Friday, March 30, 2012

Racial Profiling is Legal-Consequence Stereotyping

Recently, a friend of mine pointed out that the family of Treyvon Martin is quick to steer discussions of generalized racism in the shooting towards the more specific charge of racial profiling: and rightly so. The family and friends of George Zimmerman are quick to point out that he is a multicultural man of diverse ethnic heritage with family members of African heritage who in the eyes of many is in fact not white. I would say in both cases, rightly so: and it is important for us to keep in mind that it is not necessary to be white to racially profile African American youth. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, the security guards that followed my darker skinned cousins and my brother around were sometimes black. Even a black police officer or security guard might racially profile. Your educated and enlightened souls are quick to label these types as self-loathing black men, and even to label Zimmerman as a self-loathing Latino wannabe cop.

These suspicious looking delinquents were tossed out of school for truancy and suspected drug use.
And in all that, the key is the last word in the sentence: cop. The thing that distinguishes racial profiling from other types of racism and other types of stereotyping is that racial profiling is something done by a person who is in some sort of position of authority with regards to the legal or criminal justice system.

And I bring this up due to the use of the word profiling here:The ACLU defines it as such:

"Racial Profiling" refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

In order to be profiling, law enforcement (or civilian branches of enforcement such as security guards) are involved. I feel that the term Racial Profiling is being used accurately here, in that: George Zimmerman repeatedly elevated his role as Neighborhood Watch captain to one of law enforcement; he repeatedly called law enforcement and conducted himself as though he were the self-appointed civilian branch of said enforcement within his gated community: in effect, he conducted himself as an armed security guard, going beyond the Neighborhood Watch method of watching and reporting. He had a gun; he drove around with his gun, following and confronting young (and reportedly, young black) men who were in the community, including Trayvon who was legitimately on the way to the home of family with whom he was staying. Zimmerman *may have* had stereotypical notions of young black men, in theory, before deciding to act as though he were the law; and these would remain stereotypes until such a time as he took it upon himself to act as an enforcement officer, and an armed one nonetheless. 

At this point we move away from ordinary stereotyping and into the realm of profiling.

There is stereotyping generally; and racial profiling as an extremely dangerous variant on stereotyping. In fact, it is a type of stereotyping, but stereotyping sometimes relatively benign. Here are some examples of stereotypes that are unlikely to lead to your death: "Women are cleaner than men" is a stereotype. "I don't want a male room mate because guys are messy" is a prejudice (and racism is a type of prejudice). To be something close to the situation involved with racial profiling and George Zimmerman, you'd have to have some armed neighborhood watch chick following guys through the neighborhood because they "look suspicious."

But if the "Stand Your Ground" laws were being used this way, I bet they'd be off the books quick, fast and in a hurry. Can you imagine it? "I felt threatened, Officer. Yes, I followed him. He looked like a rapist." 

The difference between stereotyping and profiling is that profiling is more likely to be a life threatening or life and death type of situation. Profiling is a stereotypical assumption, so by definition, it is stereotyping of a sort: but profiling as in 'racial profiling' is something done by people in authority to civilians. What is so extremely troubling to many of us is the fact that laws like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law put guns and authority in the hands of civilians who are not even trained to resist the urge to stereotype in a life-or-death situation. It's bad enough that trained law enforcement act out bigoted assumptions, but now you have a law that makes it okay for the nosy, paranoid neighbor who spends all day staring out the window looking for the "bad people" and the glorified hall monitor on your local Neighborhood Watch the authority to recklessly act out all of his or her Batman and Punisher comic book fantasies. 

And that is a bad thing... a very bad thing.

It is a bad thing because we are taught from a very early age that the Bad Guys are recognizable, and look a certain way. Fiction - the kind of thing that I write - tells us this. The movies, the books, even the fairy tales and cartoons tell us "this looks scary" and "that is threatening." If we went by our own INSTINCTIVE FEAR, we would many of us be a lot like the murderer in The Telltale Heart, who kills a man just because he doesn't like his dead "vulture" looking blind eye. What we believe is dangerous, isn't what we actually need to fear. 

That's why people never suspect your Ted Bundy types.

Added to that: the single largest demographic indicator of a tendency towards violent crime is one no one is ever going to touch in a million years. When seemingly liberal people in the not-so-liberal 90s used to use the "but young black men are scary" argument I used to bring it up: but no one really can deal with it: men are 10 times more likely to commit murder than women, 10 times. That's a huge difference. So I go back to my earlier statement: if you had hordes of armed women running around using that statistic to profile the entire male gender as potentially dangerous, these kinds of laws would be overturned in a second. 

