Thursday, July 25, 2013

Profiling And Prejudice

We hear a lot about profiling these days.   Not so much about prejudice anymore.  Some say that prejudice is a thing of the past in our “post racial” world.  My own feelings are well known:  post racial my bony old white ass. 

Prejudice is “pre-judgment,” and that is what is at the heart of all profiling, isn’t it?  And profiling is still with us, big time.   Whether the official profiling that is found in the “stop-and-frisk” policies of many big cities, or the more personal style exercised by the various vigilantes in the news, profiling is experiencing some kind of Golden Age. 

Mostly, this is a bad thing, but prejudice is often a necessary and valuable life strategy.  Take snakes, for instance.  How many of us have the talent and experience that would be required to judge them all as individuals?  It’s best to treat them all as though they were poisonous, to pre-judge them all as dangerous creatures.  It’s not so easy when it comes to people. 

Black Prejudice Against Whites

This one is like the snakes, I think.  It might be fair to assume that the worst could be true.   American blacks, after all, were transported to America against their wills by white people; they have been tormented, oppressed and discriminated against to one extent or another for hundreds of years without a break, again by white people.  Not only insult, but also injury, torture and even death were involved, “are” in fact, involved.

So who can blame blacks who choose to approach any encounter with a white person as dangerous?  Not me.  I am just thankful that most American blacks are graceful and dignified about it all, tempering this reality-based prejudice with a generous spirit.  I would say that for most of the black Americans who feel this particular prejudice it is seen as a “rebuttable presumption.”  The white stranger may initially suffer from the prejudice, but most blacks will immediately begin a search for evidence upon which to base a more particularized judgment.  This is a kindness, and I always appreciate it. 

I have watched this process many times, first hand.  I drove cabs in the early ‘70’s in New York.  Late one summer afternoon/evening I got lost in Harlem.  I found myself on a dead-end street, all of the buildings were run down, abandoned and boarded up.  The only people around were a group of black teenagers, eighteen to twenty years old I’d say, sitting on a stoop.  I stopped to ask directions. 

They immediately judged me, they profiled me based on the color of my skin.  I had pulled over to the curb and rolled the passenger side window down, but before I could say anything they were all in my face.  “What the fuck do you want?”  “What, you think we’re all dealers?”  Like that, they assumed that I wanted to buy drugs. 

“No man,” I said, “I’m just lost!  Which one of these streets goes up the hill?”  (I was trying to get up to Washington Heights, to upper Broadway.)  They all relaxed and became friendly immediately.  No apologies were offered, but some of them smiled and talked to me and others began to discuss the best way to accomplish my goal.  I got my directions, thanked them, and moved off.  A presumption had been rebutted, quickly and gracefully. 

White Prejudice Against Blacks

This one is much more problematic.  It lacks the basis in reality of the prejudice in the other direction.  Mostly, it is based on fear, misinformation and outright lies.  And don’t forget statistics!  Some prejudiced whites never tire of bringing up crime statistics to justify their obvious distaste for blacks.  It is always valuable to recall the words of old Ben Disraeli, one of the more memorable prime ministers of England, who said that there were three types of lies:  lies; damned lies; and statistics.

White people are not as quick to look for evidence that the presumption may be, in individual cases, mistaken.   Somehow they are more content to remain with the generalization, which they seem to find comforting. 

White Prejudice Against Whites, Or Anybody For That Matter

Lots of white people are so paranoid that they don’t trust anybody at all. 

I am reminded of the shops on Madison Avenue.  In the streets numbered in the thirties and forties there were lots of small shops featuring a mixed bag of vintage goods.  “Used,” you could call the stuff.  Ear-rings, watches, clothing, jewelry from costume to real.  Quite affordable, some of it, I bought a couple of things there in the ‘60’s.  By the early ‘70’s, all of these stores were profiling customers. 

Every single one of those stores now sported a sign on the locked door that said, “Out To Lunch,” or maybe “Back In 20 Minutes.”  There was now a door bell on all of them too.  They were in there, the shop people, but they would only open the door for a man/woman couple, or a woman, or a group of women.  I’m sure that there were race-based criteria too, but I have no information about that.  If I rang the bell, however, someone would just smile and point to the sign.  No single men, or pair of men, were admitted. 

