Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Talk about Profiling!

I have just been a victim of, and I believe, to some extent, racial.

I'm writing about it, not because I want to whine to the netizens who would read this about the bad day I had, but because I feel my story has a pertinent point to make about the whole discussion on profiling and prejudice.

So there I was at the corner of P and 35th, seat belt on, headlights on, foot on brakes, right turning signal on to indicate I was intending to pull out. I was the last car parked on the left side of the one way street. I looked behind to check in all 3 directions, looked in the rear view and side mirrors. Clear. Then, in the spilt second it took as I started to pull out, there he was, zipping right past me.

The point of contact between the two vehicles: my right front bumper, and his left back passenger door. So, you physicists out there can calculate how fast the other car must have been coming, especially if, according to him later, he had stopped at the stop sign on 35th, where my vehicle with all its lights on would have been fully visible.

He had to back up to pull to the side, so his car could still move. My car could still move. We both got out. Neither of us were hurt. So, as far as I know, the thing to do at that point would have been to exchange insurance information and make out respective reports.

He started yelling at me.

"I didn't see you! You didn't see me?"

"No, I didn't see you. We should exchange insurance information."

"Yeah I got insurance. It's your fault."

"I don't think we need to discuss whose fault it is."

He was yelling louder and louder, and I didn't want to get into an argument. We both got our paperwork from our cars. As he walked back towards me, he must have seen the Georgetown sticker on my car.

"You're going to make it seem like it's my fault! You're making me nervous! I don't have a good education like you! I'm calling the police!!"

I was making him nervous? What does my college have to do with this?

"Ok if that's your decision...but as far as I know, if nobody is hurt we shouldn't be calling the emergency number."

He called 911.

Fine. We'll make a police report then. But seriously, someone else could be really hurt and needing those officers to be there.

"Well, while we're waiting for the police to come, should we just exchange information cos we're going to have to do it anyway?"

I spent the next 20 minutes waving my insurance card at him trying to get him to see the sense in that. He spent that same amount of time yelling at me.

"How am I going to pay for this? I'm struggling you know! I just got this car!"

(Well, mister, I've been looking for a job FOREVER. And while everyone says they don't discriminate, seriously, when they see my resume, they don't see my experience, more than 10 years in journalism and PR and marketing, and the fact that I'm proficient in two languages and speak another two. They see a mum who left her career five years ago, and they will pass me up for someone who is younger and can work longer hours. While we're on profiling, let's just say it as it is.)

At this point, it struck me that he was indirectly admitting that he contributed to the accident. Why else would he have to worry about paying?

"I'm upset!"

Yes, I can see that and so can all these people walking by, giving me looks that said they were concerned for me but didn't know if they should intervene.

"I just came from the hospital. I'm having a bad day. I had to look after my father!"

At this point, I went from being frustrated at his barrage to empathy.

"Look, I'm sorry you're having a bad day. I have someone I need to look after too. My daughter is waiting for me to take her lunch and pick her up. The thing we need to do is exchange our information and make out reports."

I've always believed that if you treat people with kindness, compassion and openness, they will reciprocate. Today, I learned that unfortunately, it is not always so.

"No, I want to do this the right way or you're going to say it's my fault."

Firstly, I was the one who said we shouldn't be discussing whose fault it was, and let the insurance companies handle it. More importantly, the right way is not to abuse emergency services for this kind of scuffle huffle.

When the police arrived, he didn't give me a chance to speak to the officer. He just kept right on yelling. I told the officer respectfully that I was going to go sit in my car because I couldn't handle anymore of that man's yelling.

To cut the drama short, the police did what we should have done...collected information and gave the respective parties the other party's information. But of course, first he had to do all the checks on our IDs, vehicles, etc. What could have been a 5-minute resolution turned into a one-and-a-half hour ordeal.

Why? Profiling is to blame. He had profiled me as 1. someone who went to a good college, 2. by the inference of number one and the color of my skin, one of those smart Asians and 3. by inference of the above, probably connected with friends in important places. So then he jumped to the conclusion that I was going to oppress him and use whatever smarts and connections I have to make him pay money.

Regardless of the fact that I had said repeatedly, very calmly to him, that I wasn't going to discuss blame, I didn't want to argue with him, I just want to do the right thing, which is to exchange information and make our respective reports, he wouldn't hear the facts. Perhaps he had some nasty experience in the past that colored his worldview and made him afraid that he was going to be victimized. I wonder if there would ever be a day when he reflects on the incident and see the whole irony of the situation.

I wonder if he realized that he was the one who was guilty of racial and social profiling. Just because I had a college degree (and maybe he doesn't) he became aggressive and wanted to intimidate me. I wonder what he would think if he knew that when I was a little girl, my parents were so poor that we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.

The point of this story is that profiling doesn't always happen in just one way. The whole conversion about prejudice and profiling can only make meaningful progress if everyone is willing to step away from their limited color schemes and social bandwidth.

This is not just a conversation about black-and-white, rich-or-poor, grad-non grad. It is about the baggage that each and every person, regardless of color or social status, carries in their hearts about the world around us.

So, keep talking about profiling, people. This conversation has just begun. And it's time for some honesty here.

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