Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Double/triple Standard


As many of you know, I am a walker. Pretty much everyday, I take a long walk around my town. By long, I mean an hour or so. Occasionally, I have a walking partner, but mostly, I'm on my own. Occasionally, I take my cell phone and chat with my daughter or sister or friend as I walk. But mostly, it's me and the inside of my mind and the world itself. Sometimes, I have small adventures. Sometimes I pick up litter, especially plastic and glass bottles and drink cans. Sometimes I notice things that make me wonder . . .
      One thing I saw a few months ago that made me wonder--about myself as much as the thing I saw--was a woman in a yard who had climbed up on a window sill and was trying to open the window.
I am a responsible person who has been known to report suspicious activity (although I'm never completely certain what qualifies as suspicious), but I immediately noticed that I was continuing with my walk rather than doing something along the lines of calling the police. I'll say right here that the woman was white. And, of course, the woman was a woman. But if she hadn't been either of those things, I realized, I might not have so blithely walked on by. (So finally I am getting back to the topic of this blog--discomforts of diversity, or assumptions related thereto).
      A few days later, again while out walking, I saw a woman burying a small box among a row of box hedges next to an apartment building.
Again, this was not a usual thing to see. But the woman was doing this in plain sight, right next to the sidewalk, making no attempt to hide. The woman was white. And again, the woman was a woman. But what if she had looked Middle Eastern? or been a Middle Eastern man? In either of those cases, the burying of a small something near an apartment building might have seemed suspiciously scary.
     I wish I had a magic photo wand I could wave to show the difference between what I actually saw (white woman at window; white woman burying small box) and what would turn that odd but supposedly benign sight into something supposedly suspicious. I guess that's what you call profiling. When one kind of person does something, it's probably okay. When another kind of person does it, it might not be.

7 comments:

rasirds@cox.net said...

Your "walking sightings" were suspicious. It is the unfortunate truth that we are burdened with the guilt of color or dress influencing our decisions. This attitude, in many cases, falls into "once bitten, twice shy" (Album Title: Scorpions"). I was assaulted by several girls of color in junior high school and we were burglarized by later convictd men of color in MI. Consequently, I admit my heart beats a little faster when I am with a group of people who are not white.

And it's no secret that white people are often not trusted by people of color. They have good reason too.

Some years ago I witnessed an auto accident and volunteered to give a deposition. The attorney representing the white guilty party tried to put words in my mouth and asked me loaded questions to protect his client. I won't volunteer again.

Today I saw a white male fall off his bike on a busy street, and I continued driving. He was sitting the the curb and didn't look seriously injured, although I don't know. I don't feel good about not stopping, but I also did not want to become part of a stranger's life. Yes, I may have done the wrong thing, something I would not want to happen to me.

Last week there was a daytime drive-by shooting death in my neighborhood, known to be one of safest suburbs of Phoenix. The victim was enjoying a breath of air in front of his house. Color? Who knows.

I feel the same way you do about talking the talk vs walking, the talk, but unfortunately reality prevails.

Great reading your blog again!

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Rasirds. That thing about the auto accident . . . I hear you. So many situations in which I don't know what to do.

Just realized . . . for the woman at the window, I create a benign interpretation: oh, she's locked out of the house; she forgot her keys. For the woman burying the small box: She's burying her pet bird who just died. Just change the sex or race, and the interpretation changes. But I guess I said that already.

thanks for reading. I was out of town, then my daughter was visiting. Hard to keep up with everything.

Happy new year.

rasirds@cox.net said...

It occurred to me also that the woman had locked herself out and owed no explanation. You are probably right about the burial too, and although it's against the law in most states to bury pets on private property, I, too, would have continued walking.

When I don't know what to do, I sadly believe that the hard, nasty fact is we must protect ourselves first. I think you loved ones would agree.

Happy, healthy 2011 to you and yours.

Jim Poznak said...

Susan, as usual, your posting is unflinchingly candid and brave.

Susan Messer said...

Aw, shucks.

rasirds@cox.net said...

You are too cute!

Great photography always. "Intruder" plastered against her window is especially amusing, but the best this time is you (?) "just walking in the rain".

One/One/One One. Does that mean it's four?

Cheers!

Susan Messer said...

Nope, not me in that photo. Just some other mysterious walker.