The President and First Lady seem to jump to conclusion that being mistaken for a valet or asked to get something off the shelf had to do with race.
I have news for them. Those types of things happen to me, too.
I’ve been asked to get coffee. I’ve been asked by fellow patrons of stores “Do you work here?” I’ve been mistaken for servers at restaurants. I’ve been asked by others for help.
I’ve noticed such things happen when my clothes reasonably matches with what the employees of the establishment are wearing. When I’ve been asked for help, I always assumed it’s because I looked like a nice, approachable guy who would be more than willing to help.
Maybe the First Lady was asked to take something off the shelf because she is taller than the person who was asking and looks like a nice person that would help someone out.
Perhaps the President was mistaken for a valet because what he was wearing more closely resembled what the valets were wearing than what guests were wearing.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend. We were discussing racial profiling, I believe, and I had made a similar comment as above that race was not a key factor in such cases, but the way we frame it makes it seem so.
Him: Oh? So, are you telling me if you were walking down a dark alley and ran into two black dudes in hoodies you wouldn’t be concerned?
Me: Actually, that has happened to me and sometimes I was concerned and sometimes not.
Him: What do you mean?
Me: First, let me ask you something.
Me: Why did you ask me about ‘dudes in hoodies’? Why didn’t you just say ‘people’? If it was just about race you would have just said ‘black people.’ So, you already know that there’s more than just race at play.
Me: You’re saying that gender and what they are wearing are factors, too. Otherwise, you could have just said ‘people’. And, by ‘dudes’, most people tend to get the impression of young men. So, you are also implying age is a factor, too.
Me: So, now back to your question. My answer is, it depends.
Him: On what?
Me: What are they wearing? How are they behaving? How old are they?
Him: What do you mean?
Me: I have walked down lonely streets and encountered ‘black’ people on many occasions and only on a few of those I have had concerns.
If they were women, or men dressed professionally or casually and behaving politely, I didn’t have any concerns. When they were dressed like bums and behaving politely, no concerns, either. Would you in those cases? So, as you already admitted, gender, age and dress are important cues, even more important than race by itself.
If they are younger than 12 or older than 30 or so, I’m not concerned. So, age is also big factor.
Him: Oh. I guess I can see that.
Me: I have walked down lonely streets before and have encountered people of all races who were dressed like thugs and behaving like they were looking for trouble and that’s when I had concerns.
Come to think of I’ve encountered male, teenagers who were dressed like thugs, but didn’t appear to be looking for trouble and I was much concerned. So, maybe it wasn’t even the clothes, but the behavior that is the most important factor.
So, while ‘what would you do on a lonely street’ is a popular example people like to use because they think it gets at one’s true racial biases, that example fails in the asking, but few people notice.
Him: I was following. Now you lost me.
Me: Again, you asked me about ‘dudes in hoodies.’ Not just ‘people.’ Not women. Not young kids or older men. Not young men in professional or casual clothes. So, in the asking, you admitted that gender, age and clothes are important factors, so that’s why it fails in the asking. Yet, since this question is primed with ‘race,’ people tend to ignore all the other factors included as part of the trick and focus solely on one factor, race. What if you asked me, “Would you be concerned about running into two white dudes in hoodies on a lonely street?” My guess is you would be just as concerned. So, it’s really not about the race. It’s about ‘dudes in hoodies.’
I honestly can’t remember if I made any headway. But, he seemed to consider the train of thought.