Posted by: JDM..... | November 5, 2009

Here’s to Discrimination and Profiling…..

My daughter called me one day earlier this year to tell me that my grandson Joshua had uttered his first intelligible word. He said “Mama”, much to her pleasure and relief. There are so many words that could be the first pronouncement of a child’s learning these days.

At least “Mama” isn’t controversial, or at least not yet. Like all previous speakers of the English language, we continue to reinvent the tools of our communication on a daily basis. It is occasionally noted, whether with pride or embarrassment I am uncertain, that English is one of the hardest languages for someone from another country to learn. I would offer that it is no easier for a native, as we must relearn it on a regular and continuing basis.

Compounding the complexity of social survival today is the rapidly increasing intrusion of government and the rule of law into areas formerly respected as the franchise of professors of English and standard bearers of preferable syntax such as the late William F. Buckley. In my youth, a misspoken thought was apt to be met by a whack on the back of the head with a ruler, red ink marks on the products of my literary labors, or in cases of more serious transgressions, a bar of soap.

While lawyers once were known for their ability to wade through oceans of whences, wherefores, and parties of the third part, they now often perform their most lucrative work upon the ever-changing ebb and flow of personal opinion, perceived or contrived insults, and political correctness.

President Obama’s faux pas of intervention in the matter of Professor Gates versus Officer Crowley in and of itself was a fascinating and excellent example upon which I could preface my observations, but the circumstance unleashed a backlog of complaints I’ve chewed on for too long anyway, so I’ll start there.

I’d like to begin with the adoption of the word “Discrimination” some four decades ago as the sole property of those who wished to joust about issues related to, or allegedly related to, the presence or absence of unspecified levels of melanin in an individuals skin.

I’d like to jump ahead from there to the more recently popular Capital Offense of “racial profiling”.

President Obama made headlines by inadvertently stepping on the lawn cookie of Political Correctness when he called Officer Crowley’s arrest of Professor Gates “stupid”. He then went on to roll in the mess like an errant hound by expounding upon the street wisdom of racial profiling being the reason for the disproportionate number of “African-Americans and Latinos” arrests without bothering to add that said population is also responsible for a disproportionate percentage of crimes being committed.

I would, therefore, intentionally and with eyes wide open, like to march head-long and directly, smack dab into the middle of the political correctness cess-pool and challenge it to battle.

I would like to encourage anyone accused of “discriminating” from this day forward to respond with an incredulous “Of course! That’s what people do.”

We also “profile”.

The next time you walk into a room, pay attention to what you pay attention to. As a counselor and group facilitator, my innate and perhaps instinctive discriminating and profiling behaviors had to be honed to an acuity not normally required in our day to day activities. When I would meet a client for a one-on-one session in my office, I would begin to assess that person before we even introduced ourselves or entered the room from the lobby. When I walked into a therapy group, I would assess the individuals as well as the general “feel” of the room, and would “profile” to identify potentials for positive or negative impact upon the group process. No professional, from the car salesman to the school teacher, to the police officer does any less.

.“Discriminate”, in fact, it is what living organisms in general do on one level or another, whether as a matter of fundamental stimulus-response behavior or by sifting multiple complex ideas and considerations before coming to a decision upon which to act. On a basic biological level, it is a survival skill. Those unable to discriminate do not survive. On a more complex social and intellectual level, it is how many life forms identify edible foodstuffs and reject toxic substances, identify allies and enemies, select mates, and develop social networks. Discrimination is a skill that enables us to identify what is safe, what is preferable, and what is desirable. We discriminate all day, every day. My grandson has learned to discriminate between the collection of sounds, textures, colors, smells, and other stimuli that constitute what he calls “Mama” and those which do not. Good for him. He’s on his way.

The ridiculous concept of “racial profiling” came into vogue not too many years ago when it was discovered that it tended to evoke a greater response than the rather hackneyed unembellished “discrimination” could any more.

So now, although discrimination is a natural behavior both biologically and socially, we not only have rendered it “inappropriate”, but we have further narrowed the criteria by which it is deemed “inappropriate” by adding the “racial” modifier.

Such wordplay rightfully should enjoy some status as perhaps a form of literary amusement, but has no place in a court of law.

It would be redundant of me to repeat the arguments already offered countless times that “profiling” is basically good law enforcement for any number of perfectly obvious reasons, so I will simply add my name to the pile of those who agree with that viewpoint whether our individual reasons for arriving at that conclusion are compatible or not.

I should think that the minute one man accuses another of discriminating or profiling he is, by definition, doing exactly that himself. And for the same reasons. To feel safe and make decisions about subsequent courses of action. It is those actions that should capture our focus, not the method by which we decide upon or against them.
Whether one man assaults another because of his race, religion, sexual orientation, alma mater, hairstyle, bumper stickers, or the name of his dog is of no relevance whatsoever. An assault is an assault. The decision to preferentially set aside certain crimes as “hate” crimes moved me to ask many years ago if someone could educate me regarding the description of a “love” crime.

Understanding the motivation behind an offense is a rational and informative way to make decisions regarding strengths and weaknesses within our society, but to apply the law according to arbitrary criteria of thought, opinion, and belief is a nonsensical miscarriage of justice and quite possibly of questionable Constitutional validity. The discrimination between “gay-bashing” and the back alley pummeling of a hobo may be of academic import, but should have nothing to do with the manner in which the laws against assault and battery are interpreted and applied.

