Racism and Racial Profiling as Social Problems

In a democratic country like the United States, violence against minorities still exist within our midst and it acts like a termite in our society that eats away the rights, freedom and dignity of all Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other people of color. It is an indubitable fact that racism is still alive in United States because this form of prejudice has not yet imbibed by many White people. This prejudiced is based on perceived physical differences and usually refers to unfavorable or hostile attitudes toward people perceived to belong to another race.

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Racism usually results in a belief in the superiority of one’s own race. The trigger of prejudice and racism is the “human tendency to form stereotypes, generalized beliefs that associate whole groups of people with particular traits”. Racial stereotypes are described to be “exaggerated or oversimplified” characterizations of any person’s “appearance, personality, and behavior” (Cavalli-Sforza, 2005).

According to Thompson-Miller and Feagin (January 2007), the most influential factor to the problem of racism is “a failure to clearly understand the emotional, psychological, and, to some extent, physical effects of racism on its targets”. They pointed out that racism usually occurs on an institutional level like schools or in the workplace, where people of color experience many racial stereotypes that could appear as not just encounters, but also assaults. These are manifested through cultural racism.

For instance, cultural racism occurs “when people of color are treated as if they are not American because of their race or language”. Most people have a presentiment that “Asians or Hispanics are foreigners and treat them with surprise when they speak English or disgust when they use their native language”. These “race-based events” in minorities’ life “can produce harm or injury” in their mental health because violence against minorities “have memorable impact or lasting effect”.

Thompson-Miller and Feagin (January 2007) felt that violence against minorities lead to “race-based traumatic stress” that arise from exposure to racial discrimination, racial harassment, or discriminatory harassment. These are usually “emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable”, where minorities would manifest “anxiety, anger, rage, depression, compromised self-esteem, shame, and guilt”.

As a grim result of racism, violence against minorities has become widespread. As verified from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI’s) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, they have compiled and published statistics that show the outright prevalence of hate crimes committed in the United States. Most of these crimes were “motivated by prejudice against race, religion and ethnicity”. According to the research of Saucier et al. (2006), the most recent report by UCR indicates that 7,462 hate crime incidents occurred in 2002. Almost half (48.8%) of the incidents were motivated by racial bias (with 67.5% of the racial bias offenses representing anti-Black crimes).

Only 19.1% of the incidents were motivated by religious bias (with 65.9% of these offenses representing anti-Jewish crimes), 16.7% of the incidents were motivated by sexual orientation (with 65.4% of these offenses representing crimes against gay men), and 14.8% of the incidents were motivated by ethnic or national origin bias (with 44.7% of these offenses representing anti-Latino crimes). With these staggering numbers at hand, there is indeed an alarming incidence of violence against minorities that still happen in our society to this day.

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In the South of United States, Messner et al. (August 2005) reported that there are still marked occurrences of lynching and brutalization of whites against black people. They reported that “many incidents of lynching during the period under investigation involved black victims killed by mobs composed of whites, although intra-racial lynching did occur but with less frequency”.

Thus, violence against black people had symbolized for whites the “capacity of the local community to employ extra-legal measures for purposes of controlling the racially subordinate population, for blacks these incidents were stark reminders that they could not rely on the formal institutions of the criminal justice system for aid and protection”. Thus, the severity of violence against minorities precipitated cultural orientations that even support the violent behavior of white people against people of color. Worse, this violence often results to “interracial homicides that evolve out of interpersonal conflicts”.

Another important issue related to racism is exemplified by racial profiling enforced by the police against people of color. Racial profiling has been an issue much concerned about currently because it reeks of racial discrimination. Racial profiling by the police and law enforcement agencies has been seen to promote prejudice among citizens of color. According to the Ethnic Majority Website, the most common example of police racial profiling is “DWB”, otherwise known as “driving while black”.

This refers to the practice of police targeting African American males for traffic stops because they believe that African Americans are more likely to be engaged in criminal activity. While racial profiling is considered illegal, a 1996 Supreme Court decision allows police to stop motorists and search their vehicles if they believe trafficking illegal drugs or weapons. More traffic stops leads to more arrests, which further skews the racial profiling statistics against African Americans (Ethnic Majority Website, 2004).

