Ky. Voices: Profiling is a 'life thing' so respect adults, smile, whistle

July 28, 2013 

I have empathy for President Barack Obama's recent comments on race. I, too, understand what it's like to walk into an elevator and have a lady take a step back while viewing my fearful countenance. It sends a mild sting through my heart.

However, I also have empathy for her concerns. I have an understanding that a muscular, 6'2, 195-pound male, wearing a bandana, tank top and sunglasses can seem imposing to someone smaller, especially in the private and limited confines of an elevator.

It is why I always use my dad's lesson to smile, nod and share a friendly hello. However, even that doesn't always calm the fear, even when I am in a suit and tie. So I just mark it up as an accepted profiling in life.

I also understand what it is like to receive glares (as a child and as an adult) when walking in some neighborhoods at night. It is why years ago my father told me to whistle whenever I walked through a yard or a neighborhood that might be apprehensive of my unaccustomed presence.

It was his way of teaching about an accepted reality of life that we now define as profiling.

As a child, my friends and I had been stopped by adults and justifiably asked what we were doing in their neighborhood. We were not offended by it. Our parents had taught us to show our elders respect by simply answering their questions.

I even remember my high school track team stopping at a little food mart where the owner profiled our presence. I found out on the bus later that day that he unfortunately had reason to do so.

I have even had the impression during the Christmas season that I was once followed at Walmart. However, just as I did not turn physically on the adults as a teenager, I did not turn verbally on the employee as an adult. He was just doing his job because (as tactless and ridiculous as it seemed) for some reason I fit his profile.

I just shrugged and ignored it.

Yet, I'm not an American of African descent. I am a blond-haired (of what still remains) blue-eyed American of Scottish descent, and I get profiled.

It's called "life," not racism.

So, I can have empathy for the plight of profiling but it falls far short of sympathy.

Now I also have a son who, could be mistaken as Obama's. If the press were to describe him in the vernacular of George Zimmerman being a "white-Hispanic," he would be described as a "white-African-American."

Although the government labels him African-American, I refuse to allow the hyphen to divide us.

He is a native born American whose roots are European and African. And I have taught him to respect his elders and to stand tall and respect all. I also taught him that police officers are his friends and at every opportunity, I introduced him to police officers and explained to him that if he ever needed help he should go to them.

I did this for his safety. However, I also did this because I knew it would give him security while teaching a love of family and country and respect for authority and civic responsibility. These are essential components that help make a successful society. I also taught him to whistle.

The president's emphasis seems to make profiling synonymous with the term "minority," just as many now view civil rights as being synonymous with being black.

I have empathy for those being profiled because I have experienced it as well. However, I understand it is not a "race thing," it is a "life thing."

Reach Randy Graham at at boomer@boomerandkids.com

Randy Graham of Danville is author of the children's books series, Boomer's Positive Lessons on Living.

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