Stereotypes and profiling

As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, on Feb 26th 2012, Trayvon Martin, a black 17 year-old Sanford, Florida teenager was shot and killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who is described as a white Hispanic.  The self proclaimed ‘neighborhood watchman’ felt that Martin looked suspicious and didn’t  belong in the gated community, even though his father’s girlfriend lived there. These suspicions led to a physical altercation between Zimmerman and Martin, which ultimately led to Zimmerman shooting  and killing Martin in cold blood. The “suspicious”  looking teen was in fact only armed with a bag of skittles and a iced tea.

Honestly, when this story was first brought to national attention a few days ago, I thought, “Not again.” Incidents where non-blacks murder blacks simply for the color of their skin are unfortunately commonplace and justice for them is scarce. This case in particular deeply affects me because I have three nephews near the same age as Trayvon and I know, as a black woman, that the same thing could have easily happened to them. None of my nephews have ever been in serious trouble. None of them drink, use or sell drugs, have ever gotten a girl pregnant or have ever run afoul of the law in any way. In fact, one nephew is in the reserves and is on a track team. Another nephew is on the wrestling and football team in high school. And the third nephew is on the basketball team at his high school. But to a number of white people, none of those things matter. They’re branded as devious and criminal simply because of the color of their skin. Because of these attitudes, they’re forced to behave diffently in certain situations than other racial and ethnic groups. For instance, we have to tell my nephews that in the event that they should be stopped by the police, they cannot mouth off, they have to be still and so on, because failure to do so could cost them their lives as we are not valued in our society and the wrong cop wouldn’t think anything of taking their lives. Most  mothers in most other groups would never think to have such a conversation with their child. 

Zimmerman certainly did not see Trayvon as a young man who stayed out of trouble. Who did good in school. Who had two loving and involved parents. Who was attending one of Miami’s top high schools. An average teenager who was addicted to sugar, video games and rap music. No. He saw a hoodlum. He saw a thug. He saw a threat to the neighborhood and someone who either did not belong there or, in his opinion, did not deserve to be in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. What he saw that day was a stereotype of a Black man that he had seen over and over again and converted into fact.

I was a psychology major in college. In one class, the professor explained that in a society that disseminates information at a dizzying pace, stereotypes were a way in which people organized and filtered it because otherwise, we’d be overwhelmed. However, Treyvon’s murder is a prime example of how stereotypes can become dangerous and how people accept them as truth for every person. Especially stereotypes related to people of color because, even in 2012, there are White people who have had little to no contact with any persons of color.

Sure, they might know their Black mail-woman on a first name basis and even give her a Christmas card every year. They might chat with the Pakastani man that works in the neighborhood grocery, but for some, that constitutes all of the direct interaction they have with a person of a different ethnic background.

Images on TV or elsewhere in the media of the doo-rag wearing, gun toting black man and the wig-wearing, neck snapping, screeching black woman may not represent you or anyone you know personally but the impact they have is powerful. In time, they become less specific, more of a blur and gradually become accepted as fact when replayed over and over again. Obviously not all White people are this short-sighted, even if they don’t have much direct contact with non-whites, but a lot of them are.

Profiling affects us all. People of color are often not given the right to explain or show people who they truly are before they become a victim based on a stereotype- from the black man who works as a mid level executive but who happens to drive a BMW to the black woman who might be seen as a man-hating feminist just because she wears her hair natural. Are people of all races profiled and stereotyped? Sure. But how many of them lose their lives over something someone thought they were?


4 Responses to “Stereotypes and profiling”

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  3. This is so sad. I am a late 30’s, white female, and I understand what you are saying. You must feel like I do-because of some ignorant, close minded white people-I have to defend myself from being “labeled”. I am also, sometimes “judged” by some ( not all) people of color, and I have to “fight” to show who I really am, and a small number never would give me the chance. But, i also understand why, at the same time, they may “choose” to not give me that chance. I love people that are different-or that I dont know about; their cultures, their food, their traditions-you can learn so much from them, and make lifelong friends in the process, and it makes me sick that anyone would treat anyone else in a negative manner because of their race. Sadly enough-other parents of other cultures do have to have that talk with their kids-sometimes it does not have to do with race-the parent warning the gay son, the mother preparing her hiv positive daughter, the young male adult with tattoos from head to toe, and piercings all over his face-he is also stereotyped by police, other races, his own race-

    i am not saying you are wrong about anything, at all. But this type of stereotyping exist in the world, and does stretch beyond race, and the color of your skin. Why are people so afraid of what they dont know? We are all the same species; human. Just like shoes in your closet-they are all shoes, but what if they were all exactly the same color? What if humans all came in the same color? Culture? Tradition? What a boring, bland world this would be. If you think about it that way-the whole stereotyping thing really seems stupid. If your red pumps’ heel accidentally breaks off, does that mean that all red shoes are bad? I will continue to hold hope that someday humanity will move past the simple fact that our skin is not all the same color, nor, do we all look and act the same. But living in a dreamworld, can get your life taken from you, you are correct. We all need to be aware of certian aspects of our origin may make us a “target” on occasion. -thats the way it is. Those of us who “do not see colors and races” need to look out for each other, love one another, and hope for the “ignorant few”. God bless you and your family, and your nephews.

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