Is it always wrong to profile? Is it even wrong at all?
Of all the unpopular opinions someone could offer in 2018 in America, maybe a positive slant on profiling seems to be among the dumbest. But I think this betrays a confusion between two ideas, both of which get swept up in the term "profile." The fact is, there's a difference between profiling and being prejudiced, however related the practices often are. To argue otherwise is to miss the way profiling manifests in social media as people profile themselves, classifying and categorizing things about themselves in order to share a snapshot of who they are with someone else. And we use this information. A lot.
We use information from people's profiles to deduce whether they might make a good addition to an organization. We use information from people's profiles to decide if they're worth befriending. We even use information from people's profiles to determine if they would make a decent life partner. Never have I heard of someone saying, "I refuse to fill out my profile because I'm afraid someone will get the wrong idea or hold it against me." We understand that our profiles aren't synonymous with who we are as human beings, and we also understand that there are right and wrong ways to use the information we share. The key is how we use the information.
I like high-top sneakers. I also like literature...and philosophy...and tea. If I see you in a tea shop, sipping a cup of Lapsang Souchong, wearing Nike Dunks, and reading the annotated works of C.S. Lewis, I'm going to assume that you're a cultured intellectual. Maybe I'll just make that assumption and move on. Maybe I'll try to strike up a conversation. Maybe you'll prove to be what I thought you were. But if I'm being fair, then my profile prompts me to test my assumptions. And maybe I'll be wrong. But. Being wrong really isn't the issue. The issue is what I do when my assumptions are put to the test. Do I make you fit my profile, without concern for who you really are? Do I justify mistreating you on the grounds of what I observe? That's being prejudiced. That's a misuse of profiling. That's wrong.
I think these ideas about what profiling is and isn't carry over to interpretation. Interpreters of a text take snapshots of that text by classifying and categorizing the information they discover. And while an interpreter's initial assumptions might prove to be somewhat or even wholly unsupported, profiling entails the very practices of observation and classification that make it possible to analyze anything at all.
As I read, I take note of what an author says, how she says it, and what she seems to mean. In other words, I observe. The more I read, the more I begin to see connections between things, patterns in her use of language. And as I become more intentional about recognizing those apparent patterns, I begin to identify, classify, and categorize the information in order to say something coherent about it. In other words, I profile her work. Is my profile synonymous with her work itself? Not even close. Might I find out more information (within her work or without) that would render my assumptions inaccurate? Sure. In fact, that's almost certain to happen. But again, what would take my process from profiling to prejudice? Making her work fit my assumptions about it, even if there's evidence to the contrary. Again, that's being prejudiced. That's a misuse of profiling. That's wrong.
Profiling a work is not unethical. The real danger in interpretation is being unwilling to adjust or let go of our initial assumptions when new or re-examined information calls our assumptions into question. So, don't be afraid to profile a text, but allow for the likelihood that your assumptions will need to be adjusted or abandoned.