I was recently on the phone catching up with a relative of mine when the conversation took an abrupt turn. “Uh oh,” she said. I asked her what was wrong. “These young boys with their pants hanging down are walking past my car,” she said. “I need to get my gun.”
She went on to explain her concern that as the summertime approached and school ended, young black boys like the ones who had walked past her car—although she had not specifically identified them as black when she first expressed alarm—would be roaming the streets looking for trouble.
I was so taken aback by her reaction that I did not respond, but in light of the ongoing Trayvon Martin case, her response made me think about the many ways in which people of color negatively profile the members of our own communities.
Yes, many parents and politicians alike acknowledge the need for youth, especially youth of color and those in more underserved communities, to have constructive and affordable summer opportunities to keep them safe and occupied, but since when does having a group of young black boys walk past your car merit needing to reach for a weapon? Granted, this relative and I do not live in the same region of the country, so I cannot comment on the specific issues and circumstances of where she lives, but even so, I could not help but notice the Zimmerman-esque nature of her response.
Apparently, a group of young black boys who walk by wearing sagging pants are equally as “suspicious” as a black teenage boy wearing a hoodie–and not just to an overzealous neighborhood watchman, but to a black woman, and a mother to a son, someone who has expressed outrage about the circumstances surrounding the Trayvon Martin case and the plight of young black men. Ironically, she didn’t even seem to grasp the problem with her own behavior.
This observation is not to say that the actions of Zimmerman or anyone else who engages in racial profiling are somehow merited or justifiable. In fact, it basically demonstrates that people of color can indeed harbor prejudice and engage in racial and other sorts of profiling, even against one another. It also forced me to think about the ways in which many people of color aid in the process of stereotyping and criminalizing our own–especially our men–even as we shake our heads and fists at society for doing so.