Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I had an interesting conversation the other day about prejudice and racial profiling. I have found it to be a difficult topic to converse about for fear that I would somehow say something that would result in a civil rights movement should it come out wrong.

For the area in which I tread is that of demographics which is open game. Advertising does it regularly. Kids' shows are littered with cereal commercials and play-doh. Football games feature beer commercials and trucks. My beloved Price Is Right runs non-stop Scooter Store and life insurance ads. While advertisers realize not everyone who is watching football drives trucks or that I as a healthy, two-legged, twenty-five year old needs a motorized vehicle (though it would be fun), they know that the groups of people who watch these particular shows are the ones most likely to need/want/be interested in these products. It's a stereotype, and I think it's safe to say no one has any issue with this.

But the topic of conversation concerned shoplifting at my store. My Walgreens is located directly adjacent to a seven story retirement home/assisted living complex. Without question, everyone wins. They keep us in business, and we provide them their daily reason to get out an exercise. That said, the primary demographic for my store is 150 years old and using some contraption (walker, cane, wheelchair) to get around.

Our area is also predominantly caucasian. This is not to say that all our customers are white, simply the majority of them are. However, the majority of shoplifters have been black. It doesn't mean that all black people steal from my store, or that white people do not, but rather the majority of the incidents have been with young, black males.

And so, the question that was posed, and that I now pose to the viewers of this board, is it wrong to keep an extra eye out if a suspicious, young, black male is walking the aisles?

I realize that trouble here is the word "suspicious" as if it implies all young, black males are suspicious. Indeed, this is not the case but I can tell you from experience that shoplifters tend to stand out like sore thumbs - shifty eyes, no contact with anyone, move quickly, talk too much when talked to, and show signs of being nervous. I can also speak from experience when I say the majority of people who shoplift and show these signs happen to be black. Would it then make me prejudiced and create racial disharmony for extra observation of a black man?

I was mixed on the issue myself. On the one hand, having heard the police pull over someone for "driving while black," I naturally repulse this negative connotation. On the other hand, if a black man punches me in the face nine times, is it wrong to duck on the tenth? I don't know. I simply found it an interesting topic, which hopefully creates some conversation here.

Photo from Wikimedia


JR said...

George Bush doesn't care about black people.

JR said...

Seriously though, is it wrong to "profile?" Of course not. I grew up in a suburban white metropolis, where the malls were littered with nothing but Caucasian masses, and there was a time period where I felt an extra set of eyes on me -- because I was young and male. As a teenager, the same "prejudice" is thrown my way, and while that was insulting (I felt like I should be innocent until proven guilty), I grew to realize that age discrimination was simply a safeguard against a person's monetary livelihood.

You don't have to verbally accost people for being black or give him two minutes in the store before following him down the aisles, but you can have a special place in the back of your mind that keeps tabs. You have empirical evidence to support this viewpoint (and honestly, you're allowed to think whatever the hell you want, and be prepared).

Is it dangerous to say that a young black man in a Walgreens is x% more likely to be a shoplifter? Sure, but when there's evidence, there's at least a kernel of truth. I suspect a young black man would look at me and see a bald, white middle classer and say I am x% more likely to be unable to see things from his perspective. It's almost certainly true, even if my personal anecdote might be different.

Jan said...

As JR so eloquently stated, you have "empirical evidence" that this is the case in your store. I certainly don't consider this racial profiling. I think we are the sum of our background knowledge and our experiences. If these experiences cause us to be a bit more cautious, so be it. The tricky part is in verbalizing this concern so that it is somewhat politically correct as others don't have your knowledge or experiences and therefore simply write you off as ignorant and a profiler. Knowledge and caution are never bad unless we act on them in inappropriate ways.

Edwin said...

I find myself really annoyed with Indian people.

lonewolf said...

I like it when South American left-handers who play for the Twins visit my store.

D said...

there is a huge difference between prejudiced and racist.

lonewolf said...

Yet prejudice holds a negative connotation in the same way racist does. Is it heading down the wrong path?

Eli said...

"Empirical evidence" is a pretty faulty (and often dangerous) thing.

lonewolf said...

I'm glad that you said something on the minority side, as I am a little surprised that I was getting that much of a pass on the matter. After all, aren't assumptions based upon "empirical evidence" the foundation for prejudiced racism?