I am not asking if such a thing is lawful. From a natural, property law perspective, the individual always reserves the right to judge others based on whatever criteria he wishes. There exists no justified ownership of public image. Perception resides only in the minds of others. To attest that you own your character is to superimpose control in the heads of millions. Making such an argument would be ridiculous – despite the defamation prohibitions we see today.
Racial profiling, bad as it may be, should be legal. The barrel of a gun should not stop discrimination based off arbitrary traits. As Walter Block points out, to make distinguishing judgments of others used to be lauded behavior. It was certainly not the type of action the state would attempt to forcibly suppress. Even in our modern egalitarian non-paradise, a full-grown thought police has yet to be implemented, though there are definite attempts to establish one.
No, the issue at hand is based strictly on morality – namely is it “right” thing to do to base judgment off of skin color. Five decades after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” speech, the zeitgeist finds nothing but contempt in making personal evaluations just on shades of pigment. But since majority opinion is wrought with spurious notions of “deserved wealth” and legitimate force, there is no solace in marching to the same beat. In actuality, popular social doctrines ask for scrutiny and dissection.
There is a fine difference between morality and ethics. While the latter systemizes a code of conduct, the former is a normative postulation of what we “ought” to do. My inquiry focuses on the morality of racial profiling within the context of individual methodology. On racism, Ayn Rand famously remarked,
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.
Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical forces beyond his control. This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas…
The impassioned defense of individualism is awfully strange for someone rumored to have a sexual fondness for young, Caucasian males. Of course, racism is not the exact same as racial profiling, but each flows in the same vein. Let there be no doubt that to make a flash judgment based on skin color alone is a denial of individuality. The discrepancy is precisely where the moral dilemma arises. So, is it wrong to assume someone has anti-social tendencies based on outside coloring and with no regard to his unique history, beliefs, or actions?
Reflexively, the immediate answer would seem to be “yes.” It may be the decade of public school indoctrination that guides my gut reaction, but there is a rationale behind seeing racial profiling as wrong. Despite some biological evidence that suggests race can be a determining factor in destructive behavior, the outright denial of individuality simply strikes the wrong chord. Living up to your ideals is how a man best pursues morality and truth. So while using Bayesian probability to profile might make sense from a utilitarian perspective, the assumption of guilt based not on concrete evidence but on a solitary variable really does come off as a stripping of individuality. And for that, I cannot fully endorse the practice as it is at loggerheads with regarding humanity as individuals.
Still, the debate over the efficacy and morality of racial discrimination rages on with little substantive debate. President Obama recently caused plenty of ink spillage by hinting at nominating New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly as head of the Department of Homeland Security. In an interview with Univision, Mr. post-racial presidency said Kelly had done an “extraordinary job” playing night watchman of the Big Apple. As Conor Friedersdorf writes, the prospective nominee has a history of racial profiling – specifically Muslims. The NYPD is responsible for putting American citizens “under surveillance” based on “where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity,” according to the Associated Press. Leftists are perturbed by Obama’s pick because as a candidate in 2008 he promised to rid the executive branch of racial profiling. Perhaps if they were not so credulousness to political promises, I would be more sympathetic to their grief.
The question of racial profiling takes on a different twist when dealt with in a political sense. The state is a unique institution in terms of human interaction. Unlike all other private bodies, monopoly government ostensibly works “for the people.” State law is supposed to be colorblind, as everyone should be bound to play by the same rules. In practice, the notion becomes a bunch of lofty fluff. No state refrains from discrimination. The goal of government is to maintain power at any cost. If that means violating the civil rights of blacks, whites, Latinos, or whomever, there is little difference. If good government could exist, then “equal under the law” could be at hand as well. Instead, the state attracts those most susceptible to violent streaks. You would be better off looking for higher morals in a drug ring than the political class.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen got in hot water for candidly asking “Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males?” His first mistake is counting on a sideshow of pols to ever be honest. The other is believing elected officials are willing to seek the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. There is no question that blacks commit more violent crimes in America in comparison to other races. Government statistics back this up to a tee. Data by itself does not hold some subliminally racist intentions, contrary to those pundits who have the uncanny ability to identify the specter of oppression in everything. The disproportionate amount of transgressions committed by blacks presents a challenge to anyone who views individualism as the natural perspective of man. It may cause uptightness in their company. I dare anyone to tell me they would be willing to walk down a dark alley at night where four young, black males dressed in sagging clothes are loitering. It’s those type of hypothetical situations where the rub arises.
Reforming society towards a more moral foundation begins with the individual. The only person any one man can count on to change is himself. The pervasiveness of racial profiling may or may not be an issue requiring immediate rectification. I do not know the answer, and perhaps the reader does. I would not like to fall back on moral relativism, but this is an issue with many complications. There is a truth-filled answer to the question of racial profiling and it’s possibly this: It should not be done if you view the world as made up of free-thinking individuals. But even the most principled of us will do it from time to time, if only as a defense tactic. It ends up that everyone is racially profiled at one time or another. The practice may not harm you and is perfectly legal in a free society, but that does not make it right. In the ongoing journey to live a good life, we can only strive to do the right thing while knowing that failure is guaranteed.