Thursday, August 1, 2013

Guest Post: Racial Profiling & Respectability Politics

Today's Guest Post comes from first time blogger, Tasha Rose, who has chosen to share with us her thoughts on the recent right-wing response to President Obama's comments on U.S. race relations.  So please engage our guest in the the comments below.

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In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, an interesting, but definitely not new, sentiment has sprung up among various personalities in the public eye.  To be clear, when I use the term “interesting” to describe something it generally has a negative connotation.  And it appears my description continues.  There appears to be a new phenomenon where the discussion of racial profiling centers on this belief that those who dress or speak a certain way or live in certain areas are asking to be profiled. 

Last week, CNN’s Don Lemon cosigned Bill O’Reilly’s recent (and consistent) “critique” of the Black community. Ah, good ole politics of respectability coming up again.


To say that I am dismayed by this argument, regardless of who it is coming from, would be an understatement. What is particularly funny to me is when I’m chastised by those who accuse me of dismissing O’Reilly’s points by making excuses for the Black community or by those who say that I’m not being realistic.  All humor is lost and turns to disgust, however, when individuals suggest that Trayvon Martin would have never caught George Zimmerman’s eye if he wasn’t wearing a hoodie.  Really?  Wow, who knew that hoodies were the hand tools of the Grim Reaper?  
Look, if we’re going to talk about realism, then let’s get real: It was skin color, NOT apparel that triggered Zimmerman to follow and subsequently kill Trayvon Martin.  At the end of the day, if it had been a young Caucasian boy wearing the same thing I doubt that there would have even been an incident.  And I, as well of the rest of America, would have never been burdened with even knowing of the existence of George Zimmerman.  Alas, this is fodder for opinion television and radio.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d believe that many “critics” from the national news were actually justifying (and even condoning) racial profiling.  All things being equal, if a Black, Brown, or White person had their pants sagging, talked in “street slang,” or some other “suspicious” behavior, only the Black or Brown person would be followed. And, according to some respectability critics, it’s “justified” – just look at the murder rate statistics. 

I sometimes wonder what world American pundits like Don Lemon live in. Seriously!  Based on their narrow rational, being prejudice is justified since incomplete and tainted “data” back up their preconceived stereotypes and generalities.  It’s not the fault of the bigot, it’s the fault of the stereotypical subject.  You don’t want to be stereotyped, then conform!  Wow!  Talk about “blaming the victim.”  Well, hell, why didn’t anyone ever tell me that behaving in a White man’s definition of a “socially acceptable” manner was the magic elixir needed to cure the scourge of racism?  I don’t believe everyone received that memo.  If so, I would’ve NEVER experienced racism at all.  I mean… I come from a middle-class, two-parent household; both of whom are college educated.  I hold multiple degrees from highly accredited schools myself.  I grew up in the suburbs in the Midwest – you know, “God’s Country.”  I went to a good school taking every accelerated class my school offered.  I've even been told I "speak so well" because of my general usage of standard English.  Bottom line, I fit within the description of what an acceptable Black person should be. So I should be exempt from profiling and racism, right?  I mean, I’ve done my part, correct?

Wrong! 

I won't bore you with the seemingly endless lists of examples of racism I've seen and experienced.  Those experiences made me realize long ago that in the eyes of some people my skin color will inherently make me less than human.  And, if I throw on a hoodie, all my credentials magically go away.  Instead of being a PhD, I am simply a Black person cursed with carrying the burden of the FBI murder statics.  And I’m a female; I won’t even start on the horror stories shared by my equally credentialed Black male friends.  Oh, and by “equally credentialed” I mean college educated, professional and articulate men.  You know… the prototypical Black people who are immune to racial profiling. 

Are our stories the exception or the rule?  Is there some other “respectability” trait that we’re missing?  I’d like to be judged by the content of my character. Please Mr. White Man, please teach po’ ‘lil ol’ me!! 

There is nothing to gain from this twisted game of respectability politics in an effort to justify racial profiling.  Instead of confronting the subject of racism, the “power structure” has decided the “African American community” should confront the object of said racism.  This is victim blaming plain and simple and completely ignores the fact that racial profiling shouldn’t occur in the first place!

Getting to the heart of the issue: a person’s appearance isn’t synonymous with social camouflage limiting the recognition that comes with basic humanity.  This is doubly true for any person of color, or women, or the disabled, etc.  Basic humanity demands that all people deserve to be treated with basic respect and human dignity.  All individuals deserve the right to speak for themselves NOT spoken for – especially by bogus stats and stereotypes.  It appears as if the Bill O’Reillys and Don Lemons of the world don’t believe this to be true.  It seems as if they feel that some folks deserve to be treated with basic respect and regarded as humans while others don't.  According to them, Black men shouldn’t be able to walk down the street without being harassed; as if walking down the street is a privilege only granted by certain people.  People with a specific birth right, dress code, speech pattern, gender, or race.  Or at least it should be.   

Do you want to hear something ironic?  I just watched the movie The Great Debaters for the first time today (Don’t judge me!  Haven’t you been reading the post - LOL).  I keep thinking about the final debate.


This scene provides the perfect illustration for this issue.  After witnessing a lynching, James Farmer Jr. realized  that it didn’t matter if he and his classmates were educated and behaved in a “more respectable” manner.  At the end of the day, some people will only see the color of their skin.  Simply being Black was enough to justify your lynching.  That movie was based on events from the 1930s; isn’t funny how – in 2013 – some things remain unchanged?  Some of us are experiencing those same realizations.  I guess others like Don Lemon are still in denial about it.

What are your thoughts?
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