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We All 'Profile' Each Other, Don't We?

January 12, 2002|STAN SELLERS

This wasn't the first time I had been racially profiled and being a black man, I know it won't be the last. This time, my kids--a 5-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter--and I were making our way through the men's department at Target in Granada Hills when I turned my head and caught the eye of a white woman, mid-30s, browsing through the sweaters. In a voice well beyond a whisper I heard her say, "Ma, watch your purse." My kids and I had just breezed by "Ma." I glanced back to notice Ma placing her purse under her arm and applying something that resembled a chokehold.

And as I said, this wasn't the first time. I remember walking into a shoe store, my same adorable kids in tow, and noticed a couple of other children playing on the floor. The mom, about two feet away, yelled to one of them as my kids and I approached, "Get my purse!"

The other incidents have played out nearly the same way. The people have always been white women and the thing they usually are protecting is the purse.

These women's paranoia may have been justified. Maybe they were victims of crimes once. But I have a hard time believing that I fit the profile of a purse snatcher. As an actor, I am cast to play many different roles, but never a mugger or thief. I always play professionals such as lawyers, doctors, teachers and dads. I'd like to audition for thuggish roles but no matter how hard I try to rough up my image, I end up looking like the professional having a bad day.

And it's not just black men who are looked upon with suspicion.

After the tragedy of Sept. 11, I, along with millions of other Americans, have been on the lookout for suspicious-looking Arab men. Which is every Arab man when you're on the "lookout." And I must admit to being slightly amused when I overheard some of these men complaining about being questioned by law enforcement solely based on their ethnicity. Of course I understand the seriousness of the situation, but it was nice to hear some other group complaining about being profiled.

But profiling isn't just for white women and police agencies. As a father I find profiling useful and necessary. When my daughter was a few months old my wife and I were in need of a nanny. We met with the owner of a particular agency whom I did not like because his face looked like it belonged on a wanted poster.

I profile my kids' friends. I'm cautious of the ones who lack self-discipline and defy my authority. I profile parents because I like rules. I like boundaries. And when those fail, I like discipline. Therefore, I steer clear of parents who appear not to set limits for their kids.

I can't avoid being profiled. I accept it as being a part of who I am. And who people think I am. Also, I can't avoid profiling others. Even white women. For instance I may strike fear in some of them, but some white women strike fear in me. Particularly the ones who drive SUVs.


Stan Sellers lives in Northridge.

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