Friday, March 23 , 2018, 1:55 pm | Mostly Cloudy 61º


Harris Sherline: Profiling Exists, and Everyone Does It

It's only natural for people of certain characteristics to want to stick together

We hear a lot these days about diversity: The need for ethnic diversity, the importance of tolerance, the benefits of policies that promote diversity, how much we have gained from the contributions of the varied ethnic groups in our population.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

I rarely looked beyond the constant media drone about diversity, which, after a time, began to dull my senses: Diversity is good, diversity is important, diversity is valuable, diversity is fair, diversity is right, diversity is the law, diversity, diversity, diversity. We are almost totally immersed in it, constantly bombarded by the message.

Eventually I became so turned off by the barrage of preaching about “diversity” that I started tuning it out. It began to bother me. Not the fact of diversity itself, but all the talk about it. Americans seem to talk everything to death.

Paying so much attention to diversity raises another issue, that focusing on diversity requires us to consciously note the differences between various groups: blacks vs. whites vs. Hispanics, Jews vs. Christians or Muslims, etc.

People tend to associate with others like themselves. As a member of a minority that has historically suffered severe discrimination, I believe there is a natural tendency for those with similar backgrounds to want to live and socialize together. They are more comfortable with one another, sharing common experiences and enjoying “inside” humor, they instinctively understand one another and have similar reactions to many situations. So, it is only natural that they tend to gravitate to their own groups.

It’s interesting that, in spite of all the emphasis on diversity, we continue to see instances of both discrimination and ethnic groups that deliberately separate themselves from others.

So, what happened on the way to the color-blind society?

Diversity has arrived and is here to stay, but there are those who are unable or unwilling to recognize it — for whatever reason. And although more has been achieved than many of us may realize, there is still much to accomplish. But we may not be hearing this message, and the media would have us believe that little or no progress has been made.

We are also subjected to a continuous harangue about profiling. How unfair it is to profile, how only those who are prejudiced profile. Profiling is not only bad, we are told, but, in some instances, it is either against the law or should be.

Unfortunately, the two messages — that is, diversity is good and profiling is bad — are not always compatible. Everyone is not the same, and there is no escaping that fact. Differences may be subtle or obvious, but they exist and most of us are keenly aware of them. If they are based on skin color or various ethnic characteristics, they can’t be avoided, but profiling by individuals based on other characteristics may not be conscious. Differences exist, and everyone profiles.

Sometimes the differences may be based on something as simple, yet obvious, as how a person may dress. This was graphically illustrated in an article by Maureen Dowd about a woman who sued Citigroup, “claiming that she was fired ... from the Citibank branch at the Chrysler Center for looking too sexy. ... Plaintiff was advised that as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.’”

“You are discriminating to (against) me, because of my body type,” said Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mother, who noted, “This is genetic. What am I supposed to do?”

“Lorenzana’s lawsuit says that her bosses told her that her female colleagues could wear what they liked because their ‘general unattractiveness rendered moot their sartorial choices.’ Her well-tailored clothes, on the other hand, emphasized what her lawyer calls her ‘hourglass figure.’”

Isn’t this profiling? Whatever happened to just ignoring the differences between people?

How about you? How many of your close friends and business associates are members of another distinctly different group, black or white, or have other religious views — that is, are Christian or Jewish or Muslin — or are perhaps a member of a different ethnic group? Not many, I’ll bet.

The reason is really quite straightforward. Everyone profiles, whether consciously or subconsciously. The old bromide “birds of a feather flock together” is not just some random observation. It’s based on the perceptions of others that everyone has.

Like it or not, everyone profiles, and no amount of laws or government regulations can prevent it — ever. It’s called human nature.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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