Thursday, January 18

Race vs. Skin Tone (do you really know what someone looks like if you can only identify race?)

I happened to see an old article from a Twin Cities-area campus newspaper and found it interesting.

Apparently, though no one is complaining about specific descriptors of HOW peach or HOW brown a person's skin color is in crime reports, two students represented complaints about not-actually-physically-descriptive terms like "black" or "African American" being on the little security alert flyers that the college puts up around campus.

West, by the way, spent his major and earned a Rhodes scholarship studying what psychologists and other scholars have figured out about the way people perceive race. Just a little tidbit from other issues of that paper.

Until I read the article, I hadn't thought much about the idea that there were both nonoffensive and offensive ways to report skin color in crime reports, and that there are pretty good English words for showing that they're differentiated based on helpfulness (or unhelpfulness).

Check out how the two students put it at the end of this quote:

[Security chief] Gorman said it is difficult to decide whether to use race when it is the only descriptor that a victim remembers, because he wants to provide as much information in security alerts as possible. He said that victims tend to give very vague descriptions when recounting an incident.

“We’re going to use skin tone colors and other descriptors that could be helpful but sometimes [race is] all people remember,” Gorman said.

West and Littell argue that if a person only remembers the race of the person and cannot remember any other physical characteristics that gave them the impression that they belong to a certain race, then they do not actually know what the person looks like.

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