There is a huge debate going on in my neighborhood about racial profiling. Some feel it is a knee jerk reaction in response to the bulk of our currently publicized crimes being perpetrated by a segment of the society that share similar gender/ethnicity/age/etc. Others feel it is indicative of underlying prejudices when caution is adhered as a result of a stranger’s appearance.
I find that I am uncomfortable with this conversation. It’s not the merit of the debate that makes me squirm, rather I have to wonder where I fit in. We have a constant stream of realtors/delivery people/landscapers/salesman/religious and political canvassers/etc through our neighborhood. Our community is involved and diverse, not to mention communicative and proactive. After an exhausting summer of multiple homes being robbed and cars being rummaged through by the half dozen, we are all frustrated and on high alert. With the majority of the “Be On the Lookout” warnings issued in our neighborhood for young African-American males, a heated situation is being fueled in our community. The question must now be asked: Is profiling racism?
“Racism” feels more like fodder for news media than something for introspect. Just read news stories and the comments sections from any news outlet on any day to find ignorance and passion on the subject, but mostly a great deal of vitriol towards any and all races and sexes. Growing up in South Carolina and now residing in Georgia, I am acutely, even painfully, aware that racism isn’t a boogeyman. It’s real and alive and applied daily, and ethnicity is exempt. Prejudice doesn’t have a color or size- anyone can wear it, anyone can be mistreated because of it. In theory, profiling is the application of prejudice to people that fit a certain shape or appearance in the name of…what? Justice? Defense?
If I don’t open my door to an African American male that I have never seen before that has no identification (read- professional uniform, name tag, company card, etc), does that make me a racist? If you answered yes, would matters change if I told you that a BOLO went out in the neighborhood just an hour earlier saying that a young man of this profile had just forced himself into another home and robbed it? Is it still racist or am I now just being safe? Where’s the line? Being home alone a lot, I have to decide what feels safe. I have had groups of teens with no lawn equipment come by asking for money to mow my lawn when it is raining (and run off the as the asked). I have left my neighbor’s home to find a white male I’ve never seen trying my front door knob (I didn’t answer the door, so he was just checking, he said). I’ve had the biggest, scariest guy I’ve ever seen come up to me on my porch with a dog leash hooked to a collar, screaming and frantic because his dog slipped loose (the dog was about a block over and he nearly wept with relief). And I’ve had an African American teen that looked homeless and desperate come running from nowhere and grab my young son, catching him just in time to pull him back from running in front of a speeding car (his parents had left, and he and his older sister were doing the best they could, but life is hard and there wasn’t a lot of food. Once I calmed down, I had to practically force him to have lunch with us and the gratitude I saw in his eyes still haunts me and breaks my heart). I feel that I have to make a judgment call based on instinct and to apply just one standard of description to that would be putting myself in harm’s way. To be truthful, though… If a green Martian I don’t know pounds on my door demanding entry and a green Martian just attempted a home invasion a few streets over, that door is staying closed and I am calling 911. I don’t care if it is biased against those that are green or are Martians.