As much as people may claim otherwise, racism is still a serious problem in many parts of the world. Out of racism comes racial profiling, a damaging and consequential practice that continues to affect minority races today.
What is racial profiling?
Racial profiling is defined as the focusing on or doubting someone of a certain race due to assumptions about the traits or behavior of that racial or ethnic group, instead of looking at the person’s individual impact. Racial profiling is probably a lot more common than it seems, often occurring on an everyday basis all across the world.
It is normal for people to stereotype those of other races, but stereotypes remain as such in our minds. It is only when these stereotypical views are acted upon in a way that affects others that racial profiling occurs.
While racial profiling may be practiced by anyone in a community, it is also notably practiced by law, government and security officials. For instance, arresting a person based on their race, ethnicity or nationality without subjecting them to the same searches and checks for evidence as those of other races would be counted as racial profiling.
A considerable number of minorities and immigrants in the United States alone have reportedly faced discrimination by the police. It is commonplace all over the United States for police officers to stop men of African American or Latino descent without any valid reason. Law enforcement officials practicing racial profiling may assume that people of such descent are more likely to have committed a crime, leading to them confronting the person instead of letting the person pass as happens with most white people.
Why do people engage in racial profiling?
One main issue is behind the problem of racial profiling: racism.
After 240 years of slavery and nearly a century where racial segregation was legalized and even expected, people may find it difficult to leave their preconceived notions behind. Although we all live in equality now, the topic of race is still a sensitive one, especially in Western countries.
Racial profiling reached its peak especially after the September 11 attacks, where Muslim, Arab and South Asian men were frequently stopped by security officials, for no other reason than the fact that they were of similar racial backgrounds to the perpetrators of the terrorist attack. Many of these men were even going about their daily lives with their families, but were still subject to racial profiling.
Recently, we have seen another rise in racial profiling all across the world due to the coronavirus. Along with xenophobia, those who are East Asian, Italian, Iranian or of another dominant race in a country that has suffered a serious coronavirus outbreak tended to face more prejudice along with fears that the person may be transmitting the virus, even if they had not been anywhere associated with the coronavirus. One case of racial profiling happened in Egypt, where a Chinese man was thrown out of a taxi on the middle of a highway while passers-by shouted that he may have the coronavirus. In reality, the man was probably just as likely as the next passer-by to be infected with the virus, except that he was simply of a race that was associated with being the epicenter of an outbreak – bringing a sense of irrationality to the act of racial profiling.
Perhaps racial profiling may have to do with the upbringing of our children. Most people agree that education plays a crucial role in the development of every child’s character – schools are where most children learn to interact with other people for the first time. However, racial profiling may actually already occur in these tender years. For instance, some Canadian communities raised concerns that children with African Canadian, Latin, Chinese, Vietnamese or Arab heritages were said to be slow to learn, aggressive and the instigators of conflict. Whenever a child of such race was involved in incidents with a white student, it was often that the non-white child was less likely to be believed, and faced a harsher punishment than a white child in their place would have.
If these prejudiced sentiments begin from an early age, it may be more likely that these white children will subscribe to racist beliefs when they grow up. Without getting to the root of the problem, the issue may continue undisturbed.
What are the effects of racial profiling?
Racial profiling can have deadly consequences for its victims. On February 23, 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot in Brunswick, Georgia after being chased by two armed men in a truck. Arbery, a black man, was unarmed and jogging along a route he frequented every day. Meanwhile, two white men – a father and son – were out patrolling for a suspected burglar in the neighborhood. When they spotted Arbery, they immediately gave chase and confronted him, resulting in Arbery attacking the son out of self-defense. As a result of the skirmish, Arbery was shot and killed.
The men, who were later charged with murder, stated that they believed Arbery was the burglar they were looking for as they had not seen him around before. According to them, Arbery seemed to reach into his pocket, and they took it as a sign that he was armed. In their defense statements, they argued that they were simply abiding by Georgia’s stand-your-ground statute, and attributed Arbery’s ambiguous body language to their sudden reactions.
Much controversy and outrage arose from this case, with many stating that racial profiling was responsible for the tragedy. Regardless of the real reason why the white men decided to pull over and confront Arbery, most would agree that the issue was compounded by the fact that Arbery was black, leading the men to believe that he may be the culprit they were looking for.
Sadly, Arbery’s case is not the first where an unarmed black man was harmed on sight, nor is it the only one that has occurred since then. The rise in the number of black males – some of them only children – who have suffered similar fates due to racial profiling is frankly quite concerning. Racial profiling leading to violence can affect the mortality rate of minority groups of people. It inspires fear for one’s own safety and that of their loved ones, where they can never be sure that they are safe even in their own homes.
Some who are not affected by racial profiling may believe that it is a mere inconvenience or a frustration. However, racial profiling is much more than that. It often affects the victims mentally, psychologically and emotionally. They may get injured or lose their money, and in some cases, even their lives.
From a human rights point of view, racial profiling is wrong and baseless. If our society is to progress towards equality, we need to work on abolishing the centuries of prejudice our people harbor toward one another. While this is certainly easier said than done, the only way forward is to take the first step.