I guess I’m what you might call an anglophile. Brought up white, loving white, as it were.
I am actually of mixed race and my birth last name is very Hispanic. However my mom and birth father divorced when I was very young, I was brought up a by a white German/American dude from Long Island. I didn’t grow up eating rice and beans, platanos (fried bananas), and all that. My grandparents would introduce me to the culture when I’d visit, but time and distance has made it hard for us to keep up. My mother was also Irish and French so I’ve got a whole half of my ancestry which is scrubbed white. White as white can be. So I’m white. I hate answering that question on job applications because the choices are always: “White, Hispanic, Two-or more races (not Hispanic) or Prefer not to identify.” I always choose the last because of my particular indignation towards the question. I guess if I wanted to make my life easier I’d answer the question the way that they want me to (WHITE) but I’m not really interested in beginning my relationship with a company telling a lie.
Anyway, I’m currently living in the Inwood section of Manhattan (a VERY Hispanic neighborhood) and I got on the train today with my computer in my backpack and there were three police officers doing a “random bag search.” The sign said something like “This search is voluntary and you don’t have to submit to it, but we can detain you.” Whatever. I was more embarrassed because I had a bag of trash that I was planning on throwing out in the subway trash can. The woman we’re staying with has very specific trash rules in her building and the wife and I don’t make a lot of trash so we’ve been keeping it separate and throwing it out on public streets. Anyway, no bother. I approached the table with confidence, I had nothing to hide.
“Hey there,” I said swinging my book-bag onto their table.
The three officers, two white and one African American looked at me quizzically, almost as though they’d forgotten why they were there. When I lingered a beat the one white officer who’d been standing ajar the table sort of blurted out to me.
“It’s random screening sir!”
I’d interrupted his story with the other white officer about…something obviously much more interesting than my bag. I retracted my backpack and looked at the officer who’d spoken to me. He kind of looked like a younger Kevin James (“King of Queens”). He wasn’t quite as heavy as James, but he was young yet. He’ll get there.
“I guess it’s your lucky day,” the James look-alike said and his eyes led me away from the table. I quickly pulled myself from the situation, swiped my Metrocard and threw out my trash. The two white officers went on talking as the third played with his lapel.
I know that racial profiling goes on all the time but this one occasions seemed particularly overt. How do you know I don’t have a pipe bomb in my bag? What makes you think that just because I was willing to submit to a bag check I wouldn’t have bolted as soon as you began inspecting too close to illicit material?
It’s situations like this which remind me why I don’t submit to racial profiling questions on job questionnaires. Just because I am Hispanic doesn’t mean I’m going to steal from you or go on unemployment (for my “at will” job no less). Just because I check off “white” with my Anglo last name doesn’t mean I’m still not going to steal from you or your company. If anything these cops should have been more suspicious of me. I was an out of place looking white kid with glasses in northern Manhattan, I was the exception.
Its’ time we broke down these walls of racial profiling and began to look through these stereoytypes at the person and what they bring to the table. As an employee, as a commuter, or as a human being, we shouldn’t just judge by the color of someone’s skin.