I once heard someone say that the definition of a Conservative is a Liberal who has been robbed. I do not know whether that is true or not, but it makes me think about a story that I’d heard about.

Mr. Smith is the owner of a local dance studio. He gives dance lessons three evenings per week to children ranging in age from 7 to about 15. He knows the children rather well and also is quite familiar with the parents of the children as he sees them as often as he does their children. Some of the older children have been coming for lessons for a few years now. Mr. Smith was recently disturbed by a story about an incident that occurred at another dance studio on the other side of town.

A person, who was described as a “male Hispanic approximately 25 years of age”, was seen lurking around the dance studio across town with unknown intentions. He had been seen by several of the parents on a few occasions who were concerned about what this unknown male may be up to. One evening, the male was seen taking photographs of the children. Two of the children later reported that this unknown male also exposed more than just his film to the startled youngsters. The parents of all of the children, as well as the owner of that dance studio, were quite concerned about the safety of the children. In addition, the owner of the dance studio was concerned about how this incident of indecent exposure and stalking of his students would affect his business.

Mr. Smith, who considers himself an “open minded, socially conscious” person was shocked by the story. Yes, he was concerned about the safety of his students as well as his business and was worried that this person or someone like him would be stalking around his parking lot too. But he was also shocked about how this male was described as being “Hispanic”. Why does race always have to come into things?

Mr. Smith’s dance studio is located in a small shopping center between a bagel store and a card shop. Further down is an insurance office and a dry cleaner. Due to the fact that his last dance lessons are over at 9 PM, his business is the only one open at that hour. Each night around 9, the parents of each of the children enter the parking lot and wait for their kids to come out of the studio. One night, at around 8:30 PM, Mr. Smith notices a car parked on the far side of the parking lot in front of his building that is occupied by a male Hispanic, approximately 25 years old. Could this be the child stalker?

Mr. Smith is initially embarrassed at himself for stereotyping the person because of his race. He wonders now if “Hispanic” is even a race at all. It seems to Mr. Smith that when he went to school years ago, there were only three races in the world – and none of them were “Hispanic”.  It is interesting, he reflects, how new races were invented since then in order to segregate ourselves more from each other and how science could be employed to delineate whatever genetic or biological differences we have from each other and then wonder why we don’t all live happily together. But wait, that suspicious male “human being” is still outside – possibly in wait for my students to exit the building. 

Mr. Smith dithers for a few minutes as the clock approaches 9PM. Maybe he should call the police. But what is he going to say to them? It is a free country right? This man in the parking lot has every right to go where he pleases, right? Maybe he is going to one of the other businesses in the shopping center. But they are all closed. Maybe he is one of the employees of one of the other stores who is just working late. But Mr. Smith is friendly with the other employees of the other businesses because he has been here for years, this man is not one of them. Maybe it is a parent of one of the children? But Mr. Smith knows all of the parents of all of the children and none of them are Hispanic.

 Mr. Smith is momentarily stunned about his realization that he must in fact be racist if none of his students are Hispanic. Maybe when this is over, he will kick out some white kid to make room for a Hispanic kid to show the world how progressive he is. He further realizes that the shopping center he is in must be owned by a racist because every business there is owned by a white male. How could he never have known this until now? He makes a mental note to petition the landlord to ensure that each business is owned by one White(him of course) and then one of each of the “protected classes” of the day: 1 Black (or African-American), 1 Homosexual, 1 Hispanic, 1 Muslim, 1 Illegal Alien and 1 Female. They will have to build an additional building in the shopping center to have enough to go around but this will sure be a progressive place.

But back to the suspicious man. Mr. Smith tries in vain for a while to concoct a plausible story in his mind that would explain the suspicious man’s presence. He then realizes that it is not up to him to try and rationalize away something that may be a danger to his customers or his business. He is interested in this revelation about how your whole perspective shifts when things directly affect you or the ones you care about.

He decides to call the police. But should he describe the male as being “Hispanic”? What if he is called a racist? Like most Americans who really do not care much at all about what race somebody is, he is more afraid of being accused of racism. Maybe he will leave out the part about the “Hispanic” appearance in giving the police a description. Plus, what if a police officer with a Hispanic sounding name answers the 911 call? He imagines the police officer saying, “What, you think that all Hispanics are child molesters?” Mr. Smith is quite squeamish about offending anyone.

Finally, Mr. Smith decides to just tell the police that there is a suspicious male… wait, he hesitates, does he believe that all males are child molesters? What kind of sexist must he be? Okay, maybe just a “subject” in a run-down looking car… am I saying that all poor people, who may have a run down car, are criminals? Okay, leave out the car part. A “subject” about 25 years… so all 25 year olds are sex maniacs then right? He dials 911 and tells the operator that there is a suspicious person in his parking lot.

“What is this person doing?” the operator asks.
“Just acting suspicious, I think he..er.. this person — may be a child stalker,” Mr. Smith reports.
“What does this ‘person’ look like?”
“I really would rather not say. Can’t you just send a police car down here to investigate and see if they can just look for anything, well suspicious?”

Finally, something clicks and Mr. Smith gives up being evasive. He realizes that this person fits the description of a subject wanted for stalking children at a nearby dance studio. He no longer feels the need to try to feel guilty. He knows how important the description is in establishing his suspicion and reports this to the police.

The police arrive at the parking lot and approach the only 25 year old Hispanic male there. The subject complains to the police that the only reason they picked him out from all the other people in the parking lot was because he was the only Hispanic. After playing that card and expecting an argument from the police, the subject is shocked when the police tell him that he is absolutely correct.

“We did pass by every single other person in this parking lot to go to you, the only Hispanic here. We singled you out solely because of your appearance and your race. You were the only person of interest here and we did in fact let everybody else go home,”explains the officer.

The 25 year old male Hispanic turned out to indeed be the wanted child stalker and he was arrested. The original complainants from the other dance studio positively identified him as the offender and this positive ID was made solely on the appearance of the man in that he looked just like the bad guy.

Mr. Smith through this valuable experience learned an important lesson about perceptions of racism versus reality.