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.


  1. That reminds me of… http://maddox.xmission.com/c.cgi?u=your_stupid_ideas

    I guess this is how things were back in days with noble and common people. In sweden witch hunt was a matter of common people. You could not blame the noble of being a witch, instead noble examined the witch hunt as a phenomenon of the common and really did not much to interfere. (Reminder: more people were executed due to bestiary than witchcraft during the hunt).

    Now days the categories are not noble and common.

    Is a world without profiling possible, ever?

  2. Reading this, I came to think of the most confusing rasistic experience I've had, which happened quite recently in Switzerland. (Being white, my rasistic experiences are few, minor and previously only from Asia.) I was actually followed by a Swiss lady, who was calling me names and telling I look at myself and go back to where I came from. Weirdly enough, this happened in a vegetarian restaurant in Basel, the most international city in Switzerland. And this does confuse me. In so many ways.

    First of all, my own prejudices: Swiss are said to be racists. And although apart from this one lady I met only nice people, I do have a nagging voice inside me telling me that indeed, Swiss are racists. Second: how did she know I'm a foreignor? Did she smell it or what? Or did she just make a wrong assumption that I'm from Russia (which happens occasionally because of slanted eyes)? And although this a really stupid question considering that she was certainly a racist: WHY, in her opinion, would I not have a right to be in Switzerland eating in a vegetarian restaurant?