By Miguel De La Torre
When the issue of racial profiling is raised, there are usually three responses.
First, there is a group of Americans who would argue that racial profiling is a myth. This false consciousness is maintained in spite of overwhelming testimonial and physical evidence collected by government agencies to the contrary. An example of someone holding this view is conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who has said racial profiling is a “hoax.”
Rather than advocate racist attitudes, they attempt to turn the tables of the discourse by arguing that the ones who are really being oppressed are whites –specifically, white males. Robert Bork, the legal jurist whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated by Congress, wrote that the only group that is truly oppressed in the United Sates today is white heterosexual males. By recasting themselves as victims, victimizers are free from having to deal with the fact that societal structures continue to privilege them. Such folks are best ignored.
The second response to racial profiling admits it may exist, but says it is no longer the problem it used to be — that we now live in a post-racial society, and any incidents of racial profiling are conducted by rogue or bigoted individuals. The proper response to profiling, in this view, is to educate individuals who may be tempted to racially profile, but not blame an entire society for the negative acts of a few. Former President George W. Bush is an excellent example of this type of thinking. According to him, “It’s wrong, and we will end it in America. In so doing, we will not hinder the work of our nation’s brave police officers. They protect us every day — often at great risk. But by stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve.” Although those who hold this view may be sincere, they are wrong, ignoring the data that proves significant racial profiling exists.
To explain why the second group is wrong, we need to explore the third response to racial profiling — a response that resonates with me and the vast majority of people of color. The third group would argue that most Americans ignore that centuries of Euro-American presence in what would become the United States was enabled by killing red people to steal their land, enslaving black people to steal their labor and, in the West, pauperizing brown people to steal their possessions.
While these injustices are historical, many Americans refuse to consider the consequences those past acts have had on our present reality.
How we have been taught to see those who were not white has been woven into the very fabric of the American tapestry. This is why you more than likely lock your car doors when driving though a Latino or African-American neighborhood. Even decades after the legislative gains of the Civil Rights Movement, we remain as segregated as before. It is because our social structures still lend themselves to bigotry and segregation — regardless if we voted for Obama or marched with Martin Luther King.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a test: If you are white, how many people of color live in your neighborhood, attend your children’s schools, come to your house for a meal or attend your church? Compare your vanilla suburb with the chocolate urban center: Which neighborhood has better schools, police protection, government services and quality of life?
Then seriously ask yourself why that is.
But when people of color raise issues like racial profiling or the continuing systematic racism in our social structures, we are quickly labeled “racists” or “anti-American.” For many white Christians, there is a refusal to hear the cries of their brothers and sisters in Christ who are of color; there is a refusal to share in the suffering and humiliation experienced by many members of Christ’s body who do not have white pigmentation.
And worse, there is a refusal to simply hear our stories. May God have mercy! The acceptable response expected from people of color concerning racial profiling is to deny its existence, or to remain silent about it.
But when white conservatives make similar claims, they are viewed as thoughtful, if not prophetic. Very well, then; I’ll allow white conservatives to speak for me on the injustice of racial profiling. Below are some of their comments:
— According to the Republican National Conservative Caucus: “Let’s be honest about something: Police sometimes do harass minority-race Americans, simply because they are minority-race Americans.”
— According to former Vice President Dick Cheney: “It’s the sense of anger and frustration and rage that would go with knowing that the only reason you were stopped … was because of the color of your skin….”
— According to the late Jerry Falwell: “[Racial Profiling] is something we can’t permit in a free society.”
— According to former Attorney General John Ashcroft: “This [George W. Bush] administration … has been opposed to racial profiling and has done more to indicate its opposition than ever in history. The president said it’s wrong and we’ll end it in America, and I subscribe to that. Using race … as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional, and it undermines law enforcement by undermining the confidence that people can have in law enforcement.”