The events of September 11th raise many interesting issues as to racial profiling, the media, and society. First, due to national security concerns, the United States may be slipping into a “white-against-everyone-else” paradigm, where all people of color will be lumped together and will be suspected of being terrorists, tempered by national origin, biracial heritage, and religion. Recent government pronouncements indicate that the next terrorist is likely to not going to be an Arab face, but instead to be an Asian or African one. In addition, racial profiling of all people of color is more likely to occur because of the racial ambiguity and misidentification of the recently arrested post-September 11th perpetrators.
Racial profiling of all people of color will make it easier for authorities because they will not have to discern the differences between and among different racial groups in the United States. American citizens have been deputized to help ferret out future terrorist activities. This deputizing will lead to further racial profiling. Since the American public generally believes that those with dark skin are more likely to be violent than whites, they are likely to look upon anyone with non-white skin as a possible terrorist. Also, because the profiling will be justified on the ground of national security, the national security norm will trump the color-blind norm. Importantly, the first persons captured for allegedly planning or attempting to carry out additional terrorist attacks in the United States have been men of African or Latino descent--this phenomenon suggests that law enforcement officials may be too willing to rely on their traditional arsenal of racial profiles, while possibly overlooking dangerous perpetrators.
Second, racial profiling is directly related to the media depictions of people of color. For perpetrators who are racialized as white, the news media and society presume that they are inherently good and that something bad happened to cause them to do wrong; maybe they experienced bad parenting or even took an acne medication that caused serious psychological side-effects. For those racialized as being of African descent, however, the news media and society presume that they are generally bad with no mitigation for their behavior. Before September 11th, individuals with olive-complexions and those of Middle Eastern ancestry were stereotyped by the news media and society as a blend of two extremes--the positive stereotype of royal oil millionaire and the negative image of the fanatical terrorist. Since September 11th, the negative stereotype has all but completely overpowered the positive stereotype. At the moment, this segment of the population has been “darkened” in the American public's mind.
Finally, racial ambiguity and misidentification have implications in terms of the media depictions of the individual perpetrators and racial groups. As noted above, the coverage of each perpetrator changed over time to mirror changing perceptions of each man's “racialized identity.”
. Professor of Law, St. John's University School of Law, Jamaica, New York; B.S., New York University; J.D.-M.B.A., Columbia Universit