You hear the news of a mass murder or some other horrible crime, and if you are a white American you probably wonder about the criminal's motivation or the way he executed his plan.
But if you are a minority American, immediately the first thing you do is pray that the unidentified criminal doesn't turn out to be one of your own people.
If you are black, Hispanic, Asian or an immigrant (legal or illegal), you know that your whole community will pay for the hideous behavior of one individual.
In the United States, only white Americans don't have to worry about what other white people can do to their image.
In last week's massacre at Virginia Tech, it was Korean Americans who had to cringe upon discovering that the killer was Korean. And they had reason to cringe. Within hours, the media was putting some Korean Americans in a position of having to explain that Cho Seung-Hui's actions are not a reflection of how Korean Americans feel about this country.
Obviously not! These disclaimers were not needed. After the Oklahoma City bombing, white Americans were not asked to explain for Timothy McVeigh.
Yet, knowing how people are judged in this country, some Koreans said Cho caused them pain and shame.
Some minority members feel that shame even before the suspect is caught. When cops tell us they are looking for a "male Hispanic," we already start cringing. Yet, what does a "male Hispanic" look like? Sammy Sosa or George Lopez or Antonio Banderas? Latinos come in all colors!
Sometimes, when they catch the criminal and he turns out not to be Hispanic after all, we feel a sense of relief, as if we a dodged a bullet.
It says a lot about how minorities are held to a different standard in this country. A crime in the inner city is somehow a lot less newsworthy than the same crime in a white, affluent neighborhood. A missing white child from a "quiet neighborhood" is somehow bigger news than a missing black child from the projects.
It happens all the time. It's wrong. But we have grown to accept some of these double standards as part of American society, especially when we cast blame on a whole group of people for the actions of one disturbed individual.
This is perhaps most damaging to illegal immigrants, especially since many people are already trying to make them look like they are all criminals. When an illegal immigrant commits a crime, in the media, it overrides the hard and decent work many other illegal immigrants are doing in this country.
Unfortunately, bad news usually makes bigger headlines. And when minorities get more negative than positive headlines, they become the subject of myths and stereotypes.
Some white Americans actually believe that all Latinos, for example, should be blamed for the dreadful behavior of a few bad apples. They send me newspaper clippings on crimes committed by Latinos, as if I should be expected to apologize for them, and as if I couldn't, just as easily, send back clippings of crimes committed by white criminals.
Still, knowing the double standards of American society, when a crime is committed and the perpetrator's identity is unknown, we cringe and we hope it's someone else's turn to get unfair blame.
To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.