Was that profiling?

I’d like to talk about something that happened on the way home from a book talk last night -- something related to our discussion that troubled me.

I was invited to speak about “The Class of ’65” at North Springs United Methodist Church in Sandy Springs, north of Atlanta. After a fine barbecue dinner in the fellowship hall, the pastor, Sara Webb Phillips (seen here), introduced me and we talked about the book and its themes of forgiveness and reconciliation. Near the end of the session, one of the members said that her children were much less race-conscious than older generations and expressed hope that the passage of time will help heal our divisions. I nodded in agreement. Then, on the way home, my wife and I encountered something that reminded me that some attitudes are so deep-seated that it takes more than time to unravel them.

Pam and I stopped by a Kroger store to pick up some milk and were approached in the parking lot by two African-American boys, maybe 12 years old, who said they were selling peanut brittle for a school fund-raiser. We found it odd that they were doing that at 8:45 p.m., but they were polite and had a clipboard to write down orders, so we came away thinking that maybe it was all legit. 

As we approached the store, two white women who looked to be college-age motioned us over and asked what those boys were doing. 

"They said they were selling peanut brittle for a school project," I said. 

"Well," one of them replied, "I had my car window broken the other night, and I just didn't want to deal with that again.

Pam and I glanced at each other knowingly and walked on.

I don’t blame the young women for being suspicious of someone selling candy in a parking lot after dark. I mean, we were. But to see two black kids like that and immediately think about your car having been vandalized -- some people would call that racial profiling. It’s a good example of the tribal assumptions we all make in our day-to-day lives. This is the hard part, people: facing our attitudes honestly and dealing with them.

Maybe we can discuss it at my next book talk.