Profiling The Profiler: The Unflattering Mirror

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Which ethnic subset of American teens is most likely to become substance abusers and thus possessors of illegal drugs, alcohol, or tobacco?

a. Caucasians; b. Hispanics; c. African-Americans.

If you answered “c” you are wrong and probably Caucasian. Large-scale national surveys like the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) find that African-Americans are significantly less likely to have substance use disorders than their White counterparts. Yet African-America teens are more commonly targeted, arrested, and convicted of substance abuse crimes than Caucasians. This is particularly curious because as the majority population (African-Americans make up just 13.6% of the US population) Caucasians form the overwhelming majority of substance abusers. Are the cops blind? Or just blinded by color?

The DOJ defines racial profiling as

any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity

Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that ending racial profiling
was a “priority” for the Obama administration and that profiling was “simply not good law enforcement.” Sadly, that priority has not been accomplished.

Racial profiling usually rears its ugly head in the context of police-initiated traffic stops based on the belief of some officers that minority kids are more likely to possess contraband like drugs and alcohol. But numerous studies have determined that minorities are “no more likely to be found with drugs, and when minorities are targeted by racial profiling, one strong indication is a low ‘hit rate’ of contraband finds.”

Traffic stops are not the only place where racial profiling is rampant despite a similar “low hit rate.” The ACLU reports that:

Moreover, an exclusive focus on traffic stops fails to reveal racial disparities in stops, searches and arrests of women of color pedestrians, particularly in the context of profiling women of color as street-level “drug mules.”   While this practice at the nation’s airports is well documented by a 2000 General Accounting Office study, it also extends into streets and homes across the country.Additionally, racial profiling of women of color as drug users has permeated delivery rooms across the nation, where pregnant women fitting the “profile” of drug users – young, poor, and Black – are drug-tested and sometimes subject to criminal charges.

There has been some push-back against the discriminatory practice of racial profiling, but it has been limited. The  “low hit rate” was an important factor (along with persistent complaints from minorities) in the modification of the US Customs Service’s protocols in conducting searches based on racial profiling. “The Service adopted reforms designed to eliminate racial, ethnic and gender bias in their search activity, while instituting stronger supervisor oversight for searches.”

The results were telling as depicted on this graph provided by the foremost experts on racial profiling, Lamberth Consulting:

Using more objective criteria to search, the Service posted a three-fold increase in “hits” in contrast to the older and more insidious method of racial profiling.

Following the US Customs experience, numerous states have collected data from their law enforcement officers to see if racial profiling was a problem in their jurisdiction. A 2003 study in “liberal” Minnesota is indicative,and the results are discouraging:

Blacks are 214% more likely to be stopped and 155% more likely searched than expected, but during discretionary searches contraband was 35% less likely to be found. For Latinos, the corresponding figures were +95%, +73% and -47%, again showing that Latinos are more frequently stopped and searched, but much less likely found with contraband. For whites, the corresponding statistics were -13%, -37%, and +37%, confirming discriminatory policing, as whites were less likely to be stopped, less likely to be searched, but much more likely found with contraband when searched.

Given the utter and statistically demonstrated disutility of racial profiling in law enforcement, why is it still a problem today? The answers lies deep in our DNA and our psychological reliance on tribal mentality when reacting to the “other.”

At the turn of the Century, many Caucasians stereotyped African-Americans as dirty and contaminated. This perception led to the infamous “Jim Crow” laws which segregated restrooms, restaurants, and even swimming facilities. According to the mentality of the time, it was “just common sense.” The AMA even got into the act saying  that African-Americans were carriers of disease, “a social menace whose collective superstitions, ignorance, and carefree demeanour stood as a stubborn affront to modern notions of hygiene…” (Wailoo, 2006).

Yet despite this obvious insult African-Americans were commonly employed in Causation homes as cleaning ladies, cooks, nannies, and maids. Africa-Americans were “clean enough” to cook the food for Caucasian tables but not clean enough to sit down to eat with them. But what was the truth about the culture? As psychologist, Monnica Williams of the University of Louisville, explains, the truth was far different:

Even today, despite lower per capita incomes, Black Americans spend more on laundry and cleaning supplies than their White counterparts, even after adjusting for differences in average annual spending. African-American women engage in increased hygiene practices and report more cleaning and grooming behaviors. In fact, a greater emphasis on cleaning behaviors appears to be a cultural norm for African-Americans.

But why are Caucasians so ready to accept stereotypical notions of  African-American traits that have no basis in fact and which are evidently disregarded in personal dealings such as hiring decisions for domestic workers?

Let’s look at the commonly held Caucasian perception that African-American males are more likely to be hostile to Caucasians than the other way around. This perception featured mightily in two recent posts here on Res Ipsa Loquitur.  The first is the case of  Trayvon Martin and the second the beating of the Caucasian tourist in Baltimore. What does the research tell us about this perception?

