Judging a book by its cover a dangerous practice

Posted May 18, 2010, at 6:24 p.m.

There are so many valuable adages. Most of them start out as powerful lessons boiled down to neat and easily memorable sayings which prudently lecture us and consequently help us amend our behavior.

For example: Procrastination can be deadly when it comes to accomplishing necessary goals. Postponing a brake job on the car or a trip to the doctor can have dire consequences. To help folks avoid unwanted outcomes caused by waiting until the last minute, we’ve all learned a few sayings like “A stitch in time saves nine” and the cautionary statement “Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”

To that end some of us still have trouble getting the message. Recently, a friend of mine told me that she was ashamed because her husband had left the plastic up on their windows. I said, “Well it’s only May, that’s not really such bad procrastination.” She said, “yeah, but we got divorced in 2007.”

Now granted, all those summers that she couldn’t open the windows in her house I imagine my friend — I’ll call her Marcia because that’s her name — was more than a little annoyed with herself for putting that particular chore off for another day. But unlike the car brake job, that lack of airflow didn’t cause her or anyone else any real harm.

Other adages, if followed prudently, also have the power to save or improve lives. In order to achieve the desired impact these sage “words to the wise” must apply universally to everyone in all walks of life. The most important one of these that we had drummed into our heads as kids was “never judge a book by its cover.”

I guess that not judging a book by its cover thing is why I’ve never had much respect for beauty pageants. I mean a beauty contest is literally judging something not only by its cover but exclusively as a cover. I think of some of the great women in history who would never have placed highly in such a contest, women like Harriet Tubman, Oprah Winfrey or Mother Theresa. Heck, Helen Keller was quite cute, but she never would have navigated the runway well enough to get any serious consideration from any of the judges. Her outward inability to communicate kept her true beauty, charm and brilliance locked deep inside where only those who cared most about her bothered to find them.

That shallow disregard for anything but superficial magnificence tends to make it difficult on ordinary women. Maybe society’s constant obsession with women’s weight, complexion, clothes and style is why women don’t seem too surprised that today’s controversial hot button topic is profiling.

Profiling doesn’t just help you miss inner beauty. It also makes folks let down their guard and puts themselves in danger. Serial killer Ted Bundy was adept at manipulating the superficial response his looks generated in other people.

Go online and take one look at Bundy’s pictures. You’ll see a handsome man who murdered up to 100 women by bandaging his arm and convincing his victims to help a handsome injured guy carry something to his car.

What Arizona has legitimized with their new law requiring folks to prove they’re legitimate based on their outward appearance is simple unadulterated racism. And when a law legitimizes the harassment of folks based on their outward appearance it also justifies the elevation of status among the profilers. Think of it as a caste system. Not only does one group of people look “bad” and get subjugated in the process but the other group of people looks “good” and their status is elevated.

Using the analogies of serial killers and beauty queens to rail against profiling may not resonate with the would-be upper caste members because many insist this isn’t about racism it’s about the U.S. economy.

And in that case, I say we round up everyone who wears thousand dollar suits and looks like a Wall Street banker or hedge fund director and make them prove that they haven’t caused double digit unemployment or millions of Americans to lose their homes. If they can’t, well out they go. Or do you no longer believe that we can tell a thief by the clothes they wear and how they talk?

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@ hotmail.com.

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