Facing the ‘Zimmermans’ in Our Own Communities

by Britney Wilson

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.

  • Cloudy Summer Day/Teiko

    Profiling the members of ‘our community’ becomes second nature when you face a lot of intraracial street harassment.

  • TyneandWear

    Im a black woman that lives in a predominately white town. I profile young white men who arent wearing polo shirts and cargo shorts. I hold my bag closer when I come accorss a group of “chavs.” The signs of drug abuse can be visiable on someone’s face so I am careful as I approach someone that looks like they may abuse drugs.

    HOWEVER, (and I cant emphasize this enough) I have no legal right to harm or kill due to my suspcion alone. Its a red herring to even discuss whether we should or should be afraid of young black men. If you feel fear, you are entitled to your fear. You may even be justified. You arent, however, justified in depriving them of their life because of your fear. You have a right to be scared if you want but they have a right to live.

  • Priceless34

    Thank you.

  • Yb

    Is the term “chav” used by people in the U.K. similar to the term “trailer trash” used in the states?

  • Yb

    As woman, especially a black woman, I feel fear walking next to two or more men because of the likelihood that I may be physically or sexually attacked. My fear is not racialized. It is a fear of shady, groups of men regardless of race.

    I feel that if any is attacked one must try their best to defend themselves, but I would never suggest a group of men be shoot just for walking down the street.

  • TyneandWear

    @YB

    Yes, but in the area where I live we would use the term “radgee” (pronounced rah-jee). Chavs arent so bad but radgees in the North East make American “white trash” look like the Windsor family.

  • TyneandWear

    @Yb

    Define shady? For many people a certain skin color is shady.

  • LemonNLime

    IMO the instances between Zimmerman and your relative are very different. Your relative reached for a gun for protection, she didn’t chase down a kid and shoot him after being told to stay away by authorities on the phone.

    Like it or not, I don’t like political correctness dictate how I protect myself. Because I am a single woman who 95% of the time is traveling by myself, I do profile for the sake of my own protection. Regardless of race, if you are a man dressed like a thug or any other shady fashion you best believe I am profiling you and extremely aware of your proximity to me. I always avoid walking near groups of two or men if it can be avoided and much like your relative, if I am walking around at night I have my pocket knife and mace in hand ready to go.

    Lastly, I was taught by my parents and granparents that those who have pride in themselves carry themselves in that manner. Nothing about the way I carry myself indicates low class (not socioeconomic but mentality-wise), street, etc. so I don’t associate with those that exhibit that behavior. What woman in her right mind would choose the guy dressed as a thug versus the guy in a the suit? NO, it isn’t about $$$ but much more than that. Even if it was so what? If you choose to dress that way, fine it is your choice, but realize that is the first impression that you present to the outside world and, pardon your delicate sensibilities, but ALL humans profile consciously and unconsciously. Those that say they don’t are LYING, because all animal profile, if they didn’t you have a ton of dead animals everywhere. So if you want to talk to decent women, the way I see it, you have two choices: 1. Carry around a sandwich board the lists all your outstanding qualities whilst you wear your tacky street clothes with your pants sagging OR 2. Get your act together and dress like you have some sense

  • Yb

    “For many people a certain skin color is shady.”

    You are right. Many people associate negative behavior or scarey appearances to race. The best way I can describe shady to you is by pointing out someone I see on the street. I should said men that intimidate me, and make me feel uncomfortable instead.

  • Toppin

    Amen. I racial profile and I don’t make any apologies about it. A Black man is more likely to rob, rape, steal from me than any white man. I see one that looks stereotypical not only am I reaching for my purse but I’m walking in the opposite direction.

  • @Work_Bored

    Reading this reminds me of one of those law and orders or other cop show, honestly not sure which one…wait lol i just remembered it was Southland. The lady killed this big guy in the middle of the parking lot. long story short she was raped in the past, so when he was running up to her and saying hey lady she, instead of yelling for help or running away, pulled a gun out and shot him. she felt real stupid when they discovered he was only trying to get her attention because she left her keys at the cash register.

    He was black and she was white…

  • B. Payne

    Hey, I’m the same way…

    Just the other day in the BedStuy, BK, my homegirl and I was sitting in her Impala talking and I notice that two boys with hoods on and sagging pants walked by our car more than once….and walking a bit too close to the car.

    Now they could’ve gone to the store and back but I’m sorry…if it walks like a duck, quack like a duck then I don’t know…it might just be a duck.

    Will I shoot them? Well….only if they ACTUALLY attack me, hands first.

  • I got sense!