Facing the problem of racial profiling is convoluted and multifaceted. Most often, dedicated police officers and professional police practices have contributed to making our communities safer. As American policemen are hard-working public servants who perform dangerous jobs, some have been accused to have committed numerous racially-related arrests. The perception that some police officers are engaging in racial profiling has created resentment and distrust among the police force, particularly in communities of color (Ha, 1999).

Communities appreciate the benefits of community enforcers in reducing crime, but they also believe that truly effective crime prevention will only be achieved when police both protect their neighborhoods from crime and respect the civil liberties of all residents. When law enforcement practices are perceived to be biased, unfair, or disrespectful, communities of color are less willing to trust and confide in police officers, report crimes, participate in problem-solving activities, be witnesses at trials, or serve on juries. Moreover, racial profiling often leads to police violence to likely occur, when the victims have forgotten their “appropriate” place in the racial order. The loss of place may be geographical as well as social, hence the likelihood of police harassment of people of color in predominantly white neighborhoods (Perry, 2001, p. 217).

What is essentially wrong with racial profiling is that widespread “driving while black” (DWB) practices deeply undermine the legitimacy—and, therefore, the effectiveness—of the criminal justice system. According to Harris (2003), the pre-textual traffic stops fueled the belief that the police are not only unfair and biased, but untruthful as well. Each pre-textual traffic stop involves an untruth, and both the officer and the driver recognize this.

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The alleged traffic violation is not the real reason that the officer has stopped the driver. This becomes obvious when the officer asks the driver whether he or she is carrying drugs or guns and seeks consent to search the car. If the stop was really about enforcement of the traffic code, there would be no need for a search. Stopping a driver for a traffic offense when the officer’s real purpose is drug interdiction is a lie—a legally sanctioned one, to be sure, but a lie nonetheless. What happens when law enforcement embraces a tactic that is based on the systematic and transparent deception of overwhelmingly innocent people? And, what happens when that tactic is employed primarily against people of color?

It should surprise no one that those who are the victims of police discrimination regard the testimony and statements of police with suspicion. If jurors do not believe truthful police testimony, crimes are left unpunished, law enforcement becomes much less effective, and the very people who need the police most are left less protected. Thus, profiling meant prejudice to African-American males and cops capture some who are guilty, but at an unacceptably high societal cost. The practice undermines public confidence in law enforcement, destroys the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, and makes police work more difficult and dangerous for them.

In the sociological perspective, it is deemed that conflict perspective would certainly agree that racism and discrimination have many harmful consequences for society. Schaefer (2006) explained the exploitation theory (or Marxist class theory) as the basis of racial subordination in the United States. Karl Marx was the first viewed the exploitation of the lower class as a basic part of the capitalist economic system.

From a Marxist point of view, racism keeps minorities in low-paying jobs, thereby supplying the capitalist ruling class with a pool of cheap labor. Moreover, by forcing racial minorities to accept low wages, capitalists can restrict the wages of all members of the proletariat. Workers from the dominant group who demand higher wages can always be replaced by minorities who have no choice but to accept low-paying jobs.

With regards to the practice of racial profiling, this fits both the conflict perspective and labeling theory. Racial profiling may be defined as any arbitrary action initiated by an authority based on race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than on a person’s behavior. Generally, racial profiling occurs when law enforcement officers – customs officials, airport security personnel, and police – assume that people who fit certain descriptions are likely to be engaged in illegal activities. Skin color became a key characteristic of criminal profiles beginning in the 1980s, with the emergence of the crack cocaine market.

But, profiling also can involve a much more explicit use of stereotypes. In 2003, President George W. Bush banned racial profiling by federal agencies but specifically exempted security personnel. Thus, immigration officials can continue to require visitors from Middle Eastern countries to register with the government, even though visitors from other countries are not required to register. Conflict theorists point out that in all these cases, the powerful and privileged dominant majority determines who is profiled and for what purposes (Schaefer 2006).

In this regard, what government policies would be applicable to finally curb racial discrimination in the United States? Walker, Spohn, and Delone (2000) note three important facts that implicate economic factors as major sources of criminal justice bias against people of color: an economic gap between the rich and the poor, regardless of race or ethnicity; an economic gap between Caucasian Americans and people of color; and a growing segment of the population that is very poor (p. 61).