In 1996, researchers Mark Chen , John Bargh, and Laura Burrows looked at the unconscious reactions of 41 Caucasian college students to subliminal photographs of African-Americans. The study consisted of a  long computer generated test depicting a box containing  a random number of colored circles (from 4-25) . The students were tasked with quickly identifying whether the box contained an odd or even number of circles.  A new box was shown every 2-3 seconds. After about 130 trials, an error message was displayed indicating that the students’ answers had not been saved and the test would have to be retaken. A researcher would then enter the testing room and fiddle with  the computer, declaring the error message was wrong and the data were actually stored. Prior to each of the 130 trials a subliminal photograph of a young African-American male or Caucasian male was flashed.

The reactions of the students were videotaped and the students completed two surveys, the Racial Ambivalence Scale (Katz & Hass, 1988) and the Modern Racism Scale ( McConahay, 1986). Both are designed to test the takers level of racism.

The results were surprising. The testing demonstrated that when Caucasian students were presented with even a subliminal picture of an African-American, they responded toward another Caucasian student in a more hostile manner, generating more hostility in the other student.  The researchers described the results this way:

The presented results show that these behavioral responses become automatically linked to representations of  social situations just as previous research found perceptual trait constructs, stereotypes, and attitudes to become automatically activated.

The upshot is that racial profiling is both a conscious and unconscious reaction to the “other.”

In a similar study, Dr. Monnica Williams found comparable results in a test of racial anxiety. Here’s how she described the test:

Using a diverse group of undergraduate evaluators, we individually assessed Black and White participants for anxiety and affect. I was expecting to find that Black participants would be more anxious when assessed by a White interviewer, due to concerns about being negatively stereotyped. I was completely unprepared for what I found. Black participants were fine with their White evaluator, but White participants showed significantly higher levels of negative affect when assessed by a Black evaluator. In other words, working with a Black person made the White person unhappy, grumpy, and annoyed. I imagine it didn’t help that the Black person was in the counter-stereotypical position of evaluating the White person, upsetting the unspoken but expected power differential dictated by the pathological stereotype.

How then can we overcome the moral and legal challenge presented by our own ingrained attitudes? First it’s important to remember that racial stereotyping is a reaction and not a trait. Like most emotional reactions it can be managed and mitigated with cool, calm reason. Second, racial profiling must be declared a societal anathema. It doesn’t work and it is decidedly undesirable in a society predicated on the value of every citizen to participate fully. Finally, we need to acknowledge the adverse consequences that racial profiling has wrought. Does anyone seriously contend that had George Zimmerman met a 17 -year-old Caucasian male adorned in a sweat shirt and carrying candy, the same result would have occurred? Like many, Zimmerman was influenced by his ingrained reaction to conclude that Trayvon was  “an asshole,” and a “punk” — in essence, “the other.” That reaction may not have been his fault in the sense of a conscious choice, but failing to recognize that shortcoming and acting aggressively to pursue the teen was, and may send him to the penitentiary for life.

What do you think?

Sources: PsychologyToday; Journal of  Personality & Social Psychology;

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

61 thoughts on “Profiling The Profiler: The Unflattering Mirror”

  1. Got your point exactly, Woosty. What I was getting at was that the reason for fear in “goons” who go around shooting people is that they are aware that they are doing wrong. THEY KNOW there is reason for someone to feel done-to by them; they are not so dumb as to believe that they have a natural superiority that would make others NATURALLY defer to them and NATURALLY submit to their will. When I talk about being afraid of people to whom I have done something, I don’t mean that I stalked and shot somebody and then am afraid. I mean if I should slight a friend, and not have meant to do so, then next time she phones me, I feel sheepish. But still, the same mechanism is in action. By the way, most people who know me well believe me to be what they call “fearless” because I’ll front of people they fear — authorities, even judges, and definitely, I’ll front off threatening people in the street too — but there’s “fear” and there’s fear.

    Gavin deBecker said it very well.

  2. Malisha1, April 16, 2012 at 6:48 am

    I’m scared of people whenever I’ve done something wrong to them. Even if I IMAGINE I have done something wrong to them, I’m scared of them. And, at times, if I imagine THEY THINK that I have done something wrong to them, when I think I have NOT, I’m scared of them.
    Malisha you don’t sound like someone who runs around doing things ‘to’ people…..Don’t hold the door open so wide for that manner of fear. Fear is also a friend telling you that something is really really really not working right…

  3. MM,

    Sorry you don’t like the way American Politicians dress.
    Don’t blame BOb, I thank him for being brave enough to be the first American Black President, thus drawing the derision and churlish behavior of the racist (black or white) politico-neanderthals . I believe that most of the world can see how BOb turned into a pretzel trying to get by the digustingly self defeating obstacles our ‘political’ Kings of Goon have thrown at him. What is happening in this Country is criminal, not political. I won’t go so far as to say the Barack Obama is a victim, because that role is now fallen to every American Citizen, black white yellow green or purple. There is an element that is capitalizing on hiding behind this ‘veil of division’…..and they are the REAL DIVIDERS……just follow the money.

