Bob Jones on Susan Devoy

Poor old bewildered Susan Devoy.

She has copped a lashing from Bob Jones at NBR.

A week ago, wearing her race relations head banana’s hat, Dame Susan Devoy wrote a rather naïve piece for the New Zealand Herald condemning profiling.  This was typical of all idealists, virtuous to be sure but ignoring human realities.

In essence, she was saying don’t pre-judge people, citing for example, how a retailer might suspect a maori boy in a toy shop but ignore other non-maori kids.  There’s a reason for that Susan, namely the statistical evidence of Maori criminality.

The last thing retailers want is to deter potential customers but conversely, they don’t want to endure costly shoplifting.  That’s rough on the boy if, as is statistically probable, he has innocent motives, but it’s a reality of life.

Sadly, that’s true. The problem is the womble types don’t live in the real world like the rest of us.

Furthermore, in numerous ways we’re all constantly on the receiving end of such pre-judgemental responses based on a host of factors, such as age, appearance, ethnicity, behaviour and so on.  Such prejudgments, founded on one’s intuition and previous experiences, are essential coping mechanisms, specially for those with busy lives.

This is true. Bob Jones is a grumpy old bastard, which used to be called curmudgeonly but due to the failure of our education system I can no longer use that word for general writing. Profiling is everywhere, but apparently we aren’t allowed to use it. To take it to extremes you’d have to ask the point of airport security turning over their fair share of old grannies given their propensity for hijacking planes is rather low…likewise it would sensible to turn over single male muslims travelling alone, since that is the exact profile of someone wanting to hijack a plane.

Profiling is a valuable police tool.  Numerous crimes are solved by its application, this leading to the Police employing specialist profiling experts.  It can of course go wrong, leading to the self-explanatory American claim of being arrested for driving black.  But how many black women have had that experience?  I’d venture few, if any.  Given that a quarter of American black men in their 20s end up in prison, being suspicious of them in certain circumstances is rational behaviour.

Every day we all make profiling judgements based on appearance.  Most times they will be correct and the old adage of not judging a book by its cover simply doesn’t apply.  If someone applies for a managerial role, unkempt and covered with tattoos, he’s automatically disqualified.   Those two characteristics alone demonstrate his unsuitability.

I suspect Susan would argue he should receive a hearing as he might in fact be OK.  That would be silly as judgement is required in management and he’s already graphically demonstrated his lack of it.


Consider the British Bar study not so long ago, which showed that no jury had ever acquitted any woman called Tracy.  Susan doubtless would be outraged but it’s basic pragmatism.  This revelation arose in a study of negative profiling reactions to names.

On that note, entertaining two of our top commercial bankers for drinks one evening, I asked whether they would ever lend to anyone called Kevin or Shane. “Of course I would,” one said stoutly.  “Well I bloody well wouldn’t,” his rival piped up.  “Actually, I wouldn’t either,” the first then said sheepishly.  “I just didn’t want to say so.”  If Susan objects to that, I’d suggest she studies the ratio of Kevins and Shanes in our prisons, compared with say Roberts and Andrews.

Heh. Bob Jones is a treasure and he just loves delivering howlers to the precious.

As said, profiling can go wrong and have its funny side.  The former American ambassador in Wellington, Caroline Mosley-Braun, complained bitterly to me once about her pride at becoming the first black woman senator and an incident which occurred when she flew to Washington and tried to check in at the Watergate Hotel.  Two hefty security guards promptly appeared and tried to frog-march her out, suspecting she was on the game.

I told her she was a goose, that in these competitive days, to be a successful tart, prettiness was essential so she should treat it as a compliment, plus she now had a wonderful dinner party story.

“You wouldn’t say that if you were a woman,” she asserted whereupon I cited an incident a few years earlier in London when I was to be picked up at my hotel at 8pm by Anna, wife of writer David Yallop, to go to their home for dinner.  We’d agreed to a late start as I wanted to watch a boxing match coming in from Copenhagen, which didn’t bother them as both worked from home.

At the appointed hour, no Anna.  Half an hour later she managed to find a telephone and called me, (this was in pre-cell-phone days) barely able to contain her joy.  She was a pretty woman and on asking for me downstairs, had been booted out for soliciting.  Like Carol she was a lawyer but she’d have dined out on it ever since; a sensible approach.

The default mechanism today though is squealing to the Media party with howls of outrage. And when this next bit gets a bit of wider coverage not available outside the small subscriber base of the NBR there will certainly be howls of outrage.

Susan herself is a beneficiary of profiling.  She holds a prominent public office solely because of her sporting success.  That demonstrated determination, effort and grit, all characteristics her appointers would have seen as highly desirable for the job.  But, what chance would she have had if her name was Tracy Devoy?  Perhaps she would argue that demonstrates her point, but not so.  Had she in fact been called Tracy then her whole background would likely have been such, leading at best to hairdressing, and we’d never have heard of her.

Snort. Bob Jones is  a living treasure.



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