Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ever feel like you've been "profiled?"

I had one of those jarring, perspective-altering experiences yesterday.

My son has been accepted into an all-city children’s choir, and in addition to rehearsals and concerts, part of what they do is a “service” project. A few times a year, these 11- to 14-year olds go to one of the local shelters for victims of domestic violence, and spend a couple of hours leading games and songs for the young children who are temporarily living there.

What a wonderful thing! I love this program that my son was exposed to through his enrollment in the Episcopalian school to which we are fortunate enough to be able to send him.

But my experience took a weird turn yesterday when I went to pick him up after his service there, in the gathering evening gloom.

I’ve been to domestic violence shelters before. Several years ago, when my daughters were Grant’s age, Sally and I arranged for the four of us to donate some time, toys, and money to one as part of our Christmas. It was both beneficial to the residents, and enormously rewarding to the four of us.

But when I arrived last night at another shelter to pick up my son, something that I wasn’t expecting happened. I arrived a few seconds after a young woman, and hadn’t noticed that she had “buzzed” her way in. So when she opened the door as I was approaching behind her, I just naturally followed her in. To pick up my son, who was there providing joy to the children staying there.

And I was completely taken aback, that three different women (yes, all women) from a security station to the right of entrance, descended on me with immense suspicion and intent. As far as I know, none of them were armed … but they all had the “whites of their eyes” look about them that indicated that they were prepared to take me down.

I was startled, and offended. What had I done to deserve this? I worked hard to restrain myself from sounding indignant that I was just retrieving my son who had been invited to come provide a service for their residents.

And after I went back outside while the staff consulted their records and then buzzed me back in and directed me to a waiting area, I gradually realized what was going on.

I was an unidentified male entering a domestic violence shelter. And for most women and children in America, there’s nothing more dangerous than an adult (heterosexual) male … particularly one that’s not the biological father of the child in question… you want the statistics? E-mail me….

I sat in the waiting area and stewed and thought about it. I was resenting being treated with suspicion because of my gender, especially when I was there to pick up my son who was there helping (when I could have been home having a martini!).

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how sheltered I’ve been. No one treats a 53-year-old white male this way! I began to realize … this is how a black male professional must feel, when he’s pulled over by the police for a turn-signal violation. This is how a Hispanic American must feel all the time, especially here in Indiana where the legislature has tried to over-rule the U.S. Constitution on which American citizens with Mexican-born parents “deserve” to be here, and what constitutes a "legal" alien. At least I had unthinkingly placed myself in a context where my gender was in fact "reasonable cause" for suspicion!

Not sure how to wrap this up, except to say … to all my fellow Americans who are judged by their color, ethnicity, or gender in the first instant that they meet someone … I’m starting to get it now …

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful (new) perspective, Ron! I truly enjoyed reading this piece, and speaking from my experience with DV, I am glad those women had that "white of their eyes" look, even if it meant you felt a bit offended or profiled in the meantime. Sorry, man. ;) You're son is doing something amazing that I'm sure he'll never forget! You must be very proud. Have that Martini, you earned it.