

But back then, as a young, white female, I felt I had every right to profile groups of black boys because experience told me they were dangerous–and there were rumors of black gang members in our school, and of course gang problems downtown by black boys. So throughout the rest of my high school years, I avoided groups of black boys because I didn’t want to be hurt. As individuals, they were fine, but as a group, they were completely different.

I don’t know why, either. I don’t attribute their behavior to their skin color–and I didn’t attribute their behavior to their skin color. It was likely a mix of cultural and societal factors. I just happened to note that darker skinned people could be mean.

People profile because it’s an observation gained through personal experience. Profiling =/= racism. I profile all the time at work. Asians do not like to sign up for the Fiat. Black people love to. Whites are half-and-half. Old, white men tend to be both suspicious and rude when signing up for the Fiat. Women are overall polite about declining. When people of Indian descent sign up for the Fiat, they almost always want home improvements, but it’s very difficult to set with them. Mexicans tend to live in single wide mobile homes, so we can’t set for single wides. So when it’s busy at the mall, I tend to avoid calling Asians, Mexicans, white, middle-aged women, and old, white men over because I have to try and get the people most likely to come over when it’s busy, or else I’m going to miss potential appointments. Could I be missing potential appointments from the people that I’m avoiding? Possibly, but when experience tells me they are not likely to come over, I have to pick my battles when there is a rush. My job has told me not to profile, but the people who have told me not to profile have never worked the field.

Now that I am older, I am no longer afraid of groups of black boys because my job has given me a different perspective. I have observed at my job that black people are some of the politest, most respectful people to speak with. They are very spiritual as well where I live, so that probably plays a factor in their friendly and non-judgmental behavior. It is whites that are often rude and nasty. Groups of black boys no longer intimidate me either. In fact, they are very friendly (sometimes flirty) and fun to chat with. Perhaps being outside of school allows them to shed their defenses, I guess, so that they don’t have to put up these walls. Or maybe I wasn’t pretty back then (because I do get compliments a lot now, and I don’t even have to try like I did when I was in high school). I don’t know, but it is groups of white guys that annoy me now because they are loud, rude, and a bit too rambunctious for my liking. They are also the ones most likely to write rude things on the sign-up papers. They are also the ones most likely to say rude things about the Fiat, so it’s not so much that they intimidate me, it’s that they annoy me, so whenever groups of white boys come by, I tend to hold my breath and look away BECAUSE EXPERIENCE TELLS ME THEY ARE OFTEN RUDE. There might be a group of white guys that is polite, but when I don’t want to put up with potentially rude behavior, I don’t want to put up with it. And I know this isn’t true with all groups, but when experience tells me something, experience tells me something.

I don’t know why, okay? I do not attribute anyone’s behavior to a skin color. I attribute it to cultural and societal factors, but I do not think profiling is inherently racist or evil. Now there are some instances where profiling is not okay, like if you’re a teacher and you’ve noted that your alien students are more intelligent than your human students, so you don’t try as hard with your human students. That is when profiling is not okay, when it robs people of amazing opportunities, but when you profile because you want to protect your freaking self, I don’t think we have any right to judge.

I do not think I was in the wrong for profiling groups of black boys back in my high school years. It kept me from being continually hurt. It was a defense mechanism. Now I don’t see them as dangerous anymore because experience, outside of school, tells me they’re really not. In high school, I didn’t have any worldly experience because I only knew life in school and life with my friends, but not much else. But if a victim profiles people who remind him/her of his/her perpetrator, I do not think we have any right to judge because that is a defense mechanism that is very difficult to undo.

I actually job shadowed in a middle school where it was primarily black kids, and while many were troubled, it gave me an inside view as to why they were troubled–not because of skin color but because of family upbringing. I had nothing but anger toward their upbringing and empathy for these kids. I also noted, too, that the stray white kids that were around were not bullied because of their skin color (because experience tells me that the “minority” race is often singled out and bullied). This is a good thing. We are coming across a generation of kids who see skin color but don’t care and do not attribute behavior to skin color. It was a very beautiful thing to see, and I adored the kids and they, for some reason, adored me, even though they didn’t see me a whole lot.

