After months of bitter, heartbreaking stories about young (and not so young) unarmed black men being killed by police, sometimes right on videotape, there's finally a story of racial profiling to warm the hearts of brutality-weary Americans. In something of a Christmas miracle, two black teenagers were racially profiled, approached by a white authority figure, failed to immediately obey commands, yet lived to tell the tale. One key difference is that the authority figure who approached them was not a cop, but rather was Leigh Anne Tuohy, mother of Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Michael Oher, inspiration for the film The Blind Side, and owner of multiple Taco Bell restaurants. On Sunday, Tuohy taught her friend an object lesson about racial profiling, and told all of Facebook about it:
We see what we want! It's the gospel truth! These two were literally huddled over in a corner table nose to nose and the person with me said "I bet they are up to no good" well you know me... I walked over, told them to scoot over. After 10 seconds of dead silence I said so whats happening at this table? I get nothing.. I then explained it was my store and they should spill it... They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We gave (sic) to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon holing people! Don't judge a book by its cover or however you'd like to express the sentiment! Accept others and stoping seeing what you want to see!!! #LeighAnnesSundaySermon #BelieveInOthers
The post quickly racked up a six-figure "like" total, and started the conversation on race that our country so sorely needs. Slate's Jamelle Bouie curated some of the enlightened dialogue:
There were many, many more like that, along with many comments congratulating Tuohy for her generosity, but there were also quite a few commenters who weren't on board with the whole scene:
Mari Tatlow Steed Social justice: you're doing it wrong, Leigh Anne. You couldn't be any more tone deaf, neo-colonialist or racist if you tried. You know, 'not judging a book by its cover' implies there's something wrong with the cover...
Dontae Davis I'll just say this. No matter how well intentioned this was, it was handled completed wrong. She essentially invaded their privacy, approached them with utter disregard and then made demands and questioned them. Imagine if this was you. Think about this. You are having a conversation with a friend and someone walks over, no introduction. Asked you to "scoot over" and then justs sits there silent. Then they proceed to question what you're doing. I mean, are we reading the same thing here lol.
Those were the nice ones. Tuohy also took a lot of criticism for broadcasting her act of kindness, and literally hanging it on her wall like a trophy. The whole thing, the post, the comments, the story itself, is a fascinating study in the racial Rashomon that informs race in America. Everyone looks at this story and sees something different; a condescending white lady with a savior complex and a racist friend, a dupe being taken in by bling-laden thugs-in-sheep's-clothing, a saint purging her friend's racism in the crucible of Two Of The Good Ones, a couple of guys uncomfortably smiling their way out of an awkward situation.
I look at it and see two young men being viewed as a Rorschach test for Leigh Anne Tuohy and her friend, and all of Facebookistan, and not simply as human beings. The temptation is to seek a measure of comfort in the fact that they survived being profiled, but that outcome is just another spin of the wheel in the same game.