But that would never happen.

The laws themselves are based upon people like Zimmerman believing they are "protecting" someone and denying that someone may need to be protected against them.

Further... and more to the point, it's bad enough when trained law enforcement officers who have gone through years of preparation racially profile. Putting guns in the hands of civilians and allowing them - us - with our limited understanding of complex relationships between law enforcement and civil liberties - and allowing us to prowl the streets looking for trouble like Zimmerman did is sheer madness.

The legal system is bad enough - but at least with it - there is a system of checks and balances, one that needs to remain, not deteriorate into this sort of tragedy occurring on what could become a regular basis.

Put an end to these insane laws. Before it's too late.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Politics of Perception: Was Zimmerman racially profiled by the Sanford Police Department?

Lately, two different stories are popping up all over my Facebook news feed regularly: one about the tragic and unnecessary death of Trayvon Martin at the hands George Zimmerman: a civilian Neighborhood Watch member impersonating a law enforcement officer in my estimation; and the other about how pissed off a bunch of people on Twitter are to find out that Rue and a bunch of other characters described as dark skinned in the book "The Hunger Games" are being portrayed by African American actors in the movie.

A profile picture in a hoodie won't change the world but it does let  everyone know how I feel and who I represent.

These two things may seem unrelated: but in a sense, they are. In the case of Rue, a fictional character: multiple posters are suggesting anger and disgust over the fact that the girl is not only black in the movie but quite possibly intended as black by the author, they act as if a trick has been played upon them: one that has caused them to care about a girl whom they would have cared less about, or possibly not about at all if they had known she was black. In the case of Trayvon, a real child who died senselessly, people are busy stating the opposite: that they do care, and that it hurts them imagining something like this happening to their own child.

A friend of mine recently stated that the case of George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin, should not be tried in the media. However, it is my position that it is the failure of the Sanford, Florida police department to take Mr. Zimmerman into custody and have the matter tried in a court of law that has lead to this situation of trial by social media. The evidence suggesting that Mr. Zimmerman himself may have racially profiled seventeen year old Trayvon Martin, while existent, is not nearly as damning as the myriad examples of handling by the Sanford Police Department that indicated racial bias.

And here is where there is a relationship between the fictional Rue and the handling of the Zimmerman shooting: it is in the politics of perception in racial bias. Just as some bigoted readers cared more about the fate of Rue when they *perceived* her as non-African, the handling of Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin seems to be tainted by the *perception* of the Sanford Police Department that George Zimmerman was a white man who shot a black youth.

The police report stated that Zimmerman was a white man.

Now, after the fact, Zimmerman's relatives have stated that his mother is Peruvian and that Zimmerman himself is a Latino man. Naturally, they are making these statements to defend Zimmerman himself and allegations that he engaged in racial profiling towards Trayvon Martin, or uttered a racial slur. My personal opinion, which is neither here nor there, is as follows: I believe Zimmerman did engage in racial profiling, I do not believe he uttered a racial slur. It's unclear what he said, but he's a 28 year old man, not an 82 year old man: "coon" is not a modern racial slur, I buy that Zimmerman may have said something else.

On the subject of racial profiling, however: one does not have to be white to racially profile. As a biracial American of African and Russian-Jewish heritage, who is lighter complected than my only sibling, I know and understand very well what it meant when I would go into a store with my darker skinned brother and be followed around by security guards who thought the black teenagers were there to steal from their store. I also noticed that non-white security guards including black ones were more likely to follow me when I was in a store with my brown skinned relatives than when I was walking around with my teenage pink-skinned relatives: and ironically, it was when I was with my cousin who is of Russian-Jewish and Irish heritage, that all of the teenage shoplifting went down. This is the nature of profiling: it's a decision that person who looks like X is up to no good, person who looks like Z looks innocent.

The problem with the "Stand Your Ground" laws is that they put the power to act upon irrational fears and subconscious prejudices in a lethal manner, with a gun. Let me be clear on what I am saying: If Zimmerman was prejudiced, he is not alone. If you think there aren't tons of racists around, go look at some Internet article comments: you will see lots and lots of race hate speech. Human beings have prejudices: we have laws to keep people from running rampant and acting upon these prejudices. Once you put guns into the hands of average Joe, or average George Zimmerman type dudes with wannabe cop fantasies running through their heads, you have a disastrous situation. You have a set up for tragedy.

