Profilling. Assumptions. Hoodies.


The Trayvon Martin case breaks my heart. If you haven’t heard about it, a young kid was identified as a ‘threat’ and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman.

Other facts.

  • The watchman says it was self-defense. Wasn’t arrested at the time of the incident, either. Has a history of calling the cops and reporting suspicious activity in his neighborhood. Owned a gun. Allegedly stood his ground in the face of a perceived threat.
  • Kid who is dead? Young. Black. Walking back from buying Skittles and iced tea. Wore a hoodie.

For many people, appearances matter — even if we say they don’t.

  • If I wear a hoodie and walk through your neighborhood, I look like a soccer mom.
  • If a young black man wears a hoodie and walks through your neighborhood, he’s up to something.

I’ve actually heard people say, “Statistically speaking, he might have been up to something. That’s not racist. That’s why we profile Muslims at airports. They blow up planes. Grandmothers don’t.”

Funny how we’re all victims of lies, damned lies, and statistics. Elderly people might not blow up planes in America but Hezbollah and Hamas have used women, children, the elderly and the mentally disabled to try to blow up Israeli checkpoints and buses. And a 32-year-old woman from Iraq was found severely beaten next to a threatening note saying “go back to your country” — she she died over the weekend.

We are blind to risk.

But back to the hoodie — we are weak and stupid when we rely upon what we think we know. Even in the corporate world, our assumptions are what hurt us.

  • Some of us think that middle-aged, menopausal women with no college degree on a resume make perfect administrative workers. Guess what? Some of those women are involved in corporate espionage.
  • Many of us believe that Gen Y kids put our IT networks at risk because they’re on social networking sites. That might be true, but sometimes it’s really the marketing guy who lets his wife borrow his work computer to do some internet shopping that kills an IT infrastructure.

Not that I know about these situations personally. #justsayin

So pay attention to the Trayvon Martin story and think about the practical applications in your own life. Do you question your assumptions? Do you react to what you see before thinking through the plausible explanations? Are you unintentionally putting yourself and your community at risk by making superficial estimations based on statistics that may or may not be true? Are you hurting your company by making decisions based on a partial view of the facts?

Lots of lessons for all of us in this sad case. I hope we learn from it.

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