    Malisha, as far as fear goes….it will always be amongst us, for many reasons, and because of its nature (contagious) it has the capacity to be used as a tool by the least human of humans. Make peace with it or it will control you.

  4. FYI:

    North Bergen prosecutor arrested on charges of participation in large-scale marijuana ring
    Published: Monday, April 16, 2012, 3:01 AM

    “A North Bergen municipal prosecutor has been arrested on charges he played a role in a large scale marijuana distribution network that shipped as much as 1,000 pounds of high-grade pot to the area from Northern California, officials said.
    North Bergen MunicipalH Prosecutor Marcanton Macri, 44, of Edgewater, was remanded to Bergen County jail Friday after being charged with money laundering and financial facilitation, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli announced.

  5. Move over, Dr. Freud:
    I proof-read too late.
    I meant “black-on-white” crimes, not “black-on-right” —
    Shhhhhhh — don’t tell Newt! He’ll quote me in context!

  6. I’m scared of people whenever I’ve done something wrong to them. Even if I IMAGINE I have done something wrong to them, I’m scared of them. And, at times, if I imagine THEY THINK that I have done something wrong to them, when I think I have NOT, I’m scared of them.

    There’s where a lot of fear comes from, in people who are not even particularly sociopathic (or, as OS has pointed out, do not suffer (?) from antisocial personality disorder pursuant to the DSM-IV-TR).

    After the nonsense reports came out illogically comparing the Trayvon Martin case to the Tyrone Woodfork case, I remember thinking a bizarre thought that I didn’t even post on any blogs: “Oh well the wacko-right-wing contingent will now start counting up black on white crimes to justify the Trayvon Martin case, but of course will not come up with any black-on-right crimes where the perp was not arrested…” so I envisioned about a thousand posts saying, essentially, “This is not analogous because the perp was arrested.” But then I thought, “They’re just saying the KILLING of Trayvon Martin was justified by some black-on-white crime somewhere, at some time, with unrelated other characteristics!” First, it just astonished me, and I believed it was correct. But then I realized something: If they were to do a tally of black-on-white crimes to justify white-on-black crimes, they couldn’t start with a ZERO. They’d have to start with a million kidnaps, a million murders, a million rapes, a million deprivations of human rights under color of state law, and go from there, and then, they would not catch up before the killing of Trayvon Martin, and wouldn’t catch up any time soon — by which time, in the think-up, I figured, “Oh drop all this unbearable nonsense and go take your aspirin.”

    @Idealist707: Not into poetry, huh?

    Different ocean:
    Why are sands not yellow here?
    Is the stranger me?

  7. MikeS.
    I read Kerouac’s OTR, but didn’t really understand, for good reasons.
    Visited SF and the City Lights bookstore on a memorial trip from LA. Bought Fersinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind, mainly for the style, not the content. Wasn’t into poetry.

    Not a thing seen except scarce worshipers of them. Went to a party. Everybody looked at each other. Is nothing going to happen? Nothing did.

    No signs of hippies then in 63 or 64.

    Then Ginsburg came on my horizon. A few sllght sightings. He had stature, and influenced many I believe. Even Patti Smith writes proudly of an encounter at Chelsea hotel. Should look to find a good video on him

    Happy roading. Anyone singing?

  8. “Maybe Kansas, instead of being a laughingstock, is actually in the vanguard. Maybe what has happened there points the way in which all our public policy debates are heading. Maybe someday soon the political choices of Americans everywhere will be whittled down to the two factions of the Republican Party [emphasis added]. Whether the Mods will still call themselves “Republicans” then or will have switched to being [blue dog] Democrats won’t really matter: both groups will be what Kansans call “fiscal conservatives,” and the issues that motivated our parents’ Democratic Party will be permanently off the table.” — Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?

    I think of the above observation and cringe every time I see the smiling balck face of President Barack Obama — ironically posing as a “Democrat” — haplessly humping political and economic water for the two tag-team factions of the Republican Party who have gleefully given him the paltry corporate parameters within which his mind willingingly wobbles. So, with all due apoogies to Rudyard Kipling:

    Though we’ve jeered at you and trained you,
    By the club with which we’ve brained you,
    You’re a black-faced tool, but useful,
    Gunga Dim.

