Tag Archives: Arizona

Save a Buck, Bust a Brown Person: the Idiocy in Racial Profiling


Of all the points made against racial profiling, this is the one you want to avoid making if your gig is avoiding looking stupid: Racial profiling is wrong because it is not effective.  On the left side of the shouting match about racial profiling you far too often hear someone rattle off all the white terrorists they have ever heard of in an attempt to make a case that there aren’t any ethnic trends in terrorism.  The guy arguing for racial profiling will then start a list of as many brown bad guys as he can conjure up and “From there the conversation will devolve into a contest to see who can name more terrorists, until at some point the segment runs out of time.” (Ben Eidelson for Salon)  Apart from this being an entertaining spectacle to watch, this is clearly a pathetic exercise and even if you are the victor, your long list of terrorists only qualifies you as a terror geek.  It solves nothing.

So what to do instead?  Eidelson’s got the answer: argue that racial profiling is morally wrong.  Two examples:

Arizona: “Arizona’s new law, for instance, will ostracize innocent Latinos, entrench racial suspicions, and lend the government’s endorsement to hostile stereotypes about who “looks American.” It will serve as a regular and painful reminder to Latino Americans that, in the eyes of many, they don’t belong in their own neighborhood.”

Airport Security: “The question is whether officials should consider ethnicity as one factor in deciding whom to examine more or less closely. We should exclude race and religion from those judgments not because everybody is equally likely to be a threat, but because it would be wrong to institutionalize the alienating suspicion already faced by innocent Muslims and Arab-Americans in their schools, workplaces and communities.”

The inevitable retort to this line of argument will be that we have limited resources and border hoppers and plane bombers in recent history tend to fit a certain profile.  So as uncomfortable as it might make weak sauce commies, brown people are getting the pat-down.  Or, as Fox commentator Steven Crowder helpfully puts it, “You’re not looking for a blond-haired, blue-eyed Swede most of the time.”

As easy as that might make airport security checks for this Swede, this kind of lazy pragmatism makes me sick to the stomach.  Simply because something is simpler or more cost-efficient doesn’t make it right.  This kind of racially-charged rhetoric that blames broad swaths of our population for society’s ills was equally convenient in Nazi Germany when a particularly charismatic leader harnessed German efficiency to his less than fuzzy feelings for Abraham’s children.

Change for the worse may at first happen slowly but bigoted thought has a way of snowballing.  On the heels of the passing of the Arizona law sanctioning police questioning of those who “look” like illegal immigrants, we have another encouraging trend from this anachronism of a state:  a bill that seeks to nix ethnic studies in Arizona schools.  The Los Angeles Times correctly identifies the law as a source of great concern for those who believe, “it’s yet another law targeting Latinos in the state.”

Massive opposition to this kind of downward spiral is needed now.  The Los Angeles and San Francisco and, just today, Austin city governments have passed official boycotts of Arizona for most business.  Opposition to institutionalized prejudice should not just be the remit of government.  Don’t fight creeping racism with weak arguments about what color our troubles come in.  We have far greater problems on our hands if we turn back the tide of civil rights progress by claiming that racial profiling is justified because it is more cost and time-effective a method to soothe our woes.  We have come too far and we are too wealthy a society to justify institutionalized prejudice for such petty reasons.  As Eidelson puts it:  “It may simply cost us more — in time, money or convenience — to achieve the same level of success without racial discrimination. Many Americans are fond of the slogan that “freedom isn’t free.” Why should we expect that fairness will be?”



Bjorn Karlman

“Those Pants Make You Look Illegal” – A Win for Intolerance in Arizona

Statue of Liberty holding a stop sign

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer sure knows how to dial back the pace of progress.  Today, Brewer signed into law a bill that will allow police to demand legal status papers from anyone they think gives off an illegal immigrant vibe.  Challenged by Chris Matthews on Hardball last night to provide one non-ethnic clue that law enforcement would pick up on to round up illegals, Rep Brian Billbray (R-CA) said, “They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there’s different type of attire, there’s different type of — right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.” 

So if you live in Arizona, your dressing rituals will have to allow for more than color coordination and avoiding your fat pants: You will also need  to gauge just how illegal you look before you walk out the door.  Like two dudes at the movies with an obligatory “I’m not gay” seat between them, who knows the lengths people will go to not look border-hopperish?

It is hard to decide what is more crazy-making: the fact that backers of the law are so prejudiced that they think you can identify undocumented individuals walking down the street based on clothing or vague hunches, or the fact that these fearmongering xenophobes have the naivety to argue that this isn’t going to turn into legally-sanctioned racial profiling.  Brewer claims that she won’t tolerate anything of the sort as, simultaneously, she stokes the fears of Arizonians in a shameless mid-battle re-election bid.

Even President Obama himself has tried to stop this legislation being voted into law.  He deemed the Arizona moves “misguided” and stated that they “threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”  Obama has ordered his legal team to examine the legality of the decision in Arizona and said that there must be national immigration reform or we would allow for more “irresponsibility by others.”

In classic conservative “us and them” prattle, the bill’s Republican sponsor, state Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, said that Obama and other critics of the bill were “against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law.”  He claimed that the new legislation would remove the “political handcuffs” on police.  “Illegal is illegal,” said Pearce, “We’ll have less crime. We’ll have lower taxes. We’ll have safer neighborhoods. We’ll have shorter lines in the emergency rooms. We’ll have smaller classrooms.” Why didn’t he just continue? We’ll have less shady brown people.  We’ll have cleaner accents.  We’ll talk to our neighbors again.

This has been a sad day for civil rights.  Let’s push for immigration reform before we are all Arizonians.



Bjorn Karlman