Service of Racial Profiling

July 26th, 2010

Categories: Racial Profiling

Last week, I saw racial profiling in action. We were piling suitcases into the trunk of a cab on Lexington Avenue, a block north of Grand Central Station, when we heard yelling. As our heads emerged from the trunk, we saw who was doing it: A NYC policeman who had parked his motorcycle in front of the cab. He claimed that the cab was holding up traffic. [There is little to none on a summer morning at 10:46 a.m. and continued to be none until the cop held up the loading process.]

The driver was young, appeared to be Arab, clean-cut and clean shaven. He didn’t say a word. I jumped to his rescue telling the policeman that it was totally our fault; the driver helped us by stopping where he did so we didn’t have to lug our suitcases further. There was an illegally parked US Postal Service truck taking up one lane and a fat chunk of another one and the cab extended into the avenue a bit beyond it. The policeman didn’t bother the truck driver.

By the time I’d said my bit, my husband, who was going home with the luggage, was in the cab and ready to leave but because the policeman was still reprimanding the driver, traffic began to pile up. Yet the policeman continued to rant and the driver remained silent. I left the scene so as not to exacerbate the situation as I thought the policeman might have been trying to impress a like-minded citizen. My husband told me that in the end, the driver did not get a ticket. The cabbie admitted that he was used to such instances.

Profiling is in the news this summer between Arizona’s immigration law, Shirley Sherrod’s edited-to-be misinterpreted address to the NAACP and the Cordoba House and mosque under consideration for construction in the vicinity of Ground Zero.

Racial profiling makes us collectively jumpy. It polarizes us and distracts us from other issues that in the list of current crises, such as the economy and war, seem to top it. Yet it has become a tempting distraction that politicians and talk show hosts, desperate to remain in the headlines, relish whipping up.

Our nervous, knee-jerk reactions made in seconds remind me of the card game slapjack. A dealer turns up card after card in a deck and he/she and one or more other players watch for the jack.  The idea is to be the first one to slap it and not some other card.  Today, some are ready to slap anything that resembles a jack, and they don’t much care if it turns out to be the king or queen.

There are times when profiling is appropriate. Taking an example from hours watching “Law & Order” and its spin-offs, it makes sense that when a witness identifies a perpetrator, say a teen with black spiky hair, brown eyes and olive skin, that police officers at airports and bus stations won’t be questioning curly blond, blue-eyed 40 year olds and will stop teens with olive skin.

Not all profiling is racial. Haven’t most people at one time been subject to it? Whether you are a recent high school or college graduate who needs experience before you can get a job in a field you want to join, are middle aged with too much experience so seem too expensive, are over 65 and considered too old to function, belong to a religion that is out of favor, are single and want to buy a condo or are divorced, gay, bankrupt, bald, fat, ugly, have white hair or whatever is the you-don’t-want-to-be-that du jour–you’ve been singled out in a negative way by assumptions made about you by some decision-maker who is in your way.

Have you felt the sting? Do you see use for profiling in any instances or not at all? Do you think that there’s hope that profiling can be defined or implemented so that people who look on either its pro or con ramifications will ever agree?

5 Responses to “Service of Racial Profiling”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Racial profiling is newspeak for prejudice, bias or discrimination – take your pick. It works for or against an individual depending who and/or where he is. In the US, blacks and Hispanics get hit the most. Arabs are the fashionable new whipping boys, as described in the introductory piece above. Remember the dopey woman who “reported” several medical students talking amongst themselves just after 9/11? The fool got kudos for her “vigilance” while the students were victimized for no better reason than the woman’s stupidity.

    A friend’s brother joined the Armed Forces a number of years ago, and was assigned a pleasant young man from the Bible Belt as a roommate. They got along very well, she said, once the young man realized that Jews do not have horns. I have been involved in less humorous episodes, where blacks were targeted.