    @TyneandWear

    Thank you. I feel the same way. What we think, how we feel are all justified and no one should have to apologize for it. What is wrong is when anyone (including law enforcement) kill someone unnecessarily. Law enforcement have policies and guidelines by which they are ‘supposed’ to follow. The problem is that people are deciding to be judge, juror, and executioner instead of concerned citizen. Cops can’t even search you or come in your home without enough evidence to prove to a judge that ones is necessary. People need to stop by passing the process of convicting someone. It is there so that people are APPROPRIATELY punished. The death penalty (if you even believe in it) should only be used in the most severe heinous crimes. It seems like some feel being male and black is a crime or at least will lead to a crime so they feel justified in stopping the person before they have even done anything wrong.

    I’m really wondering how many more are going to die before we really do something. Just for clarification I mean black on black and non-black on black murders. It seems like taking the guns is the only way. Only law enforcement should have them and then then standards for using them should become more stringent because the “I thought he had a gun” or “he reached like he was going for a gun” will go away because no one has them. They could use rubber bullets and taser more and lethal force less. Just a thought.

  • Kam

    Exactyly. From the time I hit puberty “our sons” made it clear that just because I shared the same skin color didn’t mean that I’d be given any respect.

  • apple

    I’m guilty of this only because I have actually been made to after being harrassed,cursed out, cornered,chased, gropped and grab at , what else am I suppose to think? I don’t think ill be shooting anyone but I do fear black men sorry. I fear white men too but not as much because they usually leave me alone (like I’m invisible which I’m grateful for). Either way my guard is always up against men and intimidating looking women

  • Wow!

    Great thoughtful read. I salute Clutch for attempting to expand these important conversations.The same woman and chivalrous fellows that would complain about a man coming to a conclusion about a woman based off her clothing can often be the same woman that engages in the above behavior and support legislation that makes this cowardly behavior possible.

    Be the change you seek….for everyone….everyone…..or the thing you covet will indeed avoid you as well.

    And any “lady” that feels compelled to respond with anti-black male babel, I am not mad at you. What ever floats your “lady” boat. Just think about this: If they somehow get rid of all of us what makes you think they will not come for you after? What makes you worth keeping around?

    #blackfemaleincarceration; #moynihanreport; #thenewjimcrow.

  • http://www.olskoolblackflix.com/ Sindy

    A Latino family just moved in next door to me. Though they are English-speaking, the antagonist (young male) loves to use the “N” word as well as many others.

    Now, I don’t know if they’re Dominican or PR where they may have a Black ancestor but I’m more mad at the fact that we (roommate and I) have no real recourse because he loves to blast rap records that use the word over and over. And he, of course, sees no problem with someone that looks Mexican (like Zimmerman) using this word.

    He also has no problem with Flava Flav but that’s another story.

    Though my plans are to finish classes and get the heck out, I’m concerned that a man who’s shown violent tendencies in less than 2 mos is in such to close range to me.

  • jsajsa28

    @ Toppin you have said such an ignorant statement, wo I should profile white men, I should hide grab my child because they might molest or kidnap them or I should be afraid because they might be a serial killer! Gtfoh with the ignorance that you have embedded in your mind!

  • NY’s Finest

    I profile Black men and I don’t feel guilty about it. I’m not saying that other groups of men aren’t criminals, but I’ve never been cat called, verbally abused or harassed by a group of White, Asian or Hispanic men, therefore my guards aren’t up when I see a group of them. In life you learn from experience and when something bad happens to you, you want to prevent it from ever happening again, so when I see a certain group of black men you better believe I cross the street.

    As far as passing black men on the street who try and talk to us, how many do so respectfully when they’re in a group? And why would anyone be checking for a brother whose pants are sagging?

  • I got sense!

    The same woman and chivalrous fellows that would complain about a man coming to a conclusion about a woman based off her clothing can often be the same woman that engages in the above behavior and support legislation that makes this cowardly behavior possible.
    Yes.

    Be the change you seek….for everyone….everyone…..or the thing you covet will indeed avoid you as well.
    Yes.

    Just think about this: If they somehow get rid of all of us what makes you think they will not come for you after? What makes you worth keeping around?

    Yes.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/clnmike Tonton Michel

    I can understand the feeling, even as a man when I see a pack of boys with sagging pants on the move I automatically puff the chest out and throw the shoulders back, and become alert. But I think there is a difference in becoming aware and taking precautions vs actively seeking out people and attacking them.

    Last weekend a mixed group of us, got together to play ball at this park, while in the middle of a game 2 kids with their pants sagging walk on to the courts and pass pretty close by were everyone had their stuff laid. I watched them long enough to make sure that that they kept going and pass by my bag, even as they picked up a ball. Not more than 5 min later they exited the park through the back going up a hill, I thought nothing of it because I was in the middle of a game but the first thought that should have popped in everyone’s head is why did these kids come down to the park for 5 min and leave out the back having to climb a hill? Needless to say after the game an iphone came up missing and those kids were suspect #1. A small debate broke out since no one saw who took it but even the ones who were more doubtful leaned toward the idea that they took it. I was firmly in the “them mutha#$a took it” camp and was the one doing the convincing of the more doubtful ones.

