Seeing Differences

01 Jun


I’m a profiler. Why pretend otherwise? Without any effort whatsoever; the appearance, and speech of a stranger is rapidly calculated and a (metaphorical) card pops out that reads; “tourist” “nanny” “poser”. We all do this to one extent or another. People who can not assess people by visual and verbal cues are often taken to a specialist. There is an actual biological origin and motivation for this ability. Our senses exist to take in information and to assess danger. We may not know everything about the tiger say, its hobbies or dreams, but we know it’s a tiger and it’s headed straight toward us.

Most everyone can make certain generalizations about people very quickly. This comes in handy when looking for directions; would you ask a tourist how to get somewhere or would you ask a local? Of course you’d have to be able to identify a tourist and a local. And, this is where people may get themselves into trouble. “Appearance” is not a question of skin tone or pant waist. The way in which someone carries him or herself is an integral part of their appearance and often speaks volumes about who they are. What a person says and not just how they say it is also key. Grammar, syntax and accent are fascinating but may tell you less about someone’s intentions than what it is they’re actually saying. What people say (and don’t say) is probably the best (and perhaps only) reliable indicator of who a person is.

A 20-something in a stuck elevator wailing how ‘this is the single worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life’ has led a charmed life, no? The same could be said about a supervisor who without a word, routinely hands you his empty coffee cups. The stranger, who worlessly pushes you to the ground at the sound of an explosion, knows a thing or two about survival. Our past and our sense of our place in the world are continuously communicated. We tell our stories (laced with varying degrees of fiction) literally and figuratively. For those who engage in the literal, it’s always fascinating to see what they include and choose to omit. In their editing, they often tell us more about themselves than they ever intended. Case in point: a woman wrote the story of her small child’s dog attack (just to be clear; the dog attacked the child.) It’s a traumatizing and bloody story that quite frankly is entirely her doing. She has remorse for the trauma and the facial scar but seems to have zero understanding of her role in the mauling. She knowingly created an extremely dangerous situation, not just for her own child but for anyone in proximity. That her children were not removed from the home, she was not imprisoned and was paid to write about her sorrow can only lead me to come to this conclusion; she is privileged. Had she lived in public housing the authorities would be aware of her behavior. If she had been to a public hospital the authorities would know. If she had looked a certain way or talked a certain way, the authorities would know.

It causes me no pleasure that I have engaged in the same act of profiling that perpetuates such inequity. But how do we ever fight for justice if we cannot detect the injustices? The only way to see that people are treated differently is to see the differences. There is nothing immoral or politically incorrect about acknowledging that people are diverse. What is morally reprehensible is to engage in separate and unequal justice.

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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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