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
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
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
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.