    Now here is where things got shady, as we are all leaving the owner of the phone, comes back and says he see these kids sitting at a bench not to far from the courts. So we all take a “walk” to those benches, I am not within 50 yrds before I can tell that they are not the same two that came to the park. They got the knucklehead uniforms on sagging, wife beaters and all but there just chilling shooting the breeze from the looks of it. I and a friend of mine explain this and everyone agrees “afterwards” but they still went down there and questioned those kids if they might have known the other ones.

    Now if you think about it this could have turned ugly real quick, for all of the right and wrong reasons. Two kids that I profiled as soon as I saw them and others did not, no precautions taken and a phone gets stolen. Two innocent kids are confronted by grown men and questioned about who they knew on the bases of how they looked and if not for the huddle before than would have actually been accused of theft.

    Its an ugly line out there we all have to walk but common sense, critical thinking, patience and an open mind are the tools needed to navigate it.

  • la_chuletita

    Yeah, I also profile. But if I think you look like a thug, or you’ll be causing me problems, why not? And that’s not to say I automatically assume a black male will be a problem. But if you’re fool enough to be walking around with your ass hanging out your pants, that’s somebody I wouldn’t want to deal with anyways. Usually I don’t like to be alone with a group of guys coming around, because from what I can tell, guys feel extra bold when they have their friends. My judgement comes from experiences and appearance, not solely someones race.

  • Queen

    I, too, have been guilty of profiling out of fear for my safety. You certainly have to take precaution.. but I’m often left wondering: Why dress like a thug in the first place? I understand it’s personal choice and thats by no means warrants a gun but why continously emulate it. I don’t think it has to do with race all the time.. I think it also has to do with presentation.

  • NY’s Finest

    I profile Black men and I don’t feel guilty about it. I’m not saying that other groups of men aren’t criminals, but I’ve never been cat called, verbally abused or harassed by a group of White, Asian or Hispanic men, therefore my guards aren’t up when I see a group of them. In life you learn from experience and when something bad happens to you, you want to prevent it from ever happening again. So when I see a certain group of black men you better believe I cross the street.

    As far as passing black men on the street who try and talk to us, how many do so respectfully when they’re in a group? And why would anyone be checking for a brother whose pants are sagging?

  • Cloudy Summer Day/Teiko

    To be ignorant about something is to not have knowledge or lack awareness, so how is it that you deem what she said to be ‘ignorant’?

  • Cloudy Summer Day/Teiko

    +1

  • luise

    next time there is Trayvon Martin incident dont pretend to care.

  • MOZ

    @ Toppin I would like you to know that in my experience their are not many black men who engage in this kind of behavior. The fact that we are a minority and have been targeted by racisim in the media and by the law makes it seem like our race is full of ignorant degenerates that are hell bent on causing harm to other people. This is not the case. Neither I nor any of my friends have done harm to anyone. I would like to apologize for the picture that has been painted for you by several rap videos and BET bull crap infomercials, but let me assure you that black men are not the problem. It is the fault of men and women of our race buying into ignorance as away of fitting into a social norm. If women didnt have the idea that this bad boy image was so appealing what man would ever behave that way? If you have ever felt an attraction to any man because of a bad boy image I regret to inform you that you are partially respesonsible for this behavior because that is where the sagging pants and hoody crap came from. So please next time you racially profile a black man calculate the percentage of black men that are gulity of these crimes and multiply it by the number of white men in this country. Im pretty sure we are not the larger threat.

  • MOZ

    Please do me a favor and keep your scorned women party out of public forum. Thank you.

  • Cloudy Summer Day/Teiko

    “If women didnt have the idea that this bad boy image was so appealing what man would ever behave that way? If you have ever felt an attraction to any man because of a bad boy image I regret to inform you that you are partially respesonsible for this behavior because that is where the sagging pants and hoody crap came from.”

    - So you are just another person who believes that women are responsible for the behavior of men.

    - Sagging pants did not come from women liking ‘bad boys’.

  • Toppin

    @Moz and JsaJsa28

    I would like you to know that in my experience a white man has NEVER taken anything from me. The media has NEVER taken anything from me. When I’m out on the street I’m not thinking about a white man or the media running up on me trying to start some ish. However, a BLACK MAN has done all of the above.

    I don’t live anywhere near the hood nor do I date black thugs (or black men period…which is a whole different topic). NONE OF THE ABOVE HAS STOPPED BLACK MEN FROM DOING THE FOLLOWING:

    1). Breaking into my car.
    2). Harrassing me on the street.
    3). Following me around stores AND on the street.
    4). Walking up to me in a menacing type of way.
    5). Shouting profane words once shot down.

