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Jewish Journal

Racial Profiling: It’s Time to Look Each Other in the Eyes

by Lia Mandelbaum

July 29, 2013 | 2:13 pm

This altered image of Martin Luther King, Jr wearing a Trayvon Martin hoodie has been used heavily by Trayvon supporters since George Zimmerman was found not guilty.

I’m presently visiting my hometown of Tampa, FL, and one of my favorite activities to do while I’m here is to walk all around the Davis Islands neighborhood and community that I was raised in.  I listen to my music and walk around and connect with the incredible lush nature that surrounds me. Sometimes I like to go on late night walks when everything is quiet, and the only other beings I experience are usually birds also walking and cruising the block.  It’s such a serene space, where through out my life, I have rarely ever seen any cops circling around the neighborhood.  People know that if you commit a crime, its hard to escape the cops because unless you go swimming into the Tampa Bay, there is only one way on and one way off through a bridge that connects you to the main land. 

On a cold evening during a late night walk around the neighborhood, I decided to wear a hoodie.  As I was walking out of the lit up areas in the streets and into the dark shadows underneath the trees, I thought about the Trayvon Martin case and paused for a minute and wondered about what it would be like to be seen as a threat considering the time of night and me wearing a hoodie.  I even felt myself experience a sense of paranoia that took me out of the present moment.  I realized how it is such a luxury to be able to walk around your neighborhood without any fear of experiencing racial profiling. 

Since the Trayvon Martin case came to be at the forefront of the media, I’ve been happy to see and hear more discussions being held about the topic of racism within our nation.  As a white person, I have come to understand that I have only scratched the surface of developing an understanding of what it is like to experience the horrific racism that is so deeply embedded in our society.  I have committed to actively seek an awareness, without feeling the need to protect my ego and the rights I have as someone with white privilege. Instead I make sure to see it with my own eyes, ask questions and listen.

I’ve heard people (especially mothers) in the black community share their understandable anger and fear about the unpredictable and dangerous consequences that can result from racial profiling.   A black man and very dear friend of mine was telling me about how the Trayvon Martin case had personally impacted him and upset him.  He talked about how he has been racially profiled and was even threatened with a gun.  For many black people, Trayvon Martin’s case hits home because it is a scary reality that they have to face all the time.  My friend was telling me that when he’s in an area that is predominantly white, there is a certain code and way of carrying oneself.  It is even taught to them by their mothers for their safety.  This is done to avoid being seen as a threat to someone, which too often is merely because of the color of their skin and not the content of their character.  I am by no means trying to say that there are absolutely no black men out there who are dangerous, but when those situations occur its unfortunate how all black men are impacted by their actions and pigeon held into the same identity of being a threat to society.  Some see all black men as people to fear.  My friend is a beautiful person who brings such goodness to the world, and its awful to think about how his skin color and dread locks make him dehumanized by those who truly have no idea about who he is as such a great person. 

We live in society where we rarely look each other directly in the eyes out of the fear of being truly seen.  We use methods to escape our own discomfort within silence through things such as our cell phones.   I try to imagine a world where racial profiling doesn’t hold people back from looking other human beings in the eyes, and finding meaningful connections.  If we want to live in a more humane world, we must develop the courage to look other human beings in the eyes and ultimately into their souls.  This will help our nation to truly live by the words of Dr. martin Luther King…

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  -  Dr. Martin Luther King

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Lia Mandelbaum is getting her degree in social work at California State University-Los Angeles, and has an internship at Barbour & Floyd Mental Health Services.

She is a part...

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