Monday, November 5, 2007


I've been thinking a lot about judgment, primarily about being judgmental and judging others. It's easy to be judgmental because it's a human thing to judge--to form opinions. But there is a line between having an opinion and making a judgment (and then there's being righteous, but that's the topic for another post). I don't want to get too personal about why I'm thinking about judgment, although anyone who has returned home and been around large numbers of your extended family in an emotional time can understand that this is a topic that may come up.

I do want to share something I did yesterday that I wasn't proud of. My brother and I were driving at night in San Francisco. I haven't driven in the city in a while and always get a bit frazzled with the traffic, one way streets, and aggressive drivers (I've lived in the South too long now and am used to a slower pace). We were stopped at an intersection near the Civic Center and there was a young white man with dreds, who may have been homeless and may have been mentally unstable (he was making certain repetitive hand gestures in an odd fashion). He was panhandling along the median, approaching the drivers of the stopped cars, and as he approached our car, I locked my driver side door.

That's the first time I've ever done that. Did I really think I would be harmed by this guy? Did I really feel so unsafe? It was an automatic reaction and I've wondered what kind of judgments I was making in that split second. I also wonder if I would have done this if he was a person of color. I don't think I would have. I think I've tried to train myself in anti-racist practices that even though I may have been inclined to do it if the man had been black, Latino, or Asian, I wouldn't have because I would have felt I was perpetuating certain racist beliefs. And yet a white guy with dreds is someone I can be free to make judgments about because I think he may be a bit crazy and therefore a threat.

Again, perhaps I'm overthinking the whole thing. But still, my automatic reactions and judgments don't reflect well on me. Perhaps I need to be thinking more about compassion, because that's really the flip side of judgment--to find a place of common humanity and compassion.


Lesboprof said...

I am not sure I agree with your self-condemnation. I think that people who lock their doors just because a person of color is walking past, regardless of any assessment, are dealing with (or need to deal with) an issue--or a set of issues.

That said, people do get carjacked in big cities. Women do get assaulted by men fairly frequently. If a man is approaching cars and seems to be behaving in an erratic manner, it makes some sense to act to protect oneself.

I can't quite believe someone who grew up in a city doesn't lock her doors all the time! I always do. THAT is the sign of too long in the South! ;-)

I'd give yourself a little bit of a break. Compassion IS important, but it really should not trump basic self-protection. I am not saying we should all be afraid of all people who are homeless, or who have mental illness, because I don't. Most people who live on the street would not harm you. But I do always think caution in most situations is useful and important, especially for women.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the reassurance that I wasn't being entirely irrational. I actually have locked my doors in certain cities, and while driving through certain neighborhoods where I know that car jackings have taken place. And you are right--there is a difference between safety, especially as a woman at night, and random racial profiling.

I think I felt embarassed because it seemed like such a non-city reaction to have--honestly, the part of the city we were driving in wasn't a "bad" part--and I don't think I would have locked my door in the past (which may speak more to my own lack of common sense in some situations) and when I say the guy was approaching the drivers--he never actually made contact, he just would duck down and hold out his hand in pantomime, in a clear gesture that he was panhandling.

But yes, basic protection is important, and especially for women--because violence towards women is a very real issue.