Profile of the Racially Profiled

Terrol Graham

In the past couple of weeks there has been much news about racial profiling resulting in the unjust accosting and humiliation of movie star Rob Brown seeking to buy a Movado watch for his mother at Macy’s New York, and a black teen being detained under the assumption that he could not afford a high end belt from Barney’s. These instances brought me back to my teenage years in Florida where I was constantly followed and pestered. My favorite watch brand is Movado. I planned on buying myself one next year in Macy’s. Will the police be called on me? These reports ignited reflection on my brushes with prejudice both in the U.S. and Europe.

Upon arrival at Wake Forest in 2007, campus social life was centered on Greek life. One frat in particular seemed to have built up quite a “non-inclusive” reputation for itself over the years. I was turned away from one of their parties because it was an “all white party” (supposedly in the fashion sense). Ironically, I was dressed in an all white outfit. All white everything, socks and shoes included!

My presence was unwanted. This experience was a watershed moment for me. The indignity I felt that night was something that I never wanted to feel again! Unfortunately my remedy of securing theme housing based on our mentorship program brought a more sinister type of prejudice into my life, the scrutiny of the campus police. We threw some parties, and yes there were some epically enjoyable ones. But without fail our parties were targeted for shut down on the basis of the most spurious of claims and thinly veiled pretexts. We were adamant about alcohol not being served or brought on the premises period, so there was no under-aged drinking at our parties. But Wake Forest campus police saw it their duty to shut down predominantly black student patronized, non-alcoholic parties when there was under-aged drinking going on en masse in the fraternity lounges on campus.

WFU’s police officers, for much of my time there were very condescending to students and in particular racial minorities. A friend was accosted and asked to present his ID because his shoes (a pair of Jordans) fit the description of an assailant. Another friend was questioned because he fit the description of a suspicious person (he was working at the Law School for work study and like any other student he favored hoodies as a comfortable and durable article of clothing). What was the description of the suspicious individual? A black man about 5’9 in a hoodie. My friend is 5’9 and black and liked hoodies. That’s all it took for him to be characterized as a criminal. Maybe I should have expected that this would be the norm at a predominantly white institution.

“You should have known that you’d have these type of experiences when you decided to grow out your hair.” This was the response of a friend when I told him about some of the racist experiences I had while in Europe, specifically London and Amsterdam. These encounters demonstrated the unassailable fact that my presence, by virtue of my race, is threatening and/or undesirable and potentially problematic in almost any geographic setting that I’ve been to outside of Jamaica. After arriving in London on a visit to my cousin, I was kept at customs for an extended period of time and subjected to a barrage of inane, redundant and pervasive questions. I know exactly what the problems were: my Jamaican accent, my brown skin and dreadlocks. Evidently, I fit the profile of a drug mule.

In the Netherlands while waiting for my cousin to arrive for our weekend trip to Amsterdam where she had studied abroad 10 years ago, I was approached by the same custom official four times asking me my purpose and why I was sitting around, and each time I told him the same thing in a courteous, subdued and eloquent manner. The blonde lady who arrived about thirty minutes after I did was never questioned. Even while reading the International Herald Tribune in the airport in Amsterdam, my presence is threatening. Maybe young black men with dreadlocks don’t read newspapers in the Netherlands. This is a country with a widely popular celebration and cultural tradition centered on a character in black face after all. Yep, maybe I should have known better. Needless to say, I have no intentions of going to Amsterdam again nor going to Britain once my cousin Renee no longer lives there.

I hope that there will one day exist an American society where my family, friends and I won’t have the misfortune of criminality being ascribed to us based solely on the shades of our skins. Moreover, I hope that when I view four black male teenaged cyclists in New Haven on the ground in handcuffs while walking home from the grocery store I’ll be able to assume that the police are acting in good faith. I hope that if ever in need of help after an accident, police will aid me instead of cutting my life short in a brutal fashion. I also hope never to have to worry that my 14 and 15 year old brothers will have to be hesitant about walking in our predominantly white neighborhood on the I-4 corridor in Central Florida in the Yale hoodies I bought them–as some may see them as the “uniform” of criminals.

Race, though my most salient characteristic, isn’t something I overly concern myself with until I’m forced to confront it with the knowledge that in many of the places that I visit, my presence is deemed an imminent threat and my presence is undesired.

Posted in Black America, Pop Culture, Racial Profiling, Stereotypes.

4 Comments

  1. My hope is that anyone, of any race, can someday safely walk the streets of Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, or Memphis. Sadly, roving gangs of black thugs, many wearing hoodies and dreadlocks wantonly and routinely kill people on their turf. It’s simply modern-day lynchings but we cannot call them that, because only white people can lynch.

    “Another friend was questioned because he fit the description of a suspicious person (he was working at the Law School for work study and like any other student he favored hoodies as a comfortable and durable article of clothing). What was the description of the suspicious individual? A black man about 5’9 in a hoodie. My friend is 5’9 and black and liked hoodies. That’s all it took for him to be characterized as a criminal.”

    Quite honestly, if the officer had NOT stopped your friend, who matched the description perfectly, he would have been derelict in his duties. That’s NOT profiling.

    I am sick of the race chip that sits on so many shoulders. As long as there are racist organizations that exist solely for the advancement of one race over another, racism will continue to thrive. Some examples of such organizations: the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, and the United Negro College Fund.

  2. If there was no racism to begin with there would be no need for any of the groups you mentioned above. Those organizations sprung up because it was realized that the powers that be werenl only catering to those of a prescribed colour/background.

  3. Troy your comment shows your ignorance and complete inability to empathize with the struggles of being Black in a white dominated society. It is because of the actions of the dominant group that those organizations you named were created. They were not created simply to advance one race, but instead to help combat the actions of one race against another. Do your research buddy. Finally on police profiling how do you know that the police were not lying simply to harras the friend, police do this all the time I too been a victim of such harassment.

    • I am sick of being told I cannot understand what it’s like to be black in America. Can you understand what it’s like to be white in America? It ain’t no picnic. Many doors are closed. Many scholarships are available only for races other than white. Quotas in hiring and school admissions are skewed against whites. You have no idea what it’s like to be banned from somewhere just because of the color of your skin. I don’t see anybody trying to help the kids in utter poverty in Appalachia get into school, yet I also don’t see them playing knockout on their streets. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, this ain’t a white dominated society. The President is black. The Attorney General is black. Don’t tell me any black person can’t get a fair shake in America. That’s horsecrap.

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