Race and Racial Profiling

Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Race, ed. Naomi Zack (OUP 2016)

18 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2015

See all articles by Annabelle Lever

Annabelle Lever

University of Geneva - Department of Political Science and International Relations

Date Written: October 17, 2015


Philosophical reflection on racial profiling tends to take one of two forms. The first sees it as an example of ‘statistical discrimination,’ (SD), or when, if ever, probabilistic generalisations about group behaviour or characteristics can be used to judge particular individuals.(Applbaum 2014; Harcourt 2004; Hellman, 2014; Risse and Zeckhauser 2004; Risse 2007; Lippert-Rasmussen 2006; Lippert-Rasmussen 2007; Lippert-Rasmussen 2014). This approach treats racial profiling as one example amongst many others of a general problem in egalitarian political philosophy, occasioned by the fact that treating people as equals does not always require, or permit, us to treat them the same. The second form is concerned with how racial profiling illuminates the nature, justification, and reproduction of hierarchies of power and privilege based on skin colour and morphology. This form of reflection on racial profiling is therefore less about the justification for judging people based on the characteristics of the group to which they (appear to) belong, and more concerned with the specific ways in which the association of racialised minorities – and, in particular, black people – with crime, contributes to, and reflects, racial inequality, unfreedom, and oppression.(Kennedy 1998; Zack, 2015; Lever, 2005; Lever 2007). Both approaches to profiling have much to recommend them and, taken together, they form an essential component of the political philosophy of race. The statistical approach has the merits of linking racial profiling, as practice, to a body of other practices that generate and justify inequalities based on factors other than race, but it typically offers little by way of insight into the role of racial profiling itself in sustaining racial inequality and injustice. The racial construction approach, for obvious reasons, is rather better at the latter task, but its insights tend to come at the price of a broader understanding of the ways in which inequality is reproduced and justified, or of the ethical dilemmas raised by our competing claims to security. As we will see, insights from both approaches can be synthesized to clarify what, if anything, is wrong with racial profiling and what broader conclusions for equality and security follow from the study of profiling.

Keywords: race, racial profiling, statistical discrimination, equality

Suggested Citation

Lever, Annabelle, Race and Racial Profiling (October 17, 2015). Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Race, ed. Naomi Zack (OUP 2016), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2675633 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2675633

Annabelle Lever (Contact Author)

University of Geneva - Department of Political Science and International Relations ( email )

40 Boulevard du Pont D'Arve
Geneva, Geneve CH 1207

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