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In addition to these factors, widespread patterns of residential segregation still exist. Those residents stuck in our nation’s inner cities “find it extremely difficult both to learn about job opportunities and to travel to and from work. Public transportation systems are either weak or nonexistent in most cities” (p. 69). Inner-city residents are also less likely to have the necessary contacts to attain jobs. In case you think that anyone who wants to can move away from the inner cities, keep in mind that real estate agents and banking personnel play major roles in maintaining residential segregation by discriminating against poor people and people of color. Thus, economic assistance for minorities at present will greatly help eradicate racism in the long run.

With regards to racial profiling, efforts to combat racial profiling had become a national movement since 2000. Civil rights groups focused on traffic stop data collection for the purpose of documenting the problem and providing a basis for corrective action. A bill to require all law enforcement agencies to collect traffic stop data by race was introduced in Congress. Finally, a growing number of law enforcement agencies began collecting traffic stop data voluntarily. The San Diego Police Department is believed to have been the first to take this step and many other police departments soon followed.

The debate on racial profiling is definitely consumed greatly by incidents that could hypothetically have been prevented had it been practiced to the extreme. Statistics from the US and Canada indicate that Asians are among the least arrested by police (Flynn, 1999). The numbers of course differ depending on how one defines Asian, but it raises interesting questions about whether racial profiling is based on simple discrimination, experience, or some combination of the two. But holistically, it has no basis as an indicator of culpability to commit crime. Prejudice has been an age old issue and it has to be put into perspective. Law enforcement agencies should be more wary about racial profiling that it does not lead to discrimination against people who also bears civil liberties.

Indeed, much is still to be done to finally wipe out violence against minorities that happen in the United States. Hate crimes are still being committed and even law enforcers unconsciously commit violence via racial profiling. There is no escaping the fact that race, crime, and justice are undeniably interconnected in the minds of most Americans. Perceptions of the nature of these interconnections vary and many Americans view violence against minorities through a lens distorted by racial stereotypes and prejudice. White people, especially law enforcement officers, should never rationalize their own relational enactment of white masculinity through brutal acts.

In a society that extols democracy, social justice should be enforced without bias so that people of color will truly pass through or live in any neighborhood without fear of attack or violence against them. In the Information Age, people should be taking this opportunity to know the inequities that occur against minorities. The recognition of social and economic rights of all people should be accompanied by efforts to include and integrate the knowledge that diversity is inevitable in our society. We all just have to learn to accept that fact and we can all celebrate our diversity without a semblance of violence.

References

Adams, J. & Roscigno, V.J. (2005). White Supremacists, Oppositional Culture and the World Wide Web. Social Forces, 84(2): 759-778.

Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. (2005). Race. Microsoft® Encarta® 2005 [CD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.

Flynn, K. (1999). State Cites Racial Inequality in New York Police Searches, New York Times.

Ha, J. (1999). Groups Seek Data on Race-Based Police Stops. Los Angeles Times, p. B3.

Harris, David A. “Racial Profiling Reduces the Effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System”. In L.K. Egendorf (Ed.), The Legal System. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003.

Messner, S.F., Baller, R.D. & Zevenbergen, M.P. (2005). The Legacy of Lynching and Southern Homicide. American Sociological Review, 70(4): 633-656.

Perry, B. (2001). In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes. New York: Routledge.

Racial Profiling. (2004). Ethnic Majority Website. Web.

Saucier, D.A., Brown, T.L., Mitchell, R.C. & Cawman, A.J. (2006). Effects of Victims’ Characteristics on Attitudes Toward Hate Crimes, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(7): 890-909.

Schaefer, R.T. (2006). Sociology: a Brief Introduction, 6th ed. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Thompson-Miller, R. & Feagin, J.R. (2007). Continuing Injuries of Racism: Counseling in a Racist Context. Counseling Psychologist, 35(1): 106-115.

Tiemann, K.A. (2006). Crossroads: Readings in Social Problems 3rd ed, Boston:. Pearson.

Walker, S., Spohn, C. & DeLone, M. (2000). The Color of Justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

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