Like the snakes, I could be harmless or I could be life-threatening.  I could be a legitimate customer, or I could be some kind of pistol-packing junkie overdue for a cloud nine experience.  Better to be safe, even if you lose some business.  Profiling is like that. 

Moral: It’s All Bullshit

Let’s face it, we all pre-judge people and things, all the time.  Some people’s experience and temperament may lead the behavior to be reinforced.  My own temperament led me to see that the pre-judgments were so often wrong that the entire enterprise was useless. 

Back to my cab driving days, there was one occasion where I was absolutely sure that I was going to get robbed.  It was almost two a.m., I was driving back to the garage on Northern Boulevard in Queens.  I was stopped at a light, and a twenty-something Porto Rican guy came out of the dark entrance to a closed shop and quickly climbed into the car.  He spoke in a low voice, kept his face in the shadows, and gave me an address that I knew was on a dead-end street of mostly factories.  I considered driving to the Elmhurst police station, but I figured no use getting shot for nothing, see how it plays out and just give him the money if he wants it.  We got where we were going.

All of a sudden, the guy comes to life.  “Thanks for picking me up!”  He was sure that at that hour he’d end up walking.  He’d snuck into the car because he was sure that any taxi driver would be profiling him and passing him up, maybe a couple of them already had.  He gave me a big tip, even. 

That did it for me, after that I have tried never to pre-judge.  I’m on the “let’s see how it plays out” program, and it works okay for me.   

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

glitter S.P.C

Great video, great cars, and for a soundtrack one of the greatest 45's of all time.  "He's Waiting," by the Meices! 

Which is THE most obscure record that I own.  I got in as a free 45 that came with a copy of Gearhead magazine in about 1996.  One side was two cuts by the Meices and the other was three cuts by the Fastbacks.  This cut, I don't think it ever appeared anywhere else.  "He's Waiting" is a Sonics song, by them it's easy to find. 

So, as luck would have it, I searched it again today and got this video.  The song is not referenced in any way, so the search engine was working overtime. 

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Greatest Hits "American Girl"

My favorite comment:

"This is my favorite Strokes song." 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Not Just Black People

For the record, it's not just black Americans who are disappointed and angry about the Zimmerman verdict.

There's plenty to be disappointed about, and I'm disappointed.  There's plenty to be angry about too, and I'm angry.  Not at the jury though, not me, not either thing.  I think that juries usually take their responsibilities very seriously and my guess is that this jury did the best they could.

How about the prosecution?  Well, remember that it's very hard to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt.  Very hard.  In fact, even if your name were actually "Joe Blow," you'd have a hell of a time proving to some strangers beyond a reasonable doubt that your name was Joe Blow.

Disappointed, angry, and a little mystified too.

Mystified that a cop wannabe can wander around a neighborhood with a gun taking people on, people who actually live there, and that the wannabe can just shoot somebody dead when shit goes south on him, as shit will.

Mystified that a defendant in a serious case can testify ad nauseum by tape and video and never have to submit to cross-examination.  That one really, really mystifies me.  All of the tape and video consisted of exculpatory, contradictory bullshit, and no one ever sat him down in front of the jury and made him explain, so, jerk off, which version is the truth and which ones are lies?

And, on a related note, I'm mystified beyond redemption that Marissa Alexander finds herself sentenced to twenty years for just firing a warning shot or two.  She'd have been much better off just waiting until the guy was in her house and drilling him a couple of new ones.  Twenty years is a long time.  Especially compared to Zimmerman's walk.

But I digress.   I've been seeing articles that suggest that it's black people who are reacting negatively to this verdict, and to the killing in the first place.  That's wrong, lots of sensible people are angry about this case, and the incident that gave rise to it.  Attributing the anger to blacks smacks of racism.  No surprise there, this entire vortex of negative energy has smacked of racism since the beginning.

Another chance to exclaim, with reason, "post racial my ass."  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Dandy Warhols - Bohemian Like You (Official Video)

I'm pretty sure that this is one of the best songs of the modern era.  I'm totally sure that "The Dandy Warhols" is a dead-cool name for a band.  I don't know, but this might be one of the best videos around. 

