Chances are … you are too.
In a recent conversation with my peers, I was called out as a profiler and racist. Wow!
Here’s what happened.
A few weeks ago, a girlfriend and I were coming out of a restaurant late at night in what can be called a sketchy part of town (isn’t that where all the great hole in the wall restaurants are?).
As we walked the 2 blocks to our cars, we see 4 men walking directly toward us. All we could see from the street lights above was that they wore jeans, hoodies and one had long dreadlocks.
Do you think that I assumed they were good, law abiding citizens? No, I did not.
We made an assumption based on our obvious vulnerability that these men could possibly pose a threat to us. A big one. As we crossed the street I secured my hand around the mace I keep in my purse. For homegrown L.A. girls, this is a natural reaction.
I’m aware that if the intentions of these men were less than honorable, crossing the street would not have deterred them. But, instinct calls for you to do whatever it is you can at the time to avoid trouble.
I did not assume that the men coming our way were Black or Hispanic. I certainly didn’t rule it out. It wouldn’t have mattered what color they were. The last time I checked, ill intent has no color or creed. We were 2 women, they were 4 men. And not another soul in site. I didn’t care for the odds that the men heading our way were Boy Scouts.
The truth is, I profile people all the time. It’s a survival thing when you live in the big city. I hope for the best but keep a sharp eye open for the worst. I call that smart, not racist. Nor do I give a damn if people profile me. Go for it.
So the question is: Is profiling equivalent to racism?
The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as: “the belief that all members of each race possesses characteristics or abilities, specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” Not a belief I hold in any bone in my body.
Racism smacks of hatred and intolerance. I bare neither of these towards any race. Nor does the child I raised.
But I’m no fool. Violence happens in all ethnicities, and is often perpetuated on women more so than men. Often all that is needed is opportunity. We have but to look at the looting of Ferguson to see the truth in this.
I would just as easily mace a Caucasian man as I would a Hispanic, Black, Asian, Muslim, Skinhead, etc. man. If I am feeling threatened, I will do what I need to do to protect myself and that which is mine.
And that, my friends, includes profiling.
So, to my friends who called me a racist because I profile people, I say … bite me! The last time I checked, an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.
A personal note on what is happening in Ferguson; I supported and stood by Dr. Martin Luther King and his philosophies that changed a nation. I cannot and do not stand by the looters and criminals that crawl out into the night under the cloak of injustice to bring destruction down on their neighbors.
You can bet there is a lot of profiling going on right now in the city of Ferguson. On both sides of the street. It’s called survival.
People think it is hate. But it’s fear.
I’m no racist. Just a fearful American living in precarious times. Maybe one day profiling will be a thing of the past.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
mel glenn - Dear Tammy,
A provocative column, and an honest one. There’s a thin line between profiling and racism, but given your experience, wouldn’t most women have done the same? Do you think it might have been a man/woman thing? Would you have had the same reaction if four “tough looking” women crossed your path?
I don’t think you were guilty of racism; you were just being protective of yourself, wary. Question though, would you have grabbed your mace if the four men were white w/o dreadlocks?
Joan Cooper - I really miss William Buckley. He said it all so nicely.
A friend asked him if he liked black people – he replied – “no”, his friend asked if he liked yellow people – he replied “no”. His friend asked if he liked brown people – he replied “no”. His friend asked …’then who do you like? ‘ the reply was…”I like my friends”
Touche as they say.
I am so sick of the whining. A lot of the blame goes to the media. Oh yeah – and the useless politicians. So much for civilization and don’t get me started on the Civil War for which they created a large statue to another useless politician – A. Lincoln. The truth of that war is never discussed. No it was not about slavery which the Federal Government did condone.
Kathleen O'Donnell - Women need to trust that voice in their head that lets them know when something doesn’t feel right. I’d rather be alive than politically correct and so should you. From Tammy Bleck a Witty Woman Writing.
Jeffrey Davidson - Racism in any form is wrong and unfortunate.
However, profiling is done all of the time by most people. The clerk in the convenience store who sees a couple of guys late at night milling around the store till others leave feels the potential of a robbery without regard to their race or ethnicity.
Based on statistics of terrorist activities around the world that are committed mainly by Muslim males of a particular age category, many people are wary of a group of 20-30 year old male Muslims. This is not specifically because they do or do not like Muslims but because statistically this small Muslim group has committed horrific crimes. The police look at individuals who appear to be hiding their identity walking around convenience stores, banks, etc. as potential threats. They may not even be able to tell what their race or ethnicity is at the time.