    This list could go on and on. And no….it is NOT always the so-called “thugs” doing it.

    It ain’t the media sweetie. I ain’t the white man sweetie. I ain’t black women sweetie. The problem here is BLACK MEN.

    So you damn right I racial profile and I will continue to do so if it means my safety.

    Furthermore, I suggest you learn your history and recognize the reality that black WOMEN don’t have jack ish to with black MEN sagging their pants or any of the other hoodlum treads that have been adapted. How typical of you, a black man, to TRY to pin the behavior of MEN on WOMEN.

  • Cloudy Summer Day/Teiko

    Please do ME a favor and keep your cliche label to yourself, because I am not scorned.

  • Cloudy Summer Day/Teiko

    +1 For Toppin.

  • http://www.blackyodaprime.blogspot.com black yoda

    How about facing the Zimmermans in the comment section?….the Ku Klutch Klan….lol

  • blackPowder.

    For the view men that have commented on here, stop denying that too many black men are quilty of menacing our neighborhoods. And the pack mentality is deep. Sure the women commenting are quite harsh in tone, but the message is true. Young black boys, especially, are frightening. Dont get upset with women for stating the truth, get upset with black men for creating the problem

  • blackPowder.

    FEW men…not ”view” men

  • LemonNLime

    “If women didnt have the idea that this bad boy image was so appealing what man would ever behave that way? If you have ever felt an attraction to any man because of a bad boy image I regret to inform you that you are partially respesonsible for this behavior because that is where the sagging pants and hoody crap came from.”

    “The attention of women is a great incentive for a lot of things. Lets not pretend otherwise. I wouldnt blame a man’s bad behavior on a woman but women dont exactly punish men for being bad. They dont ostracize bad boys. This is especially true of young women.”

    This argument is THE WORST. Something is always someone else’s fault right?

    Please answer me this question, are men specifically black men the stupidest people on earth? Are they incapable of think for themselves because they are stupid mindless automatons that have been lobotomized from birth?

    Because every time someone makes that argument that is what you are saying, that black men are so stupid they can’t think for themselves and so the let the perceived attractions of a few women dictate how they decide to live their own lives. Geez, if I were a black man I would get irritated by this argue ALL the time because it implies I’m too weak and feeble minded to think on my own.

    People need to stop passing the buck to someone else and take f***ing responsibility for your own actions. No one forces these men/boys to act or dress this way, they consciously decide to do so. It doesn’t take a rocket scientists to see that not all women go for “bad boys” just like it doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out “hey, if the women I am around are attracted to criminals, rather than committing crimes and spending the rest of my life fearing anal rape in prison, i’ll just find a set of women to hang around and attract”.

  • Evie

    Ugh, I know.

  • alldawg

    Furthermore, I suggest you learn your history and recognize the reality that black WOMEN don’t have jack ish to with black MEN sagging their pants or any of the other hoodlum treads that have been adapted. How typical of you, a black man, to TRY to pin the behavior of MEN on WOMEN.

    BW dont mind having sex with them “negative reinforcement”, their mothers dont mind how they look either. What ever behavior you see and dont like, its because the mother didnt remove that behavior.

    A white man aka white community will never accept you as much as you accept them, you have to prove that you are not as ghetto as the other black folk that you love to point a finger at.

  • alldawg

    Amen. I racial profile and I don’t make any apologies about it. A Black man is more likely to rob, rape, steal from me than any white man. I see one that looks stereotypical not only am I reaching for my purse but I’m walking in the opposite direction.

    SMH
    Self hate is MF…

  • Nnaattaayy

    +1 you guys handled that situation very well

  • NY’s Finest

    @luise: U can miss me with that stupid ish

  • NY’s Finest

    It seems that ppl in general are really in denial about what really goes on in predominately black neighborhoods.

  • anony.mous

    I profile all men. After 2 yrs of riding the bus and endearing harassment disguised as some sad excuse at “flirting”, I don’t get buddy, buddy with strange men. It’s sad, but I am hesitant to even smile and say hello on the street, because in my experience, it has led to unwanted responses. These men have just so happened to be black, but I think it’s more of saying things to people of your own race than some idea that all black men are bad and do this.

    All that being said, so glad I have a car now! Finally learned how to drive 3 wks ago (I’m 21 and an obvious late bloomer, lol!) and the stress/burden off my shoulder has been tremendous.

  • apple

    I get you on the smile thing. You just can’t say hello or grin a little with out that being an invitation ugh

  • Cloudy Summer Day

    You can’t even accidentally have eye contact without them thinking it was an invitation to approach.

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