Archived: When Racial Profiling Cuts Both Ways


The case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin has brought the topic of racial profiling to the front and center of our public discourse. Most often, the stories we tell and hear are those of black or brown people being confronted simply because of the way we look – getting pulled over and being harassed by the police, or being followed by a worker inside a store.

As a black man, I have been profiled and stereotyped for as long as I can remember. I know very well what it feels like, and I can often see it coming a mile away. But there is another side to racial profiling that doesn’t get spoken about very much – when Blacks use race to profile and go after members of other races.

The day after Zimmerman was found not-guilty, I witnessed a young black man with dreads steal an iPhone from a white man outside of a Starbucks in the East Bay city of El Cerrito. While the white man was smoking a cigarette, the kid sized him up, then ran up to him and took the phone right out of the man’s hand, and kept on running.

As I stood there watching the man give his account of the theft to a black police officer, I couldn’t help but wonder how this man would act the next time he had an interaction with a young black male. Would he think they’re all criminals who want his stuff? Would he be quicker to call the police? Would he feel sorry for us? Or would he want to take matters into his own hands – like Zimmerman did?

I admit that race probably wasn’t the main factor in this kid’s choice of victim; it was probably just that the kid had surmised the situation and thought he could get away from the guy. Maybe “white” meant vulnerable to him.

I remember a few years ago, when young black kids in the Bay Area were apparently targeting Asian elders for crimes. The case that received the most media attention was the killing of a 59 year-old Chinese man in downtown Oakland. Two 18 year-old black boys beat him to death after they had punched his son, and Yu came to his defense.

What I heard then was that young blacks weren’t targeting Asians because they were Asian, but because they viewed Asians as easy targets for crime. They were perceived as vulnerable. It still sounds like racial profiling to me.

My point is that people profile other people based on their race all the time. And yes, Black people do it too. We even do it to ourselves.

Sadly enough, this kind of profiling reinforces the stereotypes that we as Black folks hate so much, and perpetuates a cycle of profiling and judging others based on their race.


This commentary first appeared at New America Media.

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