Not old; not new; is it straight enough for you? 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It Could Happen: Levar Burton's Traffic Stop

This may or may not have ever happened to Mr. Burton, but it is an "after the fact" story.  It follows in every detail a story that a friend told me in the 1980's. 

Once upon a time, Levar was driving to have lunch with a producer at the producer's home in Beverly Hills.  Levar was driving his own car, a late model BMW 528M.  He's a conservative driver, no flashy stuff, and he wasn't expecting any problems.

He was spotted by Beverly Hills police, a team of two in a marked car.  They noted the car, and they noted the color of the driver's skin.  The car was a perfect fit for Beverly Hills; the driver, in their eyes, was not.  They pulled him over. 

Levar knows what to do in those situations, and he went through his own drill.  He took off his sunglasses and hat, put his wallet on the seat next to him, and put his hands on the wheel, at ten and two o'clock.  One of the policemen approached the driver's side. 

Levar smiled and made eye contact.  "Good afternoon, officer." 

"Please exit the vehicle," said the officer.

Levar took his wallet with him and got out.  "Please step to the back of the car." 

The policeman asked to see Levar's license and registration.  Levar took the license out of the wallet and said to the officer, "the reg is in the glove compartment, should I get it?" 

The officer called his partner over.  "Is it okay if my partner retrieves the registration from the glove compartment?" 

"Sure," said Levar, "help yourself." 

The partner approached the car.  He closely examined the interior and opened the passenger side door.  He opened the glove compartment and took all of the contents out, putting them on the passenger seat.  He went through everything, found the registration, and returned to the rear of the car. 

Levar was a little annoyed, but he made every effort not to show any feeling about it.  He figured that this would be a short stop and everything would be fine.  After all, he was actually Levar Burton, the name on the license, this was actually his car, the license plate of the car was a vanity plate that said, "LEVAR1," the picture on his license was a good likeness, and he was on a legitimate mission to visit a resident.  Maybe they'd even recognize him from his film and TV work. 

"Please put your hands on the car and spread your feet." 

"Is this really necessary?" 

"Sir, put your hands on the car." 

The officer frisked Levar comprehensively while his partner took the license and registration back to the police cruiser to call in a document check. 

"Please sit on the curb, and put your hands behind your head." 

"Officer, really," he said, sitting down on the curb, "obviously this is my car.  I have a lunch appointment at the home of (redacted), he lives over on (redacted)." 

"Sit quietly, sir, and keep your hands on your head." 

The officer thought for a moment and took out a pad and a pen.  "What was that name again?  And what is the address of your destination?"  Levar repeated the information and the officer made notes.  He took the pad to the car and handed it to his partner, who got back on the radio to check the information. 

"Officer, how long is this going to take.  I have somewhere to be." 

"We're checking now, sir.  Please remain seated." 

Some time went by. 

"Is there a problem, officer?"

"There's no answer at the home with the address that you gave us." 

"I have his office number, if you'd like to try that." 

"Please be patient, sir."  The officer stood a few feet from Levar with his hands on his hips.  He was a tall, well formed man in a sharply pressed uniform.  He was wearing mirror shades. 

After almost a half hour, Levar was getting angry.  "Officer, this is ridiculous, there's no problem with my paperwork, you can follow me to the house if you like, I don't know why they're not answering the phone but they are expecting me.  Haven't I been sitting here long enough?" 

The officer put the heal of his hand on the handle of his pistol and flexed his fingers.  "Just sit tight," he said, "you don't want to have any accidents." 

The partner took a radio call and then got out of the police car.  The two officers spoke briefly and the first officer said, "you can get up now.  Thank you for your cooperation.  You're free to go." 

"About God-damned time," Levar mumbled as he rose from the curb.  The officer gave him back his license and registration. 

"Have a nice day." 


This actually happened to that friend of mine.  The BMW, the vanity plate.  My friend was going to the home of his parents, his dad was a doctor and his mom was a lawyer, a real-life Huxtable family.  Black, though, which was and remains a problem. 

A deadly problem for the Trayvons of the world. 

Black readers know all of this already, but you white folk, you should really try to walk for a mile in a black man's moccasins.  It's a trip. 

Division of Laura Lee "Black City"

The music business has always been a tough way to make a living, but this is ridiculous.  This is a really, really great band, but they remain severely obscure. 

Hit counts in the hundreds?  What a crying shame.