“Living While Black Racial Profiling” a phrase that encompasses the myriad ways black people are viewed with suspicion, profiled, and threatened with responses from police for minor infractions, or less. Collectively, they illustrate the ways people of color are subjected to arbitrary social expectations, and how violating those expectations is punishable. Decades after the collapse of legal segregation, they also show that spaces like clothing stores, coffee shops, neighborhoods, and universities remain strongly controlled along racial lines.
A woman protests at a Philadelphia Starbucks following the arrest of two black men in April 2018. The arrest became the first in a wave of stories about black people. A clear case of Living While Black – racial profiling.
Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Image
In many ways, the recent wave of Living While Black Racial Profiling incidents highlight issues that go beyond the circumstances that fuel any single story. They speak to the intensification of racial tension in a political climate that has emboldened whites frustrated with a perceived loss of power and fueled fear and anxiety in communities of color.
Much like the rise of Black Lives Matter and the videos of police violence that accompanied it, Living While Black Racial Profiling offers evidence in real time that America is still grappling with long-held racial divisions. As the incidents continue, the deluge of footage is sparking a discussion about race and racism that focuses on the ways individual behavior can play into larger acts of systemic racism. It’s an important discussion driven by unfortunate circumstances. But it’s also a very old issue.
Profiling isn’t new, but Living While Black Racial Profiling is calling new attention to it
At its core, Living While Black is about racial profiling, the concept that a person’s race or ethnicity makes them an object of suspicion and heightened scrutiny from law enforcement. From the use of slave patrols to lynching to legal segregation, and in modern iterations like stop and frisk, racial profiling has long been used to maintain white authority by singling out the presence and behavior of people of color — especially African Americans — as requiring punishment. These systems rely on the participation of bystanders and observers to alert authorities to those deemed “suspicious.”
The incidents also speak to the persistence of residential segregation and isolation, particularly of whites, and how that isolation simultaneously maintains and heightens white mistrust of nonwhite groups. And with many of these calls leading to requests for police intervention, they highlight the use of law enforcement to “manage” the behavior of African Americans. That’s fraught with menace
Research has shown that black people are often subjected to heightened scrutiny and suspicion, which begins in childhood. In 2014, researcher Phillip Goff found that by the age of 10, black boys begin to be seen as less innocent than their white peers. And a Georgetown study released in 2017 found that black girls as young as 5 are already perceived as more adult-like and less innocent than white girls of the same age because of the racial disparities in police use of force that make people of color more likely to encounter violence or harassment.