Who Can Profile?

ProfilingI cannot hold my virtual tongue any longer.

I have seen countless comments on the dozens of blog posts I’ve read in connection with the George Zimmerman homicide case that make reference to the “fact” that the killing couldn’t have been racially motivated because GZ is Hispanic (sic), not white.

Somewhere along this country’s checkered path to 2013, it seems some white people came to believe that even racism belongs solely and exclusively to them.

According to some reports, Zimmerman consciously chose to play down his Peruvian half during the run-up to the trial, for fear he would be dismissed as another “mere minority.” The very fact that he thought he had that choice makes it clear he himself supposes an aspect of white privilege that no mixed-race black person who looks mostly black can ever opt for.

Just for the record, racial profiling can be done by anybody! And yes, that does include other black people. So let me be perfectly clear:

It is not necessary to be white to be guilty of racial profiling. If you see a young black male walking in the dark, in the rain, wearing a hoodie, and you think to yourself, “What’s he doing here? He doesn’t belong here, therefore he must be up to no good and must be on drugs or something,” you have just engaged in profiling with a racial component, I don’t care what “race” you call yourself. If you had seen the identical figure walking in the rain with his hood up, but he was white or Chinese, would you have thought him suspicious? If your answer is no, then you know you have racially profiled the black youth.

There are plenty of black people who live in gated communities who might just have the same initial reaction to seeing Trayvon Martin that fateful night. We are not immune to profiling. I live in a community that is struggling with a new rash of street crimes, home burglaries, and even murders. It seems like 98% of the descriptions of suspects include “black male.” There is no question that these facts have caused the residents, including me, to be hyper-vigilant about people we encounter who meet those general descriptions. I, myself a black woman, have called the police and/or the neighborhood security patrol on black men and women who have been behaving unusually. In one case, my doing so allowed the police to catch the thieves in the act.

What we don’t do is grab our guns, jump in the car, and follow the person we’ve adjudged suspicious. For one thing, it would be stupid. Many, if not most, of these gang thugs are armed. We leave the confrontation to the professionals we hire to patrol the neighborhood or to the police. If they get away, they get away. We’ll catch them next time.

Lezlie Bishop is a retired public relations professional who retired after 25 years in a large corporation. She is a multi-racial black woman, born in 1944 in suburban Chicago. Lezlie blogs on Open Salon and Our Salon under the name L in the Southeast.

Image via iStockphoto/Dimopoulos

  • Sam Wheat

    I loved your fun story on profiling.Glad to know you are so unopenmined. we need more of your kind . Great that you stay so true to those roots. Please when is the next chapter due out?

    • Lezlie Bishop

      Sam Wheat, I don’t know what you are talking about. Do you?

  • “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if the can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~Nelson Mandela

    I suppose that includes cynics who would rather remain negative than to do whatever is possible to make the world a better place for everyone.

  • Joan Haskins

    Excellent piece, Lezlie.

    “What we don’t do is grab our guns, jump in the car, and follow the person we’ve adjudged suspicious.” Amen.

  • koshersalaami

    Right on.

  • Dear Lezlie, this is an interesting piece. Your point is sound — unconscious bias exists, regardless of the race of the person who is doing the profiling. However, I would suggest that your actions, as you describe them in this piece, do not strictly constitute “profiling.” You did not say that you called neighborhood security on every single black man and woman you encountered, only on people you thought were “behaving unusually.” One wonders if you would have called neighborhood security on a white man or white woman who was behaving suspiciously or unusually, or if you would have recognized their behavior as suspicious. But this is why we need to keep talking about all of this.

  • Gina Ellis

    I think we all profile, and that includes all sorts of non-racial things too. It’s what we do or don’t do about it (and guns are seldom helpful), and the constant effort to keep our minds open.

    Tho some people, like Mr. Wheat (?), do try us.

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