I met this guy for lunch. We were told that we needed to meet to discuss this business thingy that we were both working on. I told him my name, he said his name was Terry. We shook hands. We were quickly sat at a table in this typical American restaurant where they serve basically something from every cultural background in some limited fashion. The menu, suffice it to say, was massive.
Our conversation was odd and got me to thinking, it is listed below:
Me: Terry, where is your last name from?
Him: I am Italian.
Me: Oh! What part of Italy?
Him: Well my family immigrated there, they live in the north.
Me: Immigrated from where?
Him: Spain. My grandfather’s business expanded there so that is where my father was raised, Northern Italy.
Me: Ah but you are of Spanish decent?
Him: Technically, no. I have Moorish blood in me as a result of the invasion that happened years ago.
Me: How do you know that? You don’t look like you are from Northern Africa.
Him: Well that was centuries ago. My family did one of those ancestry lookups and it lead there.
Me: Do you follow Islam?
Him: Nope. I am a Catholic.
Me: So you are an Italian, Spanish, North African Catholic?
Him: Me? Nope. I was born in the United States. Los Angeles to be specific.
Me: Wow! i was born there too.
Why did it matter where he was from? Why did I even ask? At the end of our conversation I had learned absolutely nothing of value about him that would enlighten me as to his perspective in the upcoming discussion we were about to have – the real reason we were having lunch to begin with. The answer is that we prefer to have a point of reference to reality – humans like to have a starting point. Thus, I asked all of that to try to get myself a point of reference to the man sitting in front of me, when in fact it gives me none – if anything, it only made our conversation more strained as he could have taken my questions very badly.
This leads us to the over-arching concept, and a hot topic within our society presently – stereotyping, also known by professionals as profiling. The concept is simple – look at someone in a category, or series of categories, that you have identified them to be in and suddenly you know quite a bit about the person before having been told anything about them directly. This concept seems logical, except in many instances it totally isn’t – such as the example I stated – I received a list of nationalities that describe this person, and in the order I heard them, I could have made a series of judgments and expectations about this guy, all being dismissed in order with new information revealed – thus my point of reference changing because it was constantly proven to be wrong.
This lead me to consider how we profile people in day to day life. For instance, there is a load of racially charged turmoil in the USA right now regarding the Police and how they interact with various races – the Black community to be specific. Is it fair that the Police seem to profile Black Males in our society? Many arguments have been made in both directions – but it seems that there is a fundamental flaw in the arguments for racial profiling: If you look hard enough at something you will find what you want to find. With regards to the Black Male population in the USA – if scrutinized, blamed, and profiled enough, over and over again, then eventually people are twisted into what you blamed them for to begin with – a self fulfilling prophecy.
Therein lies the crux of the problem. Instead of giving people a chance for not being what you assume them to be, we treat them as if they have already committed a crime simply for being a part of a group of people that are labeled as criminals – wrongfully. We profile black males to be criminals, treat them as such, and thus we look at their lives under a microscope and find whatever it we can. Face it, everyone breaks some law almost every day. Why? We can’t possibly know all the laws. Speeding to work? I did it just today. So if I put a black male under a microscope at some point I am going to catch him breaking a law, even if he didn’t knowingly do so, and now I have a reason to say “SEE?!?! BLACKS BREAK THE LAW!!” Preposterous – yet it happens daily.
The tough part is learning to set that aside, as we have all, in some fashion, been programmed to think that way. Why? The assumption is that it works. Why? Consider how people of Arabic decent are considered at airports. At present the USA government identifies terrorists as being mostly of Arabic decent (totally ignoring the USA born white, christian guys that blew up buildings). Consequently the airports look a lot harder at people of Arabic decent because chances are a terrorist is of Arabic decent. Has it held true? Nope. And yet we continue to do so.
If we, as a race, are to actually get past racism, we must get past the idea that someone always fits into a mold. Sometimes, yes, a person can fit a mold – hell they can even be the mold – but since that is not always the case, or in many instances isn’t even close to being accurate, then why do we continue to stereotype others? The sad truth is insecurity – humans are insecure creatures on a singular basis, and cultures, on a whole, are down right paranoid. Ironically, the more paranoid we get, the harder we look, the worse we treat certain people, causing them to distrust us in kind, and thus facilitating even worse relations leading us back to the beginning – being paranoid.
Congratulations – we have an endless cycle.