more of the same

Howdy partners,

Here’s the latest from our cyberbully, ellipses indicate deletion of specific names:

It is certainly true that genetics has a role in how we look, and certainly has an effect on the pigment of our skin. That is science. However, when we generalize beyond a particular individual to describe characteristics that could be applicable to all in a certain class, then we can run into the difficulties of ethical stereotyping and misperceptions, which led Senator McCain to recently say in public that Iran is training Al Quida terrorists, which must be surprising to the Iranians who Shiite Persians as opposed to Al Quida, most of whom are Sunni Arabs. What, exactly is a Middle-East appearance or accent? We have such people on our faculty, and if there is a common denominator in either category, it escapes me. And yet some of the comments that have been posted seem downright silly to me. No one discounts the seriousness of the crime, not the state of mind of the victim. But S., T., L, and I are trying to show people how easy it is to confuse facts with inferences and to assign putative or circumstantial blame to “the other.” Years ago there was a single male in my department who, at the time. was single as I was. He was interested in American History, as I am, so I invited him to my apartment where I cooked a meal for us. afterwards I asked if he would like to go to a place with live music and see if we could meet some women and go dancing. He politely declined, said he was working on an article and wanted to do some more writing before retiring. About a dozen years later a friend of mine from graduate school took me out for lunch at a convention and told me that my colleague was gay, and that is why he declined to go out dancing with me. I learned an important lesson then. You seldom can see gay people, and most of the ethnic, racial, and geographical generalizations are myths. Not all Swedish women are blond, not all Italians drink wine (I know my step-=mother doesn’t drink anything alcoholic). The description that M.  put on our list said that the perp was a “MIDDLE EASTERN MALE WITH BUSHY EYEBROWS. It did not say that the victim thought that he might have been. No, it states, as a fact, that he IS Middle Eastern, has bushy eyebrows and is six feet tall. How many of you will wager with me that all three descriptors are correct. That the perp is Middle-Eastern, has bushy eyebrows, and is six-feet tall? Furthermore, should we now be afraid of G? Now the woman was under stress. But let us assume that the Police and M. are not equally stressed.

. . . stereotypes are dangerous. The people who live in and come from the Middle East probably have enough stress in their lives without imputing criminality or terrorism to them. Perhaps it will turn out that the perp was all three: Middle-Eastern with bushy eyebrows and six-feet tall. And I reject the argument that female victims of crime deserve special consideration or pathos. I have always contended that Central would benefit from a Committee on the Concerns of Men. I had to wait many years before I arranged a program on Prostate Cancer. I once listened to a student speech about abortion. The speaker sired the child and asked the class, rhetorically, if he had any rights concerning it being aborted. When I read Heather, I sometimes believe that I belong to a disenfranchised gender, at least in the work place. which explains why I protested the Take Your Daughters to work day. Sexist, isn’t it?”

Here’s my reply:

I was inclined to let this go, but since B__ has both questioned my intelligence (by referring to me and others who dare disagree with him as a “dumb-dumb”), called me a redneck, and in his latest message seems to suggest I’m sexist as well, then I’ve decided not to remain “dumb,” i.e mute.

First off, let me agree with L__ — you’re right, we need to pay attention to both the young woman who was attacked and the problem of racial profiling. S__, thanks for explaining your position, I understand your concerns much better now. B__, I find your messages counterproductive in that they replicate prejudice as much as they seek to criticize it. The word “dumb” was once a slur against deaf/mute persons, and is still seen as such by many members of the Deaf community since it links hearing impairment with cognitive disability. Also, the term “redneck” show class prejudice, in that it was coined by southern elites to refer to poor southern whites. There’s also an element of regional snobbery as well.

What concerned me from the start, and what still concerns me, is the underlying assumption that the description is a fabrication (and on that note I regret my use of the word “erroneous.”) We don’t have the first hand account of the young woman. Perhaps she say the attacker’s skin color, heard an accent that sounded like persons from Iraq and other middle-eastern countries she’s seen on T.V., and came up with middle-eastern male. Or maybe that inference was made in the police department. Perhaps I’m misreading all of this, but several of you seem to be suggesting that someone is lying, either the victim, the police, or both. Until we have more information, I don’t think it’s appropriate to question this young woman’s integrity or honesty.

I would add that we have had numerous police reports regarding perpetrators from other racial minorities. Yet, the issue of racial profiling has never come up in that context.

Finally I have an anecdote similar to M.A. — Back in the 1990s, I was pulled out of line, had my luggage examined, was patted down, and questioned at Heathrow on the way back to the U.S. from London. I just thought it was a random search, but it turns out I fit the profile Scotland Yard had for IRA suicide bombers — i.e. young, white female, traveling alone.

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