When the Profiled Become Profilers
Many black activists called the recent Gallup and Zogby International Poll that found that more blacks than whites think Arabs should be profiled and required to carry a national identification card absurd. They claim that the poll was rigged, distorted, or a flat out lie.
For the past two years no issue has generated more passion and anger in black communities than racial profiling. Black leaders and civil liberties groups have even called the racial profiling fight the first big civil rights issue of this century. They furiously protested against profiling, forced a handful of states to pass anti-profiling laws, and managed to wring an admission from President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft that profiling is wrong and publicly pledge to end it.
Even in the wake of the terror attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and with the face of evil universally painted in some circles with a Middle Eastern face, it still seemed far-fetched to think that so many blacks could do a rude volte face on the issue. But the poll is no aberration or lie. The reasons that a majority of blacks support profiling are directly related to the national anger and angst over the terror attacks, and there are some reasons that go much deeper than that.
- National jitters. The repeated appeals by Bush, Ashcroft, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuiliani, and the parade of local and state officials for Americans not to physically attack, discriminate, or profile Muslims have fallen on the deaf ears of many Americans, and that includes many blacks. While there is no reported incidents of hate crimes committed by blacks against Muslims, many still view all Muslims with the same mix of caution, distrust and hostility, as many white Americans do.
The repeated warnings by Ashcroft, and FBI officials of possible new terror attacks, the Anthrax fear, the relentless war fever, and patriotic zeal, and the disproportionate number of blacks in the armed forces, has transformed blacks into fervent cheerleaders for tough military action, strong protective measures against terrorism, even if the price is the gut of some civil liberties protections.
With the sole exception of California Democrat, Barbara Lee, the entire Congressional Black Caucus backed Bush's war powers resolution, and some Caucus members supported his controversial anti-terrorism bill.
- Personal security. More blacks than ever rely on airlines for their vacation and business travel. They demand, as whites, that air travel be as safe as possible. If it's a question of their personal safety versus concern about discrimination against Arab travelers, they will opt for safety.
- Relgious intolerance. Christian fundamentalist beliefs have always had deep root among many African-Americans. The social conservatism this engenders fuels suspicion, fear, hostility and ignorance of and toward Islam. During the 1960s, many black church leaders shrilly attacked Malcolm X and the black Muslims, and rejected any efforts at inter-religious dialogue with them. In the aftermath of the terror attacks, few black ministers have made any effort to initiate or participate in the legions of dialogue sessions between Christian, Jews and Muslims nationally.
- Anti-police myth. In June 1999, a Justice Department survey found that blacks in a dozen cities generally applauded the police. Many black leaders were flabbergasted at this. This flew in the face of the conventional wisdom that blacks were inveterate cop haters. But this has always been a myth. African-Americans have been anti-racist and anti-abusive police officers. They are not hostile to police who do their job.
There's a good reason. The Justice Department survey found that blacks are nearly twice as likely to be victims of violence as whites. The leading cause of death among young black males and increasingly black females under age 24 is still homicide. In nearly all cases, they will be killed, injured, maimed, and victimized by other blacks. Many blacks lost friends and family members in the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. They are angry and anguished at what they regard as yet another criminal act in which blacks are also victimized.
The heart wrenching news scenes of police and public safety personnel, many of whom are black, risking their lives to pull people from the Trade Center rubble touched the same deep nerve in blacks as other Americans. They enthusiastically applaud, hail and embrace the police and public safety personnel in New York and other cities as "America heroes." They have been more than willing to open wide their pocketbooks and donate funds to the piles of relief funds to aid family members of the police and firefighters killed in New York.
Bush has implored Americans to return life back to normalcy. Unfortunately, those blacks who approve racial profiling against Muslims run the grave risk of making sure that racial profiling could be part of that normalcy, and with them once more the prime targets.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com.