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The Anatomy of Justice Conclusion – Profiling: The myth, the science and the behavior

I ended part 3 stating that RACE remains an issue and many times a law enforcement cover-up. That wasn’t to say that the issue of RACE only resides in the quarters of law enforcement.
As a community advocate, I interact with law enforcement here in Virginia Beach on many occasions. In fact, a coalition of African-American leadership has been involved in community policing policies for some time and with good results in many areas. I center on them because historically, law enforcement has not been good for the African-American community, beginning to end. Also, an encounter going bad these days many times ends in a death.

The above said, local policing will be quick to respond lauding their diversity training program and the time of involvement. My argument here is that ‘yes’, a program is in place, and in fact, a fairly good program BUT a classroom training program, even with role play and other training scenarios does not replace a life time of bias indoctrination.

Let me explain but before I go further, understand that law enforcement isn’t by itself in the land of bias and discrimination. Reports yesterday and today will note that even the highest of level of educated Blacks may suffer racial discrimination in the job market.

And, it’s not just the job market, it just as well could be the credit market, the housing market or any of the various other markets, even medical facilities and institutions in our society. When such stories appear and it is a good idea that they do appear, there is always an element of surprise and a scarcity of information on what, if anything, can or be done as a result.

A problem lately is that stories of bias and discrimination are punctuated by the happy surprise that we elected an African-American and put him in the White House. However, together these two factors create confusion. How can it be that we elected an African-American president, yet even Yale Black graduates still face discrimination? And what about all the progress we have made?

Some of this confusion would go away if we had a more sophisticated understanding of race, which is artificial to begin with.

Let me first provide you with my definition of RACISM: Racial bias put into action as discrimination with the power to perpetuate it. [Three elements: bias, discrimination, power, that is based on RACE.]

A study documented that when Latinos and African-Americans were treated by physicians for a broken bone in their leg, they received pain medication significantly less often than white patients with the same injury. The data were not new. It mirrored data from a 2002 Institute of Medicine report on racial and ethnic disparities in health care, which stressed that “a large body of research underscores the existence of disparities.” So what happened to “do no harm.”

The fact is, we as a country have never had a serious discussion on racism. We mainly talk about race and racial discrimination in terms of explicit, conscious attitudes; in the explicit, there is much to suggest we have made progress. Remember however, progress is not synonymous with resolution. In this case, this is far from the whole story.

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When I studied racism in the arena of race relations, there was a good deal of work in the field of mind science about conscious and unconscious or subconscious. We understood that all we encounter growing is recorded somewhere in the brain and when certain stimulus is presented, the ‘tape’ begins a playback.

By some account, only about 2 percent of our cognitive and emotional processes are conscious and that 2 percent is impacted by what is going on in the other 98 percent. Movements over the last 30 years have given us better ways to both understand and measure what is going on in the unconscious.

A police officer decides to stop an African-American and question him/her, maybe even search, and more. Yet, in his/her mind, honestly say that race was not a consideration. That response is only reporting information that is available in the conscious 2 percent of the mind. The processes in the other 98 percent may be harboring racial resentments and stereotypes that impact choices made. Choices that may lead to the now standard answer, “I feared for my life.”

Does this mean that the officer is unconsciously racist? Not necessarily. We often have conflicting feelings and thoughts and our explicit or conscious thoughts may differ from our implicit or unconscious ones.

Even if we could control the way we think of race, this would not give us reason to believe we are racially objective. Our lives are not simply a result of our conscious intentions. We must also pay attention to the ways our growing up, our environment then and now, friends and associates, and even how institutions interact to shape our lives.

We increasingly support integrated schools but send our children to increasingly charter, socially segregated or racially exclusive schools. This is not just a failure of living our values but a failure of aligning the work of our institutions with our stated values.

The more complex society becomes, the more we rely on institutional arrangements to do work for us. Yet, seldom do we look at the work these institutions are doing to promote or constrain our stated values. Remember, racism is an institutional presence.

The issue of racial profiling is about the institutional systemic environment that has been created and perpetuated into the very fabric of our society. If we are serious about racial fairness we must expand our scope.

The fact that we have these deep, unconscious biases – and it’s conflicted around race – we can be primed to be racially fair, we can be primed to be racially anxious – and it doesn’t make us a racist. It makes us human.

Racial profiling exists and if we’re going to address it, we have to acknowledge that.

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Andrew Jackson is a resident of Virginia Beach and active in the Seajack Civic League of that city.

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