Meet former Atlanta Falcons' running back Warrick Dunn. Warrick Dunn invests his time and energy into public service. Warrick Dunn receives numerous awards and commendations for his public work. Warrick Dunn drives his car in Atlanta. Last week, Warrick Dunn gets pulled over. Why? According to the police, Warrick Dunn fits the profile for "people transporting drugs & guns." Dunn recounted the incident on Facebook:
Pulled over outside Atl because he said my window tint was too dark. During the stop he asked a lot of personal questions, said I had the characteristics of people transporting drugs & guns. So he searched my car and gave me a warning for my tint. Felt violated and I’ve had my car since ’08, nvr been pulled ovr for tint. Taken back bc I think the reasoning was bad. Ruined my day but not my spirit.
Yes, the unimpeachable Dunn, a "model citizen" who has won awards for his public service, made the apparent error of "driving while black." It's a familiar story -- one that many Americans readily attribute to a bygone era. Indeed, according to a recent study, most white Americans view "anti-white prejudice" as the dominant race issue of our era. Majority attitudes suggest that "anti-black sentiment," however, is a diminishing folly in our "post-racial" nation. Thus, many Americans readily say such a prejudicial act of profiling no longer has a place in mainstream society. As noted by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R), racism like this is no longer common. After all, "we elected a black president."
Here's the problem. Those who willingly deny the prevalence of the racism Dunn endured are simultaneously pushing the policy that makes it possible. In today's hyper-Islamophobic era, many Americans -- mostly Republicans -- support racial profiling of Muslims as an acceptable counter-terrorism strategy. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who chafes at being called a racist, believes racial profiling to be nothing more than "common sense." In fact the same week that Dunn was stopped, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) bemoaned the fact that TSA patted down "an ol' lady" but allowed a "guy in Arabian dress" to "walk...right through."
As proven time and again, you cannot remove the racism from racial profiling. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that 77 percent of drug users are white and most drug users have a source who is "of their own racial or ethnic background, regardless of the drug considered." And yet, black men like Dunn are consistently pulled over. In the case of terrorism, the "Jihad Janes" and "underwear bombers" of the world don't possess that "Middle Easterner" look. As NYU Prof. Angela Davis notes, "How difficult would it be to recruit a compatriot with a 'non-Arab' appearance or plant a weapon in the bag of someone who doesn’t fit the profile?" And yet, Arab-looking men and women are still bear the brunt of a backward policy.
Of course, the idea that racial profiling is indeed inherently racist may strike many as an obvious statement. But when the public and politicians believe that such prejudice is receding to the margins, I think it bears repeating.
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