Overall, profiling is not inherently racist. We need to stop acting like it is and stop judging those who profile as a defense mechanism because, guess what? I know black people who profile white people, and I do not blame them. These are people who have had experience dealing with white people, and it wasn’t always positive.

 

 

 

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

13 thoughts on “On Profiling

  1. I feel sensitive toward this because my fiance is actually Pakistani, although we usually say he’s Indian. It’s because he doesn’t want to be profiled as some sort of terrorist or religious fundamentalist. He was born in an Irish Monestary, raised Catholic, is not an extremest in his religion, and has good moral values. I felt it was wrong to give people the impression he’s Indian at first, but now I’ve seen firsthand the reaction of people who find out he’s Pakistani. He’s automatically labeled as controlling and coming from a culture that does not respect women. We’ve been fighting against this among both my friends and family. Despite this, I understand how you feel because in high school I too stayed away from groups of black guys after seeing how rowdy they were and getting kicked in the butt by one in the hallway. I hate to call it profiling, though. I hate to think people do the same thing to my fiance just because so many people in his home country have become that way in recent years.

    1. I understand this. To me, when I profile, it’s because of something that has happened to me personally, not because of something the mainstream media has said.

  2. Interesting post. Bottom line, your life experiences are the basis of biases you have towards people. Because of my experiences, I have looked at people of my race and other races and have decided to steer clear of them for one reason or another. That is a natural reaction. Everyone knows that profiling happens, even the police do it. Its what you do after you profile that’s the issue. Does the fact that profiling is a natural reaction give us the right to confront everyone that rubs us the wrong way? As a mother of three black boys, two of which are honor students, all I can say is I pray not because they’ve worked too hard in their lives for someone elses biases to ruin their futures.

  3. Profiling is essentially stereotyping.

    “But if a victim profiles people who remind him/her of his/her perpetrator, I do not think we have any right to judge because that is a defense mechanism that is very difficult to undo…. Overall, profiling is not inherently racist. We need to stop acting like it is and stop judging those who profile as a defense mechanism…”

    Judge them? No, but definitely try to broaden their horizons or let them know what what they’re doing isn’t wholly right. Because in this kind of situation what happens is said person can grow up teaching their kids to profile regardless of where their kids grow up. Then effectively, what you end up with is racism; a strong dislike based around someone else’s experience. So no, profiling isn’t racism, but it’s the start of it.

    Profiling turns onto Stereotyping which turns into Racism. These are, in my opinion, all diseases born from lack of exposure. Some people aren’t able to broaden their horizons and so become attuned to what they know and this is sad. But truth be told, you don’t have to look far to see that one experience can’t speak for all.
    And in the end, knowledge is free. Seek it. Often it’s a conscious decision not to because people want to support their beliefs. (Those against Gay Rights are a fine example.)

    I have a friend from China who constantly used to say: “I don’t like [insert race here] but my friend [insert name here] is okay.”
    So he knows not all people are as he thinks they are, but he still goes with what he is more attuned to. He can see not all people of that race are the same, he knows this even, but he continues to support this belief by avoiding those people at all costs. And that’s HIS problem, and it IS a problem. A problem that may continue when he is hiring someone for a job, of if his kids grow up to have friends/partners of that particular race….and so it becomes a problem that no longer just effects the individual.
    My point? A “victim” who profiles can then go on to victimise others and so what began as a “defense mechanism” turns into a catalyst for maltreatment, abuse and quite possibly in Trayvon’s case, death.

    Profiling, in my eyes, is bad because it leads onto something more.
    Do I profile? Damn right I do. Do I fight it at all corners? Damn right I do. Do I talk to the person I’m profiling? If the opportunity is there – all the damned time.

    (Interesting post Amber!)

