I. A Critical Race Theory Approach
The United States has made substantial progress in race relations. Many doors that were previously closed are now presumably open to people, irrespective of race. In the early and mid-part of the 20th Century, segregation, discrimination and openly verbalized expressions of prejudice were perfectly acceptable. Since the Civil Rights Movement, American norms have shifted to embrace the ideal of a colorblind society. Survey results show that the vast majority of white Americans believe in equal and non-discriminatory treatment towards people of color in education, employment and housing. The country has adopted the rhetoric of Dr. Martin Luther King's message to Americans to judge each other by “the content of our character not by the color of our skin.” These changing norms have had a very powerful effect on American society, but they are only norms. Have all Americans really internalized them? Probably not.
In The Id, The Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, Professor Charles R. Lawrence III explores unconscious racism. He posited that American society reaches certain negative stereotypes about African Americans while teaching whites that it is socially unacceptable to hold racist thoughts. Like many repressed thoughts and feelings, these negative stereotypes manifest themselves in many ways. For example, when addressing a group of Republican operatives, Nancy Reagan said that she wished her husband Ronald Reagan could be there to “see all these beautiful white people.” When challenged by the media on this issue, Reagan's Illinois campaign manager defended Mrs. Reagan by explaining, “she was talking to her husband about the white snow and that's how she got mixed up.”
For those who have not internalized the norm of colorblindness, “the norm functions as an external constraint, shaping their behavior to the extent they feel observed by those assumed to uphold the norm.” Norms are inefficacious when the behavior is unobserved. For example, a prejudiced woman interested in hiring a child-care provider may exclude all applicants that she believes are African American (based on residential address on the applicant's resume, stereotypical name, or the timbre of the applicant's voice suggesting certain stereotypical cadences). Since this woman is acting in a singular fashion before even meeting any of the applicants, she may be more likely to discriminate because she is unlikely to be discovered. However, the same woman, while serving on a work-related team to hire a subordinate, will be more cautious in discriminating; she would fear exposure as not adhering to the norm.
Norms are also inefficacious when the person who engages in the norm-breaking behavior can find a second acceptable norm to justify the breaking of the first norm. For example, with the color-blind norm, institutions espouse the rhetoric of equality, but often couple it with a requirement of an institutionally self-defined norm of merit so that a potential employee not meeting the merit standard will not be hired. The standards for merit may be set in a way that conceals violations of the colorblindness norm rather than legitimately ensuring competent performance on the job. The prejudiced woman may construct the standards of merit in a way that precludes African Americans. She will be able to stress these standards in her decision not to hire African American applicants, thus avoiding being labeled a racist. When criticized for having too few employees of color, her employer can respond, “we are not discriminating; we just can't find any qualified applicants of color.” Analogously, in our post-September 11th world, the United States has tried to adhere to its colorblind nondiscriminatory rhetoric, but this Article will show that, in some ways, the events of September 11th have allowed the norm of colorblindness to be surpassed by the norm of national security.
Race is variable and shaped by societal forces. Michael Omni and Harold Winant have written “Race is indeed a pre-eminently sociohistorical concept. Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete expression by the specific social relations and historical context in which they are embedded. Racial meanings have varied tremendously over time and between different societies.” In the United States, society has rigidly enforced a black/white paradigm with African Americans on the bottom and whites on top. Historically, the United States has followed the principle of hypo-descent, or, the “one-drop” rule--if a person has any African American ancestor, regardless of any white heritage, society categorizes that person's race as black, regardless of his or her appearance. In addition to black-white race integration issues, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, race concepts of what was considered white began to change due to influence from other groups. Initially, in the United States, the term “white” encompassed only those of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. With the immigration of many people from Ireland and southern and eastern Europe, the notion of “whiteness” grudgingly expanded to include these immigrants.
In the article If It's Not Black Anymore, Why Does Darkness Cast A Longer Discriminatory Shadow than Lightness? An Investigation and Analysis of the Color Hierarchy, I posit that the black-white paradigm in the United States is transforming gradually into a dark-light paradigm. With an increase in the number of Latinos and biracial Americans, the United States' social construction of race is shifting from the exclusive provinces of black-white to the newer realm of dark-light. The article predicts that society will ultimately lump most people of color in the middle of the pyramid irrespective of race, while “unmixed” African Americans will probably stay at the bottom. People of color with lighter complexions will face discrimination of a lesser magnitude than both unmixed blacks and dark-skinned people.
Also, I reported the results of a Western New England College Survey. Seventy percent of whites surveyed said that whites discriminated more against darker-skinned African Americans than lighter-skinned African Americans. Forty-one percent of the whites surveyed also thought that whites treated darker-skinned Latinos worse than lighter-skinned ones. As immigration from Latin America and interracial marriages increase, the U.S. population will truly span from white to black, with every variation in between these two classifications. While America's recognition of racial compositions that fall “in between” white and black categories could appear to be progressive, unfortunately, because of national security concerns, social construction of race in the United States is slipping into a “white-against-everyone-else” paradigm. All people of color will be lumped together and will be suspected of being terrorists, but national origin, religion, biracial background, and appearance may soften the profile. Evidence of this is the recent government pronouncement that law enforcement believes that the next terrorist is not going to be an Arab, but an Asian or African. In addition, the racial profiling of people of color is more likely to occur because of the racial ambiguity of many of the individuals so far apprehended. How can one determine whether a person is Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, Latino or African American? Many African Americans, for instance, have physical features similar to some alleged terrorists. Finally, this “white-against-everyone-else” paradigm is evidenced by increase in hate crimes against Arab Americans, and those people average Americans cannot distinguish from Arab Americans, like Southeast Asians and Latinos.
In the aftermath of September 11th, hostility and violence have increased towards Arab Americans and those people that average Americans have trouble distinguishing from Arab Americans, like Southeast Asians and Latinos. Since September 11th, more than 700 incidents of hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims have occurred. President Bush has condemned these hate crimes and preached tolerance. However, a great deal of hostility and anxiety towards these groups exist in the United States.
Racial profiling all people of color makes it easier for authorities to get away with profiling because they will not have to discern the differences between and among different racial groups in the United States. The situation will be even worse if profiling is rationalized as necessary for national security; the colorblind norm could then be trumped by the national security norm. Further, it is very easy for a member of a minority group in the United States, in one fell swoop, to go from a “model minority” to public enemy number one.