Animals (including the human species), profile all of the time. Zebras and gazelles always look at lions, leopards and cheetahs as potential threats. Are they being racist (obviously a human term) or are they looking out for their own well being.
I probably would have answered slightly different than William Buckley and said “no I do not like or dislike this group of individuals, I like people.”
When I was in college, I worked at a state mental institution (I said worked there not a guest!) and I learned among other things to treat people as individuals. I may not always succeed, but I try.
As someone else once said, I wish there was no racism in the world so that I could dislike someone because of their character, values and dishonesty and not be accused of disliking blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gypsies, etc.
As always, great writing!
We do what we need to to protect ourselves.
donna - I lived in Brooklyn, NY until I was 33 years. It was not a shee-shee area like Park Slope or DUMBO. Nope. Canarsie was a middle class area that bordered a few sketchy areas. I had to travel THROUGH these areas often.
In all my years there, I rode the bus, took the subway, hailed a cab at all kinds of hours. Never ONCE was I:
I attribute this to exactly what you say in this post.
I took CONTROL over my environment and kept aware of my surroundings.
I have definitely felt concern, anxious, even fear at times. I casually crossed a street if I felt the need. Generally, as your experience, it was because there was a group of 3 or more PEOPLE headed my way. White, black, Asian…didn’t matter. Although I will say I would probably be less apt to cross if the group were pushing baby carriages or using walkers!
This is NOT racism. It is intelligently being aware and taking needful steps to be safe.
The reaction by the few in Ferguson…and YES, I believe the low life thugs WERE the exception…is what the media wants us to see. There are injustices everywhere…thugs of all colors…”bad” white neighborhoods, “good” black neighborhoods…
We need to figure out a way to REIGN in the ridiculous behaviors of THE MEDIA. They are way more to blame than any thug anywhere.
BTW…glad you made it home safe and hope you enjoyed your meal :).
Tammy - Mel, I doubt I would have crossed the street if 4 nuns or nannies were heading our way. However, if we were being approached by 4 women in burkas, I would have done the same thing. It’s the unknown, the un-seeable, the “group” outnumbering me. You pose a good question with regards to the dreadlocks. The answer is yes. Dark streets, 4 men together coming towards me, dreadlocks or not, the odds could easily fall against my favor. Better safe than sorry. No apology here. Not that long ago the news was covered with stories of young men prowling the streets and cold cocking people to the ground for fun. My profiling includes young men in groups. Survival of the fittest. So happy to here from you!
Tammy - Hi Joan, ah, yes, William Buckley. Where is he when we need him?! I feel the same as he did. I value people of good character, humor, intellect and kindness. Skin color does not determine any of these things. You are right, the media bares some responsibility for it’s excessive and biased broadcasts. How did we get to be such a mess?
Tammy - Hi Donna, we are SO on the same page. Yet because I “profile” I was called out as an obvious racist. This is crazy to me. It is a survival skill we ALL use every day. And, YES, the media is often the enemy. I know there were many good people of color that were frightened and angry at the looting that was going on. Violence is never the answer. I grew up in the bowels of Los Angeles. On my way to school I often encountered flashers, druggies and homeless. You learn pretty quickly who to distance yourself from and who to befriend. Survival of the fittest, something you obviously know a lot about. This LA girl sends you her respect.
Maureen Musgrave Armentrout - I have and will always err on the side of my safety, and racism doesn’t play any part of that. You did good!!
Doreen Mcgettigan - I live 2 blocks from the most dangerous city in the country. You better believe I profie.
When you have been attacked your inner voice senses and screams to you when you are in danger.
I call it smart not racist.
Elin Stebbins Waldal - As many others have already said, you have to be aware of your surroundings and follow your gut instincts, safety is a non-negotiable. And it doesn’t matter where we are, violence against women occurs everywhere, and in many cases at the hands of someone the woman knows! So stranger on the street? Defense is a great call and does not make you a racist. Thought provoking post.
Chloe Jeffreys - I am leery of men I encounter when I’m alone. Always. Regardless of color. I am particularly leery of groups of men I run across in the middle of the night. Maybe that makes me a sexist. I don’t really give a rat’s ass. I carry mace, I keep my car keys in my hand, and I’m hyper-vigilant when I’m out alone. And anyone who wants to judge me for that can bite me as well.
