Hillary Clintontold a mixed audience, “I mean, if we\’re honest, for a lot of well-meaning,open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie stillevokes a twinge of fear“. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of thatobservation, I\’d like to ask a question. Would well-meaning, open-minded whitepeople have a similar fear at the sight of an elderly black man using a walkerand wearing a hoodie?
Whether we likeit or not, easily observed physical characteristics – such as race, sex, heightand age – convey information. That’s because there is often a correlationbetween those characteristics and other characteristics not so easily observed.Say that you\’re a police commander faced with the task of finding vandalsresponsible for slashing car tires and smashing windows. How much of the city\’sresources would you expend investigating 60- to 70-year-old Chinese men? Youprobably wouldn\’t spend resources on any men in that age group. So who isresponsible for your decision not to investigate 60- to 70-year-old Chinese menand other men of the same age? If you said it\’s the behavioral reputation ofthat demographic as a group, you’d be absolutely right.
So what are we tomake of Clinton\’s observation? Who is responsible for “a lot of well-meaning,open-minded white people” experiencing a “twinge of fear” at “the sight of ayoung black man in a hoodie”? Before coming up with your answer, know that incities such as New York, Chicago and Washington, black taxi drivers often avoidpicking up young black males. A black female commissioner in Washington oncewarned cabdrivers against picking up “dangerous-looking” characters – forexample, a “young black guy … with (his) shirttail hanging down longer than hiscoat, baggy pants, (and) unlaced tennis shoes.” A black and Hispanic presidentof the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers told his drivers to “profile” their passengers. “The God\’s honest truth is that 99 percent of the people thatare robbing, stealing, killing these drivers are blacks and Hispanics,” hesaid.