The spread of these laws needs to stop.

Now: back to the subject of whether or not the Sanford Police racially profiled Zimmerman. Why do I say that he was? The police report listed Zimmerman as white. After this, the following occurred:

- Shooting Victim Treyvon Martin was drug tested
- Shooter George Zimmerman was neither drug nor alcohol tested
- Shooting Victim Treyvon Martin's cellphone was not used to contact his family
- Shooting Victim Treyvon Martin was allowed to sit in the morgue as a John Doe for 3 days
- Shooter George Zimmerman was not taken into custody
- A month later, Shooter George Zimmerman is not in custody
- A month later, the practices of the Sanford Police Department are under investigation

It is pure speculation to suggest that the Sanford Police Department would have handled things differently if Zimmerman had been perceived as Latino (his mother is Peruvian). So let's speculate:

Do you think that the Sanford Police Department's handling of the case was influenced by the perception that Zimmerman was a white man? Do you think they would have handled it differently if they though of him as Latino? Discuss. Comments are more than welcome, they are desired.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I am an insecure woman

Heart pounding and palms sweating, I can't seem to run away from the same old me, for every night screaming "I'm just a girl" at the top of my lungs, punk rock knocked back and in the end no irony. I am just a girl. When it is time to stand up, I am the kind who falls back. Palms sweating, heart pounding, standing on these quaking knees. It is what it is, because I can't afford to let the fear stop me. I bade it leave. When I did, it was like that old children's rhyme about "rain, rain, go away."

It always came back another day, and it still does.

Myself as a younger insecure woman

One day I saw two conflicting messages on my Facebook Wall: one said that we should tell every girl she is beautiful, and the other said that girls should be told we are more than beautiful. To tell myself I was more than beautiful, I had to go way deep down into the land of pretend where an actress occupies some secret part of me, the same part that everyone who sings in the shower secretly has ownership over.

That me spoke to me, and as the saying goes that behind every great man, there is a great woman... she decided to whisper to me in confidence every bright and wonderful thing I would see in me if I was a man who was just like me. Although there is no man like me, for there is only me, a woman, nervous and with a fought-off case of indigestion. She who was me told me that it was okay to be good at something. She who was me told other women it was okay for them to be good at something.

But in the heart of every insecure woman is a hater, and the hater is herself, tearing her down.

I try to calm down because I don't want to play myself. And I tell me, "Does it make any sense to you? Am I speaking plainly? You know I'm sincere, but then I fumble over words. I am always working. How humble does a woman have to be not to be called a bitch? Why is it that I have to do this thing where I apologize for every strong feeling I might have? What is wrong with me? Am I wrong?"

But no, we don't speak of such things. We don't speak of intelligences, of purpose, or of deeper meaning, but we are boiled down to modesty or sexuality. We are boiled down to our essential parts, so that you understand why Emily Bronte used a pseudonym. When you are full of dark thoughts, and you know the brutality of human nature, it wriggles around and you just keep it hidden because you know why Emily Bronte used a pseudonym.


But it doesn't make sense, because it never made sense. If you prop a sister up for five minutes someone's looking to see if her ass is too wide. It doesn't make sense because it never made sense. Could there really be anything special in me? Is there a rousing chorus of "Who in the hell does she think she is?" Do I have to hide?

Could I ever be good at anything?

If I was good at something, could I ever be good enough? All wisdom and time, and withering skin, and a toast to middle age, we are all jokers because it goes down easier that way. Laughter and wit, the wisdom of an old Star Trek episode is all Gene Rodenberry knowing people prefer the truth delivered by people in alien costumes. Truth, if we have to face it, is brutally painful. We can see the beauty in it, and we can't take the rest of it.

Truth must be a woman. 

An insecure woman glitzed over in poetic language and funny jokes, because she's either a funny girl, or a pretty girl. Truth. When it comes on too strong you might feel like someone punched you in the gut - and we wouldn't want that now. Truth.

But I'm just saying because people say things. Because we have thoughts, and we try to communicate. We string together words and we hope someone's listening. Is anybody listening? Does anybody care? I know someone cares, and yet... here I am. An insecure woman seeking your approval. Stroke my ego, it is flaccid. Mine, not his.

I don't care if I lack the equipment.

This self-depreciating humor is a symptom of the fact that I know if I don't poke fun of myself on a regular basis, someone is going to call me a bitch, for holding my head up a moment too long, and I can't take that. I'm an insecure woman, seeking your approval, but you already know that. We lie and pretend that I'm strong. You'll say that I'm strong, but you know that I'm weak. You will say that I'm strong because I just keep on going, on and on, on and on. You say I am strong because I don't give up but I'm afraid, we just pretend I'm not.