    Personally, I find black-faced corporate/militarist tools like Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama — all suitably attired in the finest, white-sanctioned apparel — far more threatening than any young black male trying to purchase a pathetic self-image of rebellion in a pair of brand-name pants while still safely conforming to the tyranny of his demographic peers. “Everyone wears a uniform,” a schoolteacher of my acquaintance once told me. “The only question involves who gets to choose it: the jailers or the inmates.”

  9. Another study based on NSDUH reports (2005-2008), conducted by Dan G. Blazer PhD, Jeng-Jong Pan PhD and Chongming Yang PhD, from Duke University shows that White adolescents aged 12 to 17 are more addicted to drugs or alcohol than the non-Whites in the same age group. The study was based on confidential federal surveys of more than 72,000 adolescents in all 50 states.

  10. Since the Trayvon Martin killing, I’ve been thinking about my own unintentional reactions towards what would first glance might appear to be black men. Then the other night two 20ish white men got on a late night subway with me and I saw the true source of my unintentional reactions. The two young men had saggy pants, loud mouths, and that “oh so desperate to look tough” swagger. I shifted slightly to keep my eye on them, paying no concern to the meterosexual 20-something black man across from me. I am untrusting of people who choose to identify with the gangsta/thug culture. Why should I be trusting of people who feel connection to violent often misogynistic lyrics? Why should I not suspect a higher chance of criminality in people who adopt prison fashion as part of their public presentation?

    To put it another way: If a person had the biography of Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison on their person it would be reasonable of me to assume that they respect intelligence, creativity and hard work and seek to nurture those qualities in themselves. So if a person has the music of Gucci Mane, DMX, or Mystikal (all whom have served prison time for violent crimes) it would also be reasonable to assume that they respect aggression, bravado, and responding to perceived disrespect with violence and they seek to nurture those qualities in themselves.

    I’m not trying to excuse the very real problem of anti-black racism that comes from many white sub-cultures, I am trying to stop pretending that the persistent problem of seeing young black men as criminals comes only from that one source. We all have issues to deal with in order to grow out of racism, but I only ever hear the white sub-culture issues discussed in public forums. The time is right to have the discussion, but we need the whole discussion in order to make lasting progress.

  11. @ lottakatz1, April 15, 2012 at 5:39 am …

    “The more things change nowadays, the more they go backwards.”~ Mespo

  12. As someone recently said to me: “Talking to myself is important, even while imagining someone else I am addressing……” idealist707

    Idealist, talking to ones self is so underrated. I find that when I talk to myself I am frequently my most enthusiastic listener. I usually listen to my arguments much more carefully than anyone else. And my answers to myself are frequently much better than anyone else’, even if I do say so my self,. If you comments are in need of an attentive listener, try talking to yourself – highly recommended.

  13. Mike S.,
    I was aghast when you wrote that you had a 1400 mile car journey ahead of you. I thought that I hope you wouldn’t attempt a Romney vacation journey, ie straight through without stop.
    In Baker’s book on the Bushes, have reached the elaborate paper trail for the travels and activities on Nov. 22, 1963.

  14. Dredd,
    Thanks for the confirmation of my existence and worth.

    The point you make is one subject to some reflection lately, and very pertinent as I only had one parent and no supplements/surrogates. Won’t expand except to say I was excepted thereby from many of the common infections of the surrrounding community (also aided by my social isolation) but starved of affection. She did not even years later hug my brother’s children.
    Did follow to a reception for Adlai Stevenson, probably obtained at her work. But she had no energies for politics otherwise. But belief in the Dems was solidly anchored in me.
    Your intentions are kind and much appreciated.

  15. LottaKatz,

    Beautiful poetry with a terrifying message, you are inspired perhaps.
    “….We, nationally and pan-racially are not getting better or smarter but seem almost biologically predisposed to something akin to self-destruction as a group, a national culture. The same people pull the same tricks and we fall for it every time. Every time. …” lottakatz

    A quick reference to a Herodotus tale, as related by Kapucínski:
    A widely famed emperor took a foreign visitor out to show him the wheat field, and incidently show his technique of ruling. They walked as he struck off the heads of wheat which stuck up above the rest. That is a demonstration of selective breeding, a technique used in all husbandry.

    Perhaps that suggests one answer to why we are as we are. We are the product of long breeding. And it is an observation of the technique of cutting off the dissenters who stick up. “Deselecting” to prevent from breeding dissent, and breeding of offspring also with the genetic fault of aspiring democratic society.

    1. Think of the Children,
      Your hypothesis that white stereotypes of blacks comes from Gangsta Rap, is quite frankly bullshit. Stereotyping of Black men as dangerous was a byproduct of slavery since its beginning.

      Much of my trip was through RWA country.

      Road trips rank up there with my favorite things.
      Jack Kerouac was an early influence.

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