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The Race Is On

by Stephen Lautens


March 2, 2001

It was one of your typical late night, after hours club shootings. No one was seriously injured, and the alleged gunmen ran off into the night. There were lots of witnesses, and the police wanted the public's help in catching the shooters. The news carried a description of the wanted men. You know - so tall, so old, jeans, baseball cap.

Then they stopped. The description of the wanted men didn't include the colour of their skin.

Skin colour has always been a touchy subject - and for good reason. There are still a lot of boneheads around who judge people by their race. Usually a bunch of pimply losers who want to take credit for 'their people's' accomplishments to compensate for the fact they've done nothing with their own lives.

But when you're describing someone you want the public to be on the lookout for, skin colour is something a little more helpful and permanent than a baseball cap.

The media has a rule that race is not disclosed in a news story unless it is relevant to the story itself. But we're getting so touchy you can't even use it to describe anyone. The result is, I don't know who I should be on the lookout for. It's like describing the getaway car in a hit-and-run as having four wheels and possibly an engine.

I was at a party a while ago and someone asked me to match a name to an unfamiliar face. "Over there," I said, "the black guy."

"Shhhh!" she hissed. "He might hear you."

"It's okay," I said. "I'm pretty sure he knows he's black."

I suppose I could have said "the guy in the red sweater", but there were a couple of red sweaters in the room and only one black person. I also could have said "the guy who collects stamps, rides a Harley, and enjoys long walks in the rain," but none of those things were particularly helpful in pointing him out since he didn't have any stamps or his motorcycle with him, and wasn't particularly damp.

I wasn't insulting his heritage, lifestyle or value as a person. I was just trying to be descriptive. The purpose of describing someone is so they can be distinguished from everyone else. But we apparently aren't allowed to identify people using the most obvious thing about them.

Trust me - I just got back from a week in China, and if someone pointed me out and said: "Lautens? He's the only tall blond guy within twenty city blocks," I don't think I'd take offence.

It's very different than saying: "Lautens? He's the big foreign barbarian with atrocious table manners and a disturbing smell," although you might argue both versions may simply just be an accurate description.

Some people think that the rest of us are so dumb that we can't see the difference between one person being bad, and a everyone else who looks like them being bad too.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for two persons (who may or may not be men, women or transgendered individuals) whose age and weight is none of your business, between four and seven foot tall.

They are considered armed and dangerous, or possibly only desperate to be understood.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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