Why Racial Profiling Is Hard to Justify: A Response to Risse and Zeckhauser

Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (1):94-110 (2004)
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In their article, “Racial Profiling,” Risse and Zeckhauser offer a qualified defense of racial profiling in a racist society, such as the contemporary United States of America. It is a qualified defense, because they wish to distinguish racial profiling as it is, and as it might be, and to argue that while the former is not justified, the latter might be. Racial profiling as it is, they recognize, is marked by police abuse and the harassment of racial minorities, and by the disproportionate use of race in profiling.These, on their view, are unjustified. But, they contend, this does not mean that all forms of racial profiling are unjustified, even in a racist society, or that one has to be indifferent to the harms of racism to believe that this is so. Indeed, one of the aims of their article is to show that racial profiling, suitably qualified, “is consistent with support for far-reaching measures to decrease racial inequities and inequality” (p. 134), and so to challenge the assumption that “arguments in support of profiling can speak only to those who callously disregard the disadvantaged status of racial minorities.” In a long and provocative article there is, inevitably, a great deal to discuss. However, I will concentrate on two claims about the harms of racial profiling advanced on page 146, both because these merit careful discussion and because they are critical to Risse and Zeckhauser’s argumentative strategy. Those two claims are (1) that “the harm caused byprofiling per se is largely due to underlying racism” and is, therefore, purely expressive; and (2) that “the incremental harm done by profiling often factors into utilitarian considerations in such a way as to support profiling.” We can call the first the expressive harm thesis and the second the incremental harm thesis. I am no expert on racial profiling, or on racism, however, I will suggest that these two theses are far more controversial than Risse and Zeckhauser assume, and point to serious difficulties with their justification of profiling.



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Annabelle Lever
SciencesPo, Paris

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Racial Profiling.Mathias Risse & Richard Zeckhauser - 2004 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 32 (2):131-170.

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