Donna Highfill - Tammy – thanks for a brave blog. I think profiling is a survival instinct, something that our brain does to prepare us for danger. What is unfortunate is how we stack media stories against certain races, causing the fear and stereotypes which causes the profiling. It is interesting that most serial killers are white males, yet we don’t panic when we see a single white male walking towards us. Especially if he looks like Ted Bundy. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do know that when you are two women facing four men, always err on the side of safety.
Mary Morony - Nicely said, madam. It’s odd we live in a silly “no fault” world, unless you step on a scared cow, then baby watch out! You best be ducking.
Tammy - Chloe, you make my heart sing. We are sisters from another mother. Vigilance helps ensure safety and well being. Nothing racist about that!
Tammy - Mary, ducking, bobbing and weaving is what us city folk do best. Blaming is a game often played in the racist world. I prefer to bow out of that one. So nice to hear from you!
Lisa Carpenter - I would have done the very same thing and I’m definitely not racist in any way shape or form. This may be a horrible analogy, but when I walk my dogs (one being a pitbull), I ALWAYS am wary of any and every dog to come my way, even the sweetest looking ones. I pull out my pepper spray to prepare. Just in case! We protect ourselves for the JUST IN CASE situations all the time. It has nothing to do with racism. Nothing.
Patricia A. Patton - I am glad you are safe.
Tammy - Thanks, Patricia. So very kind of you. 🙂
Lois Alter Mark - You are not a racist – and neither am I. I can’t imagine it would ever be a person’s race that would make you reach for the mace – it would be the situation. Is it sexist that four men walking toward you in the dark makes you afraid? I don’t think so. So sad that there’s so much violence in this world and that this has to be an issue.
Tammy - Hi Elin, safety IS non negotiable! Thank you! I make no apologies. Still, the sting of being perceived a racist because I find no difficulty in profiling is less than awesome. It truly does make the mind wonder. So happy to have you here! Thanks for that.
Cathy Chester - You are not a racist and neither am I. I’ve held that mace ready whenever I’m feeling uncomfortable. That’s it. Uncomfortable. I don’t think about the color of the skin, just the possibilities of what could happen. Being safe is what’s our priority, and as a woman even walking out to a parking lot you have to be ready. Violence happens. Period. You, dear friend, are perfectly “normal”!!! xo
Tammy - Thanks, Cathy! It is now clear to me that not all my friends share that sentiment. Grrrrr. I don’t feel like profiling is a racist thing. I think it’s more of a ‘girl’ thing. A survival instinct thing. Sometimes I think fear is confused with racism. I love that you think I’m perfectly “normal”. Haven’t been called that in years. Tee-Hee.
Lee Lefton - What I’d really like to know, Tam, is what your friends who are calling you a racist would do in the same situation. Is there a word they’d call themselves?
Esther Lombardi - Survival instincts are what keep us all alive, right?… and I’ve come to rely on that little voice that tells me to be extra careful. To walk the other way. Maybe I’m paranoid… fearful?
I also think there’s another dimension too. I fear for my children. I also know that even when there is no conscious intent to do harm, events can so quickly spiral out of control.
Don - I used to speak pretty regularly at neighborhood or business group meetings about safety and what not, and the number one thing I preached is to trust your gut.
You’d be surprised how many men and women I’ve taken robbery or assault reports from (I work in a big city) tell me, “I knew something wasn’t right, but I did such and such anyway.” Crazy to not listen to your gut. Those feelings come from a lifetime of experiences. Trust them, they’re trying to help.
Tammy - Hi Esther, At this point, I think we are ALL paranoid and fearful. For good reason. The world could be a kinder place. And, you’re absolutely right … events can easily and quickly spiral out of control. Accessing a situation and acting according to your instincts is the best we can do for our selves. My two cents. So happy to have you here!
Tammy - Hi Don, you make such a good point, I wish now I had mentioned it in my blog post. YES, listening to your gut is SUPER important. We shouldn’t have to explain why we feel what we feel, nor should we need to justify how we try to help ourselves avoid a bad situation. Our gut never lies. Thank you for bringing that up! And thank you for the read AND the thoughtful comment!
Tammy - Hi Lee! You know, you have posed such a GREAT question. I’ve had to stew on it a while. My friends said they would not have been compelled to cross the street. Of course, 2 of them were men. But the 2 women agreed with them. Something I don’t quite understand or believe. They call themselves ‘liberal minded Americans’. Really. I felt like I was under attack, being wrongly judged and not being given the benefit of the doubt. But, between you and me, I also feel that if that is truly their sentiment, it is an unwise one in these times. Still pondering. So adore seeing you here on my page! Hugs!