Are you afraid?

Picking and prodding to seek out my weakness. If I seem like I'm okay, I'm not sure that's acceptable to all parties involved. Are you okay with me being okay? Usually, I'm something like a doormat. I tried to develop some backbone, but hell, it's not easy.

Nobody is perfect.

Not me. I'm an insecure woman.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Estrogen Blue, not Pink

Happy International Women's Day...

I think.

I'm not the only woman in the U.S.A. who has been bombarded for the last many months with revelation after anxiety-producing revelation about a number of politicians and political hopefuls who don't think that I or anyone of my gender should have the most basic of reproductive rights; and this, indeed, is only a surface layer of things under which there is a still deeper layer of ugly:

We continue to be emotionally baited and bandied about regarding our sexuality.

The battle against women based upon our sexual desires or lack thereof is not one you can win: you are either a slut, or a prude, in this. What you are not is a being who is being judged by any aspect of your person that does not relate positively or negatively to one of two subjects: sex, and motherhood. You as a person separate from these motherhood, and sex as a producer of motherhood is being nullified.

I can't speak to the broader question of how that makes "people" feel, I can only speak as to how it makes me feel: it makes me feel marginalized. I am struggling for deeper, more meaningful ways to express my concern over the fact that its become increasingly "reasonable" to hold views that would set women's progress and liberation in the U.S.A. back 40 or 50 years. Part of me feels I should be able to eloquently state exactly why these matters are of import to me, but that is not happening.

I am unable to convey my feelings wisely because I've become emotionally upset.

I'm irritable.

I don't have PMS, though... I quit smoking, and I keep ramping back the nicotine. Detoxing from nicotine makes me feel a lot like PMS used to feel when I had it, before Depo Provera, a birth control shot that ends my "medically unnecessary" periods in my case, ended that whole PMS dilemma. Men and women are both affected by our hormonal composition, although most of the jokes are about women and estrogen and how it makes us moody, weepy, and easily offended.

If I'd quit smoking a long time ago, I would have been able to tell guys a long time ago, "PMS? Yes, that makes you feel like someone who just quit smoking."

I'm an infertile woman so the idea of my gender role being determined largely in connection with procreation is also irritating. If Rush Limbaugh thinks using birth control makes a woman a slut, does that mean that infertile women shouldn't have sex, in his mind? I find that hard to believe since he's had 4 wives and has no children. I'm guessing that means he's been having sex with no procreation goal.

So it's International Women's Day, and I'm blue, not pink.

Every once in a while, I feel proud of myself over small things: I was able to remove the old battery from my car and put a new one in, with my mom. My brother helped me figure out I needed new terminators for the battery posts and the old ones were thrashed, so Greg helped me start the car and we went to O'Reilly Auto Parts, and every time I went to work on the car alone, some guy said, "Where's your husband?" -

Seriously. No, not making that part up.

My mom said those guys were like cavemen, they were probably just trying to pick me up, and I should shine them on. The whole struggling with auto repairs, while working, while helping my mom (she's been sick), while finishing the editing on the book, yea, it leaves me cranky.

That and the not smoking.

I meant to tell you something meaningful, but today it's beyond me.

I have no idea why I'm blogging. But please refer to the image above of me screaming with a plastic bat.

I'm feeling grumpy, but I'm going to put down some bullet points of things that I am proud of as a woman today on International Women's Day:

  • When I first became a certified computer repair technician as a young lady back in 1989, there were almost no women in the field, there still aren't tons, but then there were even fewer. And certainly few women of color. People of color, or women of color. So, I guess, I'm a person who broke down some barriers then.
  • There are not very many women of color who write horror, so I might be breaking down barriers, if I have the strength of will to actually get these books publicized - I know, it's kind of a downer, the way I put that. Also, it's probably grammatically lacking. The books are good, but whether they are good or not doesn't matter if I can't make sure they get out into places where people can read them.
Okay... so I did manage to get through first level editing on Solitude, and yes, it is now being sent out for broader distribution - that means you should be able to find it in a larger number of places in about two months, and at that time (because the wheels are already set into motion) buy it over seas and all kinds of fun stuff. These things need to be done... it can't all be fun things, like writing hopefully funny and entertaining things.

Not smoking makes Sumiko a dull girl. I'm going to watch the Mentalist now.