News & Politics

Don't Look Them In the Eyes?

Our Orwell dust bin nominee this week is the neoconservative shibboleth "rational discrimination," which is the idea that using skin color to predict criminal behavior is perfectly rational.
I've heard a number of older white men offer this bit of urban ghetto survival advice: "Don't look them in the eyes," which is supposedly a tactic that will aid the fearful in avoiding being victimized by violent ghetto-dwellers (i.e., black youth wearing "hip hop" clothing).

As one who was reared on East 28th Street -- a block in one of East Oakland's many notorious 'hoods -- and as one who grew up with "thugs" and "street hustlers," I know. It doesn't make me Jim Brown or Snoop Dogg.

But, just as sure as the Black Panther Party and the Hells Angels were born in Oakland, whoever said "don't look them in the eyes" is waaaay off the mark. As Flavor Flav would say, "don't believe the hype."

Before someone starts hollering "reverse racism," let me make it clear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that blacks don't, or haven't violently attacked whites, even if most of those instances weren't racially motivated but a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even more likely an occasion of class conflict (i.e., you-look-like-a-rich-person-I-can-rob-or-take-advantage-of). Nor am I justifying black rage. I'm simply offering (unsolicited) advice.

"Don't look them in the eyes?" That might be a good way to avoid provoking a dog attack, but even "thugs" aren't dogs. Yes, "they" can be viciously territorial, even sociopathic, but "they" are still human beings. And these particular human beings -- people living in Chocolate Cities while generating so much fear in the Vanilla Suburbs -- are usually too busy hustlin' and survivin' to even notice if you happen to stray off course like the Griswolds in the Vacation movie (unless, of course, you look like an undercover cop).

Older folk who are morally repulsed by rap music might listen a bit more carefully. Every major rap star out there is talking about getting paid. Beneath the foul language, crass materialism and misogyny, rappers are talking about personal responsibility, and they have done more to change the ghetto mind-set of "thugs" than Thomas Sowell, Colin Powell and Jesse Jackson combined.

But, if you do happen to run across a group of young hooligans out looking for "a good time," don't try to avoid eye contact as if they're invisible. It's perfectly safe to make eye contact, if you project a hey-how-you-doin' attitude. Now, I'm not saying it's a good idea to stare at people like their monkeys in a zoo, but you're more likely to be approached as a possible victim if "they" smell fear. And nothing smells more fearful than someone who won't look you in the eye "like a man."

That brings us to our Orwell dust bin nominee this week -- the neoconservative shibboleth "rational discrimination," which is the idea that using skin color to predict criminal behavior is perfectly rational. Hence, the argument goes, since black people supposedly commit more crime than do white people, it's rational for a law-abiding white person to "discriminate" against all blacks, unless the parties know each other personally.

But to keep it real, "rational discrimination" is just plain lazy thinking, riddled with questionable assumptions, that serves to rationalize bigotry with intellectual-sounding verbiage.

Just because there's a larger percentage of blacks in prison than whites, what does that mean? Convicted criminals don't represent all criminals. Do you know how many unsolved crimes there are? The people in jail are those criminals who were either unlucky, poor or stupid enough to get caught.

Neocon egg-head Dinesh D'Souza, a person of color himself, helped legitimize "rational discrimination," writing an entire book attempting to justify the nonsense. Ironically, D'Souza, who is staunchly opposed to affirmative action, is a good example of why there may still be a need for affirmative action. I mean, they're giving Ph.Ds and positions at prominent think tanks to turn out this kind of stuff? This is what passes for "highly qualified" in a so-called meritocracy?

Next week I'll explore the "it's racism" pronouncement too often uttered by too many of my black brothers and sisters whenever some frustration with "the system" emerges.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.
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