Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Probing the gray areas of racial profiling

Here's something I wrote last week following the little furor over Obama's comments on the Henry Louis Gates affair. It's a tale long-time readers will already be familiar with.

I hesitated writing it because I wasn't sure the extent to which it would perpetuate certain stereotypes. I decided it was OK, though, because my point is that racial profiling is rarely a clear-cut issue; it so often falls into that uncertain gray area. Even what at first seemed like a clear-cut case of profiling with the Gates/Crowley incident turned out to have far more shades to it than first appeared. But we should stare hard at these gray areas, because that is where our prejudices really reveal themselves.

Still, some commenters found my story offensive because I supposedly perpetuate a racist myth. Others are offended that I condemn Crowley for being a racist (which is simply not true). Not sure how to reconcile the two sides, but I tried to write it in a way that rejects the notion that I was mugged because of the race of my perpetrators. It was merely situational, but highlights the thorniness of the issue.

The incident I recount in this story is something that happened, a real-world application to the utopian ideal that we can and should always look beyond the superficial. If I had taken one look at the gentlemen who mugged me, evaluated their appearance and run the hell away, wouldn't that in itself be racial profiling? Is that acceptable, and if so, where do we draw the line?

Conversing with them and expecting the best may have been naive, but it was also a conscious effort not to make prejudiced judgments. What was the "right" thing to do? I'm still not sure. But some of the nasty comments are sure, however -- sure that whatever I did, it was wrong. Ah, the conundrum.

You want to find a racist in this story, how about this guy?

1 comment:

Munisha Tumato said...

You bring up a great point in your Straights Times article - that stereotyping in reverse (and the meathead cop is a pretty powerful one) was probably was catalyzed the whole incident. I think part of the problem is when people invent causal relationships between race and certain characteristics, like violent or dangerous behavior without considering the far more plausible connection - between poverty (class) and violent or dangerous behavior. The fact that the majority of poor and imprisoned people happen to be people of color is the issue that really needs to be addressed.