Racial Profiling Begets Racial Profiling

I hate profiling people, but my life is on the line. An essay describing my experience this weekend at a jazz club.

Racial Profiling Begets Racial Profiling
Photo by John Arano on Unsplash

Racial Profiling Made Me Feel Terrible

I love music and I love going out to live venues. Because I’m older and I tend to enjoy music and venues that don’t attract weirdo racists, I feel relatively safe when I dare to venture out for a night of fun. Over the past month, I’ve been to more shows than I can count. A few weeks ago I went to Jazz in the Gardens. In a few weeks, I’ll be attending the Kaya Music Festival (celebrating 420) with all the Marley Brothers and other reggae artists in Miami.

If it’s music, I’m there, especially when the audience is grown and sexy (the nice way to describe the 40-years-old and up age group).

But last weekend, something happened at a local jazz clue that caused me to racially profile two young White men, and I feel terrible about it. It was after New Zealand’s mosque shooting so as usual many of us are hyper-vigilant looking for copy cats.

And while I said nothing to the young men in my midst, I never made them feel uncomfortable. But their presence made me uncomfortable. The two young White gentlemen stood out like sore thumbs in the club, but as my people do, we made those young men feel right at home.

While I was welcoming to the young men, I also watched them. I watched them until they left, and even after they left, I kept watching the door waiting for them to come back. I was afraid. Whiteness has that kind of power.

That’s how racism and White domestic terrorism makes victims and potential victims of hate crimes react. I love sharing spaces with different people, especially for music. Music has the ability to bring us together.

But hate and evil, it divides us — and tears us apart.

My Uncomfortable Night Out

Me and a group of female friends were out celebrating her birthday at a jazz spot owned by a Black guy and ex-veteran who is also a millionaire (the owner hit the lottery years ago and he’s thoughtfully invested his winnings around the area, especially in his old community). To shop small and support small-minority-owned businesses, I try to go to the spot a few times per month to enjoy great jazz artists, an occasional cigar, enjoy delicious small bites and cold Red Stripe beer.

The jazz club is a small, intimate, chic with state-of-the-art features, and guests sit really close to one another. although the business is Black-owned and operated, the people patronizing the venue are diverse in ethnicity. That’s one of the best things about jazz and most music. It’s one of the few times the color of your skin doesn’t matter. The jazz club is usually loaded with mature singles and couples of all ethnicities. Occasionally, youthful birthday groups will come by to celebrate.

But on last Saturday night, two young White men came through the joint, and they stuck out like sore thumbs.

The young White men weren’t dressed right. One guy had a large jacket on a big enough and thick enough to disguise a weapon. It was too warm for the jacket he wore. The other young man appeared aloof. He looked like a guy with few friends. The two men just didn’t fit in with the rest of the folks in the place, but who was I to judge, right? I was judging them based on a stereotype. And while I know it was wrong, I want to explain the fear that women of color now possess when in spaces with young White men.

The men didn’t appear to be at the club to enjoy the group on stage or the music in general. They appeared to be sizing the joint up, or at least that was my perception.

Young white guys in their early 20s with ball caps, and just — -I can’t explain it except it didn’t feel right. I was hyper-vigilant all night. All the women in my group were. We all took turns monitoring the two gentlemen until they left. Because all the women work in law enforcement, everyone at the table carries concealed weapons. And unlike local police, they aren’t trained to diffuse if they draw weapons. It made me feel a little better, but what if one of the had an automatic weapon? I was totally messed up for the rest of the night

The surveillance antennas were up, and community policing was happening without even realizing it. All the sisters at my table had devised a plan of what do if the young White men suddenly pulled out a weapon and shot.

How sad is that? We all were sitting around in fear because two young White men came into our space. We were all on guard because we know about copy-cats find courage after hate killings. The men may have meant no harm, but because they, unfortunately, are linked to a hate-filled group based which is defined by race and privilege, we felt we needed to protect ourselves.

This situation reminded me a lot of what the members at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC must have felt like. Happy that someone young and White like Dylann Roof felt comfortable enough to come into their space. They welcomed him in, gave him a seat at their table, and he pulled out a gun and murder 9 people to include the pastor who as a beloved sitting State Representative.

That acts of evil never escape me, and now I carry that scar with me everywhere I go. But I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy feeling this kind offear in a place I should feel safe, and I don’t enjoy profiling White men — but I must.

My Black life is depending on it.

Nothing happened (whew). The young men left after about an hour. Our evening was uneventful. The place was packed. I wonder if anyone else felt the way we did. The two White men left as discreetly as they entered, but we had our eyes on them.

We never took our eyes off them.

What A Shame

What a shame it is that we all must be hyper-vigilant in the age of Trump. What a shame we must be wary of young White men, men who may have no ill-will towards the different people in their midst.

I tell this story because it’s equivalent to the way White people racially profile People of Color going about their day, minding their own business. Racial profiling is bad. Killing people because they belong to a certain group is wrong. Going to safe spaces and harming innocent people is evil. Yet it happens repeatedly, most times carried out at the hands of some man, pick an ethnic group.

What a shame such men cannot deal with life? What a shame these men seek revenge on others to compensate for their shortcomings? What a shame the entire world must live in terror because men are so violent? What a shame we must look over our shoulders, test every person in our midst, and decide whether they are “potential” bad actors or threats in our spaces? What a shame Whiteness has us all evaluating each other based upon the colors of our skin?

What a shame we can hardly go out and enjoy a night out in places where race doesn’t matter for a few hours without fear?

Racial profiling begets racial profiling. Racism begets racism. Racism prevents us from getting together and enjoying each other, learning each other, and loving each other.

And that’s a shame.