Racial Profiling

At church this past Sunday (Willow Creek Community Church) Bill took a few moments to discuss the court event that is hot on the press lately.  At a point in the talk he mentioned racial profiling and how white folk couldn’t possibly understand what it is like for an African America father to have to explain racial profiling to his kids in order to keep them best protected, particularly with the cops.  I racked my brain to verify he was right, that I couldn’t understand, but surprisingly I did find a common ground.

While I studied for 5 months in East Africa I almost immediately grew weary of the badgering requests by locals for money – one man even came right up to me while I was working on an essay, sat down next to me, and asked if he could have my computer.  I remember trying to explain myself in all of these encounters.  I tried to explain that I had actually saved up for this trip for a long time and that if I gave them my money I wouldn’t be able to eat lunch and if I gave them my computer I wouldn’t be able to buy another one to do my school work.  Was I ultimately better off than them, probably, but that by no means meant I would be able to survive my trip there if I gave away the meager supplies and funds I had.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that these people were asking me for money and things because I have white skin.  I was a walking wallet to them, not a real, emotional person.  I loathed this.  In fact, I loathed it so much that I grew a strong distaste for most of the locals I came across.  Granted, just a few weeks after I arrived I was brutally mugged so maybe that had something to do with it too.  Regardless, before long it was only the students at my school and my host family, or the host families of other US students, that I felt safe with and like my skin color didn’t matter.  But what was most troubling about this was that I felt completely alone in my feelings.  To this day, I don’t think a single one of the other US students in the program grew a dislike for any one African.  And I wonder if they simply didn’t notice that they were being constantly profiled or that they really didn’t care.

The brief chat about racial profiling this past Sunday liberated me.  I finally realized that I wasn’t alone with my feelings.  If no other whites in Africa shared my feelings I now know at least African Americans do here.  And now I feel for them more than I ever did because I get it.  I get how it feels to be watched by beady eyes.  I get how it feels to not be received with an open mind.  Friends, it hurts to not be seen as a person.  In Africa I was seen as a thing, as money.  Here, I think we too often view African American’s as a threat.  Isn’t it right to view each person with a clean slate until they prove you otherwise – innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent?  Just some thoughts.

I’m going out on a limb here.  I may not be politically correct with my words.  But I am trying to view racial profiling through the lens of solidarity.  Truth is, yes I experienced racial profiling.  But the truth also is that I have not experienced the sort of racial profiling that African Americans experience every day here.  I cannot claim complete understanding, but I can at least claim a shred.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Racial Profiling

  1. My family was just talking about a similar situation we had while vacationing in Bali, Indonesia. We were told that if we were involved in a car accident while in a cab we were to immediately get out of the cab and walk away. No matter who caused the accident we would be arrested and charged with the expenses because we are white. We were a bit on edge during cab rides on that trip, but it did open our eyes to how it feels to be a minority! It is something that living in little ol’ Buffalo couldn’t teach us.

    • Oh totally! That actually reminds me of a similar experience we had in Africa. We were pulled over in Kenya and the police officers were demanding our passports in efforts to win a bribe out of us.

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