I used to drive a dangerous mountain road several times a week. I was often the subject of road rage because I insisted on respecting the speed limit. Every time I sensed I was getting into a tangle, I quickly determined if the other driver was a man or a woman. If a woman, I felt immediately relieved. I thought it was completely unlikely that a woman who take a shot at me, a male driver, not so sure. I lived with the belief that women almost never shoot men they don’t know. I thought they only kill husbands, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands and, horrifically, their own children.
I hear that the search for a serial sex murderer is narrowing around a Baptist church frequented all week long by many old black ladies. I tell the detective in charge that he is out of his mind, wasting taxpayers’ money. I think nearly all serial murderers are white, and male, and loners.
Stupid sexist and racist?
In line in front of me at the airport, is an old nun in habit with a Norwegian passport. She mutters something about God that causes the security personnel to frisk her thoroughly. I am annoyed. Focus on someone else, I think.
Stupid sexist and religiously intolerant to boot?
This is 2003, or 4 or 5. I take a long plane trip from California to a Muslim country with a Muslim friend who is a citizen of that country. He has brown skin and brown eyes, and a first name and last name typical of the area. We make two stops en route. He is nowhere singled out for attention except precisely when we finally reach our destination, his country. He is pissed off, but not at his country’s controls.
Racist, religiously intolerant self-hatred on his part?
This is all about profiling. Profiling is what people do. You can’t live without it: red hot metal: burn; green apples: diarrhea; protuberant breasts: female (could be good, not necessarily, careful); knuckle dragging: not one of ours.
Generalizations are not just useful, they are indispensable to life: My neighbor did not assault me yesterday, the day before, and for two hundred days preceding. I assume he is not going to come at me with a rock today. I leave my house and go to work without even looking back over my shoulder.
Many people I know well know just enough statistics to paralyze their thinking. Tip: A sample is a small number representing a large number. If you have the large number, you don’t need a sample. If you have 95% of the whole thing, your sample is probably representative. Do the obvious. Support what makes sense without abandoning your humanity. You can do two things at once. (Myself, I chew gum and drive at the same time, even frequently.)