Friday, November 12, 2010

When Racism Tends to Prove Itself

Sometimes, it seems as though I'm fighting a losing battle.

Yes, I know: to you, it probably seems like I fight a lot of losing battles! Like I'm some sort of Don Quixote of the blogosphere, picking fights with windmills in the form of elite Republicans and constitution-crossed Christians. Alas, if only I were as skinny as he was.

But no; while those battles may indeed be lost in the court of public opinion, I'm still convinced I'm right. Truth is truth regardless of whether or not the majority of people think it to be. Instead of my windmill wars, the battle I think I'm losing is my battle to be racially tolerant and non-prejudiced against people from other cultures. To lose this battle will mean I am unequivocally wrong.

And oddly enough, even here, the majority of people will probably think I am right to harbor mistrust of different cultures. Well, people who disagree with me when I pick on conservatives, anyway.

Tale of the Suspicious Honda

Yesterday morning, I witnessed two cars that I didn't recognize come slowly down the street in front of my house. One of them, a dark blue older-model Honda Accord, stopped, and the other, a dark green older-model Buick Century, pulled ahead of it and U-turned in the street.

A short, thin, Hispanic male got out of the Honda, opened its trunk, and took what appeared to be an overstuffed bag of something from the Honda to the trunk of the Buick. He returned to the Honda, got another bag out of its back seat, put it in the Buick's back seat, and jumped in the car himself. Then the Buick tore off up the street, in the direction from which it had just come.

Suspicious, I got my camera phone and went to the Honda which had been left in the street. About this time, a neighbor came out of her house, and we both began to chat about the Honda, which both of us knew didn't belong to anybody in the neighborhood.

Suddenly, the Buick returned from another direction, and the Hispanic guy hopped out with a car battery in his hands. We watched as he popped the hood of the Honda and proceeded to change out the batteries. My neighbor and I automatically assumed that the guy was having simple engine trouble, and we even casually called out to him that we thought the car was stolen. He laughed, but still couldn't get the car started. The Buick drove off, up the street, and eventually, the Hispanic guy closed the Honda's hood and walked up the street, presumably to a friend's house.

The Honda stayed in the street for the rest of the day, and on into this morning. That's when I began to get suspicious again.

By about 10:30 this morning, nobody had come to work on the Honda, and I smelled a rat. I got my cell phone and went out to the car, calling 911 to report an abandoned vehicle. The operator asked me for the license plate number, and when I told her, she quickly asked me to repeat it.

"Sir, that car has been reported as stolen," she sternly confirmed to me. "We'll have the police out to file a report shortly."

As it turns out, at about 9:00 am yesterday morning, a woman in Grand Prairie, the town between Arlington and Dallas, reported that her Honda had been stolen. The Hispanic guy turned up in our neighborhood only an hour later, probably intent on stealing something else, but surprisingly for him, the car he'd stolen only an hour ago died in the street. His partners in crime, following behind in the Buick, took him someplace to get a battery, but it, too, was dead. At least, whatever was broken in the Honda wasn't fixed by getting a different battery. At any rate, the Accord still wouldn't start, so they abandoned it there on our street.

Thinking It Through

Now, a lot of things don't add up. The police said car thieves often cruise suburban neighborhoods to ditch stolen cars, but if that's what they were doing in our neighborhood, why did they bother to come back with a different battery? And why did they even take the risk of stopping in front of my neighbor's house, when the two of us were on her front walk, looking at the Honda? Why did they think the battery was the Honda's problem, after they had smashed the ignition switch to start it in the first place? (The police said that was how they stole the car.) The Hispanic guy had even muttered something to me about needing a jump start, but that's where the story got weirder still.

I've always heard preachers say that men should stop and offer to fix broken-down cars on the side of the road. But I've never done that, mostly because I'm not a mechanic, but also because of my good ol' New York training to not get involved. So I just walked into my house, although something in my conscience chided me that I should get my car and help the guy out. But I ignored that little voice, and didn't really think about it again until the cop told me the car was stolen.

What if I'd gotten my car - a much newer Honda Accord - out of my garage to help jump-start the guy's battery? Since he'd just stolen the older Honda, might he have pulled a gun on me and demanded my own car instead? What about if he'd pulled a gun on my neighbor and me when he returned to the old Honda?

Why Did He Have to be Hispanic?

I should have called 911 when my neighbor and I first had suspicions about that old Honda. If I had, the police might have caught the criminals, or at least gotten the stolen car returned to its rightful owner sooner. But my neighbor and I both tried to give the Hispanic guy the benefit of the doubt.

For me, at least, my thought process went this way: if this was a young white guy, would I automatically think there was something nefarious about this situation? Was it because it was a young Hispanic male that I had gotten suspicious? It's not a crime for people - Hispanic or otherwise - to have car trouble, even if they don't live in your neighborhood. If I was in a Hispanic neighborhood, and had car trouble, would the Hispanic residents get upset having a white guy leave his car in the street to go and get help?

To what extent did my efforts at being politically correct allow this Hispanic guy to get away with auto theft? It had rained between yesterday and when I called 911, so the police didn't even bother to check for fingerprints. Granted, if I had called 911 yesterday, the car wasn't stolen, and the Hispanic guy came back with a tow truck as the police were inspecting the car, I'd have looked pretty stupid.

But as it turns out, the Hispanic guy was a crook, and I would have been interpreting the situation correctly had I not fought the artificial element of refuting racial profiling. Because racial profiling is the more natural response, isn't it? Down here in the southwest, the statistics run hard against Hispanics and blacks when it comes to crime. Granted, a plethora of reasons exists for this reality, but still, it's reality. We have a few white bank robbers, but most street crime comes at the hands of people with darker skin.

I Want to do the Right Thing, but What Is It?

I'm an odd person - I readily admit it. And because I'm different, I don't like being pigeonholed by other people, or having other people making false assumptions about me. So I try hard not to do the same to other people. It may not seem like it sometimes, but I do.

So it's extremely discouraging to me when things happen that tend to prove why many people actually are racist. I don't want to be forced to look at everybody who I don't recognize as belonging in my neighborhood - which is about 95% white, an anomaly in central Arlington - with a suspicious eye, particularly if their skin tone is different than mine.

But it sure seems like this Hispanic auto thief has given me plenty of reason to justify it. And maybe that's what I dislike most of all.

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