Racial Profiling and Why it Hurts Minorities

The controversial practice can occur on the streets, in stores and at airports

The definition of racial profiling, the minority groups most affected by such discrimination and the drawbacks of the practice with this review. If you've ever been pulled over by police for no reason, followed around in stores or repeatedly pulled aside by airport security for “random” searches, you've likely experienced racial profiling.

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Why Racial Profiling Doesn't Work

Missouri State Trooper Captain Ronald Johnson gets an ear full from a protester

  Orjan F. Ellingvag / Getty Images 

Supporters of racial profiling argue that this practice is necessary because it cuts down on crime. If certain people are more likely to commit certain kinds of crimes, it makes sense to target them, they say. But racial profiling opponents cite research they say proves the practice is ineffective. For example, since the dawn of the war on drugs in the 1980s, law enforcement agents have disproportionately targeted Black and Latino drivers for narcotics. But a number of studies on traffic stops found that white drivers were more likely than their African American and Hispanic counterparts to have drugs on them. This supports the idea that authorities should focus on suspicious individuals rather than on specific racial groups to lower crime.

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Black and Latino New Yorkers Subjected to Stop-and-Frisk

New York Police Department Car. Mic/Flickr.com

Conversations about racial profiling have frequently centered on police targeting drivers of color during traffic stops. But in New York City, there’s been a great deal of public outcry about officers stopping and frisking African Americans and Latinos on the street. Young men of color are particularly at risk for this practice. While New York City authorities say that the stop-and-frisk strategy lowers crime, groups such as the New York Civil Liberties Union say that the data don’t bear this out. Moreover, the NYCLU has pointed out that more weapons have been found on whites stopped and frisked than on Blacks and Latinos, so it makes little sense that police have disproportionately pulled aside minorities in the city.

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How Racial Profiling Affects Latinos

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been accused of anti-Latino racism. Gage Skidmore/Flickr.com

As concerns about unauthorized immigration reach a fever pitch in the United States, more Latinos find themselves subjected to racial profiling. Cases of police unlawfully profiling, abusing or detaining Hispanics have not only led to investigations by the U.S. Justice Department but have also made a series of headlines in places such as Arizona, California, and Connecticut. In addition to these cases, immigrant rights groups have also raised concerns about U.S. Border Patrol agents using excessive and deadly force on undocumented immigrants with impunity.

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Shopping While Black

Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice may have been racially profiled while shopping. U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Flickr.com

While terms such as “driving while Black” and “driving while brown” are now used interchangeably with racial profiling, the phenomenon of “shopping while Black” remains a mystery to people who’ve never been treated like a criminal in a retail establishment. So, what is “shopping while Black?” It refers to the practice of salespeople in stores treating customers of color as if they’re shoplifters. It may also refer to store personnel treating minority clients like they don’t have enough money to make purchases. Salespeople in these situations may ignore patrons of color or refuse to show them high-end goods when they ask to see them. Prominent Blacks such as Condoleezza Rice have reportedly been profiled in retail establishments.

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A Definition of Racial Profiling

Washington D.C. Police
Washington D.C. Police. Elvert Barnes/Flickr.com

Stories about racial profiling constantly appear in the news, but that doesn’t mean the public has a good grasp on what this discriminatory practice is. This definition of racial profiling is used in context and coupled with examples to help clarify. Sharpen your thoughts on racial profiling with this definition.

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Your Citation
Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Racial Profiling and Why it Hurts Minorities." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/racial-profiling-how-it-hurts-minorities-2834860. Nittle, Nadra Kareem. (2021, July 31). Racial Profiling and Why it Hurts Minorities. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/racial-profiling-how-it-hurts-minorities-2834860 Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Racial Profiling and Why it Hurts Minorities." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/racial-profiling-how-it-hurts-minorities-2834860 (accessed February 1, 2023).