I can think on no reason in today’s context for a man to compare himself as an “African American” to me as, well, just a plain old garden variety “white guy”, unless it is to earn some level of differential consideration. Someone whose ancestors were born in a Caribbean community might be called a “Latino”. Why? Linguistically, it makes perfect sense, of course. Not only does it enable one to provide information about the subject’s cultural and geographical history, but the term differentiates the subject further as a member of that population which shares certain physical characteristics. It helps, for example, to discriminate between a person whose parents were of German extraction living in Puerto Rico from those whose heritage might be a more eclectic mix of African Negro, Caucasian, and South American Indian. But in today’s context, the term “Latino” is more than a simple descriptive word.

If I state with an air of self-importance that I am an “Anglo-American”, it likely will either be received as a curse or an inanity. At the extreme, it suggests that I must stand at the back of the line and shut up, much as the term “colored” once suggested diminished rights and opportunities for some in certain areas. Think not? Beginning shortly after I graduated from college in the nineteen sixties, such things as race and gender became legitimate considerations in the job market. New “Equal Opportunity” laws and regulations presumed that the assumed success of my forbears, based upon such criteria, provided me with an unfair advantage over those whose forbears did not meet such criteria, and therefore essentially gave the presumed potential victims of such potential “discriminatory treatment” preferential consideration. Quotas, whether legal or not and whether actually called that or not, were the reality. Nobody wanted to be accused of “discriminating” against the “less fortunate”, a generic description which has come to include a larger and more generous menu of qualifiers over the years. The net result is that today, Congress even decides where and how to distribute tax revenues and statutory favoritism based upon discriminatory statistics gathered by the US Census. The drive to eliminate unfair, unethical, and essentially unconstitutional treatment of American Citizens based upon factors such as gender, race, and a host of other classifications has mutated into a system of federally mandated discrimination in the opposite direction based upon exactly the same factors.

Whether in areas that are regulated by the government, or areas funded by the government, or both, virtually no area of life in the United States today remains free of this odd turn of affairs. Whether one applies for a job, or for public assistance in any of its seemingly infinite forms, applies for a mortgage, or seeks admission to one of our hundreds of institutions of higher learning, questions of experience, ability, and character, which may be subjective and ultimately decided during a personal interview, may be of secondary import, while questions regarding race, gender, and so forth are inflexibly requisite. Failing to answer them, or failing to answer them according to some unspoken, predetermined menu of qualifying responses, renders the issue of a personal interview irrelevant, while answering such queries in the “desired” manner may actually guarantee the personal interview, if for no other reason than to “cover the requestor’s ass” in the event of a federal audit by those empowered to ensure that, at least statistically, everything looks hunky-dory in River City regardless of what the reality might be.

If that isn’t inequity, I don’t know what is.

One of my hobbies is genealogy, and over the past forty years I have been able to trace and document my ancestors’ residency on the North American continent to as far back as 1620, and in several cases, the trail leads back to Medieval England and Normandy. I was born in Salem, Massachusetts sixty five years ago, and yet a child born in Chicago sixty five minutes ago may be called a Native American while I would not, strictly upon the cultural histories and genetics of our forebears. I reject that logic. Anybody born in this country is a “native”, including me. By our virtue of our Constitution, special designations such as cultural or ethnic heritage, national origin of one’s ancestors, one’s gender, religion, alma mater, neighborhood, body structure, or favorite vegetable have no significance in determining the liberty of the individual to live, do so freely, and to seek happiness as he or she chooses. Yet, practically, and in “real life” every one of those factors and more come into play every day, all day, as we go about our lives as individuals and as a nation, because we engage in the absolutely normal behavior of “discriminating” within and around our physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual environments.

Our obsessions with such concepts as neo-discrimination, as opposed to the “natural” version, and with neo-profiling, as opposed to the “normal” human behavior, as well as with our pathological focus on the way things look rather than with the way they actually are, may very well be the cause of many of today’s problems rather than the path to their resolution.

Instead of striving to become a color-blind society, gender-blind society, or any other kind of blind society, I would suggest that for a change we acknowledge that we are, in fact, a stew of many ingredients. We are not all the same, we are not all equally endowed with ability or drive, and nowhere except in the fantasies of idealists, the metaphor of poets, and the sales pitches of self-serving sociopaths is it promised that the Men’s Room Attendant has a God given right to sail the company president’s yacht just because they both put their pants on the same way.

Just because my fourth great grandfather may or may not have called another man’s fourth great grandfather a rude name does not entitle that man to anything from me except common courtesy. If I put a dent in your car at the mall parking lot, my great grandson won’t owe your great grandson a new car or a college education in reparation. The only debt is between you and me.

What began as a tsunami of social and cultural change fifty years ago has now become an expected norm, and if the Dream of Martin Luther King is to become a reality now that the opportunity is at hand, the artificial supports must be removed. If they are not removed, if the inherent risks are not taken, the discrimination and imbalance of a century ago will simply turn upside down and the cycle will be doomed to repeat.

Personal opinion, likes, dislikes, wisdom and ignorance will all continue to be a normal part of this universe, this world, and this nation. We are human. We can and have created a system of laws and a social matrix within which artificial and arbitrary barriers to the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are disallowed. Artificial and arbitrary enhancement of opportunities to act within that environment is no less in violation of the core of our nation’s creed than are barriers. Equal opportunity can only be offered. Absolutely equal possession of the symbols of achievement and success can only be realized through the elimination of freedom and the redistribution of assets and opportunity by those in power.

We are not immune to the laws of nature. The human social organism functions, lives, and dies according to the same rules, the same competition between chaos and stasis, as everything else in the universe. We may not like that, and our innate arrogance may tempt us to believe we are exempt, but we are not.

We need to accept that.

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