    1. Profiling isn’t inherently harmful though. Mactsc pointed out in a post that if you’re in a building and you have a choice between an elevator filled with old ladies or one filled with people wearing gang colors, you’re more apt to go with the elevator filled with old ladies. You profiled to potentially save your life. Though those gang colors might not even be gang colors at all, and just colors those people are wearing, why risk it? You might know, too, that gang colors don’t necessarily mean people are in a gang, but at that time, you don’t want to risk it.

      People do profile all the time, and for most, it doesn’t lead to anything more than gossip. We judge, and either our judgments are confirmed and we move on, or we are surprised to know that we were wrong. Each of us is profiled all the time by people who don’t know us, just people out in the streets, and whether their judgment of us is good or bad ultimately doesn’t matter because we don’t know those people to care enough that they’re profiling us. In some cases this profiling can turn out bad, but in most cases, it doesn’t. It just remains white noise in the mind of the person doing the profiling.

      I try not to profile myself, but I also know that it’s inevitable.

      Profiling isn’t always negative either. For example, if you think all cops are good because they are cops, that’s profiling. So you’ll see any cop on the street and judge that person as a good person. I know I didn’t list any positives on profiling, but profiling is mere judgment of a person based on certain characteristics. It isn’t always just skin color.

  4. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “positive” profiling.
    Thinking all cops are good because they are cops is like saying all men are good because your Dad was. Profiling can put you in as many “harmless” situations as it can “harmful”.

    Profiling is basically assumptions. That’s all. Assumptions about inanimate objects is one thing, but people? Well that’s different. What people don’t realise is that the more they practice profiling, the more prejudice they become.

    Why judge people by how they look? Just pay attention. Here, where I live, we have many alleys. When there’s a gang hanging in them, I slow down and pay attention. This group could be dressed to the hilt in all the gang related gear in the world, it’s all about how they are acting which will define whether I walk into that alley or not. Are they talking in an aggressive manner? Addressing one another playfully? Whispering? These are the things I go by, not looks.

    If we are allowed to judge people based on how they “look” then we can can say it’s absolutely fine to judge someone based on their tendency to profile.

    1. But not profiling can also put you in as many harmful situations that profiling wouldn’t have. I don’t believe in victim blaming by any stretch, but if I had the choice between those two elevators, I would have gone in with the old ladies. Just because someone is not displaying a harmful behavior does not mean said behavior soon won’t turn harmful. I would write more, but I have to go to work!

    1. But you’re still profiling, regardless. You’re profiling those old ladies as harmless just as you’re profiling those gang-colored people as potentially harmful. Those old ladies could be more harmful, but statistics point out that it’s not likely.

      Why does profiling have to be harmful all the time? For example, if a child molester is released from jail and moves into your neighborhood and you have children (this is just hypothetical, btw), you already know the child molester is a child molester. This person could have repented, but you’re going to profile this person as a bad person and want to leave to protect your children. How is this a bad thing? You want to protect your children and should protect your children. It’s on the onus of the child molester to prove otherwise, not you. This child molester may never molest again, but you don’t want to take that chance that your children could be harmed. It is not your fault for profiling. That child molester gave up his/her future by harming a child. You are not the one depriving the child molester of a future by moving away to protect your children. So what I’m trying to prove is that profiling is not inherently harmful.

  5. “Just because someone is not displaying a harmful behavior does not mean said behavior soon won’t turn harmful.” And so this is what makes profiling redundant.

    – The words in speech marks was a direct quote from you. I don’t believe in profiling at all, hence I called it redundant.

    Profiling, (to my understanding and to your examples given, i e someone calling you a “white bitch” with no prior knowledge of you as a person) is when you judge someone without facts. It’s generalising based on limited information.
    Giving me factual information on someone being a pedophile takes away the opportunity to profile. Someone couldn’t say he is “NOT a potential child molester” when he has previous history of being on. This also means, if this information was given to me on paper with no image of this person, no profiling takes place yet the facts still hold true regardless of race, age or gender.

    I think you may have gone off point a little in regards to what profiling is.
    Avoiding someone because you think they “look” like a child molester is profiling.
    Avoiding someone because they were a convicted child molester is different.

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