I'm writing in English, which is strange in itself since I really love my own language, Finnish, and since I detest the power position that the English language has in global communucation... but I'd get way too many complaints from American friends if I didn't write in a language comprehensible to them.

Sep 13, 2011

Racial profiling

A friend posted this article: Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit. I was quite horrified of the incident, but putting my little boy, 14 months, blond hair, blue eyes - future white male - to bed I started thinking about racial profiling more analytically.

Racial profiling isn't exactly what we'd normally call racism. We tend to think that racism is what racists do, bad things like calling others names or kicking someone. On the other hand, everybody does profiling, racial or not. We like to know where we have things. Finns are quiet, men don't like to clean, women are sensitive, Africans like to give advice, an so on (the last one is my own category). Similarly, we might think that Somalians are loud, Japanese are hard-working, Roma people steal... well, you can see where this is going.

Unfortunately, racism can also be defined as categorizing people negatively based on their skin color - race, effectively, if there's such a thing. Here we see how profiling can be racism. If we think the Roma steal and Somalis get in gangs and rob others, then we've already stepped over that line. When we expect Latinos to be illegal immigrants and Arabians to be terrorists we're way on the other side.

But what's wrong with this? Doesn't it make the world a safer place? Well, there's two (quite obvious) answers to what's wrong with racial profiling, appart from the racism thing, and we all know that's evil. First, we all know profiling often goes wrong. Even when we do know a lot about some culture or group there will always be people who don't fit. If we're not dexterous enough to understand that, we'll be in trouble when we meet an African who doesn't like giving advice. Besides most of our profiling is not based on lots of personal experience. It can be based on what we read from newspapers or discussion groups, or what others tell us, or even on just one experience we've had. There are problems with all of these. These days everybody knows that the media can give a distorted image of reality. Other people's experiences do that even more.

The second problem is that it's offensive. And this is completely self evident, but we need to remember it. We all hate being falsely accused - it makes it worse if it's just our looks that make us suspicious.
Are people just too sensitive? Well, there have been times and places in history where some group or another has meekly accepted being viewed as something less than others. I think that's even worse - it means that the whole groups self-image is distorted. I'd say it's good that that's not accepted anymore by any group I know of.