I was watching the Dr. Phil show yesterday, in which he was discussing the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case with Lisa Bloom, who authored a book Suspicion Nation in which she criticizes the prosecution for botching the case. You may recall that Zimmerman was accused of "profiling" Trayvon Martin, which led to the confrontation between them and to Zimmerman's eventually shooting Martin, allegedly in self-defense.
At the end of the program, Dr. Phil revealed the results of a poll asking people in various indirect ways if they were racist (against blacks). It turned out that 80% of whites indicated they were racist against blacks and that 50% of blacks indicated that they were racist against other blacks. If you find this surprising, consider the following exchange between Juan Williams and Dr. Caroline Helmand, Professor of Political Science at Occidental College. Williams was fired from NPR for saying that when he sees people in Muslim garb on a plane, he gets nervous, which prompted the following comments from Professor Helmand:
Helmand: "I happen to agree with Schiller that your comments [about Muslims] were bigoted. I think that if I were to say that I clutch my purse every time I walk by a black man that might resonate with a lot of Americans. It might be the truth but it's a bigoted statement. I certainly wouldn't have fired you but I do think there was some truth in that video that we don't get to talk about because we are afraid to have actual discourse in this country."
Williams: "I can't believe that you just said that. You think that simply saying what you think is evidence of bigotry that all of a sudden it's as if you were walking by a black man that would mean if you were bigoted if you were somewhat nervous. Let me just tell you, with the amount of black on black crime in America, I get nervous and I'm a black man. So, I mean, wait a second..."
Helmand: "There we go again, Juan. I would find that to be racial profiling that's a bigoted comment."
Williams: "That's a bigoted comment?"
Helmand: "Yes it is. Just like your comment about Muslims."
Williams: "I'm the father of black young men and I'm saying that if you saw a couple guys walking around looking like thugs down the street late at night, you're saying 'Oh, I'm not going to think it through.' Caroline, I think you are way off base."
A few years ago, Jesse Jackson voiced a similar concern when he said: “There is nothing more painful to me … than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” Do these kinds of concerns voiced by people like Juan Williams and Jesse Jackson constitute "racial profiling"? Do they really rise to the level of racial bigotry?
And what are we to make of the poll showing widespread racism against blacks? I wonder how the questions were phrased. Like Juan Williams and Jesse Jackson, I myself "profile" black teenage boys who are dressed and act a certain way, especially if a gang of them is walking towards me on the street. If convenient, I make a point of crossing the street. I base this on personal experience of having been mugged by members of this group and on that of friends who've had similar experiences.
If I were black and living in the racist South 100 years ago, I'd "profile" white boys in pickup trucks displaying Confederate flags. You can call it "racial profiling," if you want, but it's really the profiling of a racial subgroup.
I'm just wondering if the people who answered that poll viewed this type of profiling as racist. Is it really true that racism against blacks exists among 80% of whites and 50% of blacks? If it were that pervasive, how is it that we elected and re-elected a black president?
What I find ironic is that people make such a huge issue of cases like the George Zimmerman shooting (for which he was acquitted), when relatively little outrage is expressed over the epidemic of black on black crime occurring nearly every day in our major cities. It is this that should be occupying our attention instead of pointing self-righteous fingers at comparatively rare cases like the Zimmerman shooting.
A good place to start is by decriminalizing drugs. That would take the profit out of drug dealing and eliminate the gang activity associated with it. Then we should stop excusing bad behavior as an "understandable reaction" to racism and poverty and begin holding people responsible for their actions. If you tell a whole group of people that their bad behavior is not their fault, will they take responsibility for it? You've given them a ready made excuse to continue it. It's human nature to blame others and to seize upon whatever excuse is available, which are usually variations on the theme of "the devil made me do it."
Part of treating people as individuals is holding them responsible for their choices.