    Such activities in all probability go back as far as when the first person decided to put another down for a baseless and illogical reason. Carry it a step further after religions and nations were formed, and adherents of one faith/nationality took it out on other(s) in the name of one or more deities and leaders. Observe today’s news, and the beat continues. It will take more than education to eradicate. It will take intelligence and understanding, which appear to be in increasingly short supply.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    There are no doubt studies that both prove and disprove what I read/heard years ago–that people who for whatever reason do not think well of themselves [they are poor, jealous of others more fortunate, wish they were as smart, had as nice a house etc.] look for other people to put down to make themselves feel better, which explains the genesis of some prejudice/profiling/generalization.

    Lack of exposure combined with myth and ignorance is another reason–your horns in the Armed Forces example is a perfect illustration. I am amazed how when you get otherwise moderate, thoughtful, educated people on certain subjects, they paint the population of an entire country with one brush and see nothing unusual or improbable about that.

  3. Simon Carr Said:

    To answer your questions first:

    I have lived and traveled abroad extensively all my life, and have been the beneficiary of racial profiling on many occasions. I have also been grateful for it on most.

    I have no problem with racial profiling, for reasons I’ll explain below.

    The probability of agreement on this subject is nil.

    The world is shrinking even more rapidly now with globalization, as are its resources. Meanwhile, humans continue to expand their number and their consumption of those resources with similar rapidly. Inevitably, life is becoming an increasingly vicious fight for survival. It always has been that, since the beginning of time, if time actually had a beginning, but before there were more resources and fewer people. Equally inenvitably, the survivors will be those who get to consume more than their fair share of those resources.

    The elimination of racial profiling may benefit some humans, but conversely it will diminish the likelihood of survival of others, i.e.: the ones doing the profiling. If one believes that the species improves if the fittest survive, then does it make sense to impede their effort to survive?

    I feel outraged by your story of the policeman abusing the Arab driver, just as I grimace every time, which is often, that I see examples of man’s inhumanity to man. (Just go to the movies, or watch sports programming on TV, or read about the Palestinians. You’ll see what I mean.)

    But that is all part of the nasty business of survival called evolution. Mess it up, and the human race will become a smaller version of the dinosaur.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Simon,

    That’s some leap, from racial profiling to survival of the fittest, but it fits–it’s a way to keep out competition and has existed forever.

    For years in the US, if you didn’t go to a top college and if you had a foreign sounding name or worse yet, a foreign parent [as I have], you were excluded from many opportunities and industries. That has changed. Now, some don’t admit that they went to a top school and mumble last names that smack of Mayflower connections for fear of being profiled.

    Wonder what’s next.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I am not sure that’s what Darwin meant. In the jungle, a weak lion cub may be killed or left to die by its mother or siblings, especially if water and food are scarce. Humans don’t usually do that, and some go to herculean lengths to preserve a sickly child. Not a bad idea, either, since it could grow up to be an Einstein, an attribute not available to lions. Both approaches make sense, so it becomes clear the human and animal kingdom march to different drummers, and each with reasonable success.

    Profiling, or by whatever name you wish to call it, is often the tool of those who lead the ignorant and the stupid to achieving political ends, and/or eradicating enemies. Must we be reminded of the Nazi regime which sought to murder the very people whose productivity, brains and loyalty could have brought Germany to the top of civilization without slaughtering millions? The loss of some 20 million people, between 1939-45 was a boon to birth control, but little else.

    Not everyone uses profiling. Some use logic: I was bullied by an Israeli official in the Cairo airport, and proceeded to run to Egyptians for help, which was speedily forthcoming. I am clearly no Arab, but that didn’t stop an important looking Egyptian from emerging from his office to settle matters.

    With all due respect to Mr. Carr’s well thought out theory, successful profiling may well destroy us in the end, since it recklessly tramples over priceless attributes held by humanity as individuals and as a whole. It appears to be a straight road to destruction, not only of people, but possibly of the planet itself.

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