The unasked question about racial profiling
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Posted by: Barbara Francella
Ancella Bickley Livers
I watched a video
clip on Facebook last night. It was one of those online videos that makes
endless trips around the e-universe — my husband saw it a year ago — but it was new to me.
It was from
news story about racial profiling. The story showed the behavior of unwitting park-goers as they watched individuals who seemed to be stealing. It tells us a lot about racism. It also conveys another message: How women of color are often left out altogether when it comes to studying racial and gender bias.
The first part of the video showed a young white male in a public park. The man was vigorously trying to steal a chained up bicycle. And when I say vigorously,
I mean vigorously.
He was cutting, sawing, yanking and otherwise trying to
remove the chain that linked the bike to the pole. People in the park
passed by the young man, some watched, and a few even asked if the bike was his.
In response he would say something like, "not
really.” Most of the people (who were mostly white) nodded or shook their heads in dismay, but none raised their voices or tried to stop the man’s behavior.
Related: "Forget the 'isms.' Embrace yourself."
The next scene showed a young black male about the same age as the white male and
dressed roughly the same way. Like the white male,
the black male was also hacking away at a chain holding a bicycle.
But unlike the white male, the black male got an immediate, loud and irate
response from almost everyone. In fact, he drew a crowd. People yelled at
him and at least one man called 911. While the difference in response to the black and white males was stark, it was not surprising. At least not to me. The
behavioral difference I saw was what I expected. And that response, and my expectations, saddens me more than I can say. But that's not the end of the story.
What about a woman?
What I hadn’t
expected was the next scene. It showed a white woman ― blonde, trim, long
legs. She was wearing shorts and a form-fitting sleeveless top. Like
the two men earlier in the video, she, too, began pulling on and fiddling with
the chained bike in an apparent effort to steal it. Although several men
offered to help her with the chain, no one called the police. Later, one man told a reporter that she was a "girl" and people don’t think of girls
After the scene
with the white woman, the video ended. There was no clip of a woman of color
trying to steal a bike. We don’t know how people would have reacted to a woman
of color in this situation. Instead, we’re left with the strong, though
unstated suggestion that the experience of this tall, slender white woman told
us all that we needed to know about gender profiling.
As we explore
the responses to women of color in other venues we find that just looking at
what happens to white women may not tell the full story. For instance, Bureau
of Justice statistics show that by mid-year 2008, African-American women were
imprisoned at a rate that was twice that for Latinas and 3.5 times that of
Further, not only
are black women being imprisoned in alarming numbers, but their unemployment
rate is also double that of white women. According to the Department of Labor,
in 2010 the unemployment rate was 7.7 percent for white women; 7.1 percent for Asian women; 12.3 percent for Latinas; and 13.8 for African-American women.
A 2013 Think Progress report shows that while white women earn 78
percent of what white men make, African-American earn women 64 percent and
Latinas make 54 percent.
Women of color have different experiences than white women. But we don’t even
bother to ask questions such as, "Are women of color racially profiled?” So
instead of asking questions, we are left with facts that have no context and
assumptions that have no facts.
is not bliss. It’s simply a way to continue the status quo and to deny
realities that others are forced to experience.
As senior faculty for the Center for Creative
Leadership, Ancella Bickley Livers works with Fortune 500 companies,
government agencies and nonprofit organizations to design and deliver
leadership solutions. She has interacted with thousands of managers and
executives over the past 18 years, fine-tuning her expertise on diversity issues,
particularly those focusing on African Americans and women.
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