Racial Profiling: Not In Our Country | Not in Our Town

Racial Profiling: Not In Our Country

“Young black men know that in far too many settings they will be seen not as individuals, but as the ‘other,’ and given no benefit of the doubt. . . . Society’s message to black boys — ‘We fear you and view you as dangerous” — is constantly reinforced. . . .  Even those who keep their distance from this deadly idea are at risk of losing their lives to it. The death of Trayvon Martin vividly underscores that danger.”

—Brent Staples, New York Times   

Art on a Santa Monica, Calif., street in reaction to the killing in February of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager.Street art in reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Source: New York Times

By Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director
What are the collective costs for us in a society that stands silent when its own children are targeted? Let’s work together to find solutions.
Profiling is alive and well. It is a kind of shorthand that allows us to dehumanize young black and brown men, and we have just seen it lead to a deadly chain of events in the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. The costs are high for every family whose men live in the shadow of profiling. Mothers fear for their children’s lives, black and brown men of all social classes are routinely stopped by the police. Our whole society pays a price of fear, inequality, and the polarization we are seeing now in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial verdict.
At Not In Our School, we have taken on the challenge of finding solutions. We begin by exploring the phenomenon of stereotype threat and stereotyping. We believe the key to making change is opening dialogue and sharing stories to build bridges of understanding. We also believe in working to create identity-safe and inclusive environments and work together to change the underlying systemic barriers that have existed throughout this country’s history.
We offer some films and tools to help schools and communities get started.
Dr. Claude Steele Speaks About Stereotype Threat
Many African-American men go to great lengths to counteract the pernicious stereotypes to avoid being profiled. One such example was journalist Brent Staples, who whistled Vivaldi when he walked down a street at night to ease any tensions (Steele, 2009). Claude Steele, Dean for the School of Education at Stanford University reflects that “this is something that Trayvon Martin didn't really have an opportunity to do in those final horrible closing moments of his life, was to somehow reveal ….to Zimmerman who built up in his own mind from the stereotype, a sense of being under life-and-death threat. If Trayvon had a chance to be seen, he could have maybe punctured the stereotype and would be alive today. But under the circumstances, all that didn't happen, and you get a particularly tragic eventuation of a stereotype.”
Steele and his colleagues spent years studying the causes and effects of stereotyping and discovered that, even when stereotypes are not uttered aloud, the phenomenon of stereotype threat, which is the fear of confirming a negative stereotype, can be a stigma that affects attitudes and behaviors. These ideas are very important to Not In Our School because our core principles focus on creating safe, inclusive and accepting environments, free from stereotypes, bullying, and intolerance.  In this interview Dr. Steele explains the concept of stereotype threat and its antidote “identity safety.”


Silent Beats: Let’s Examine Our Own Prejudices
Here is a short film that challenges our assumptions on profiling. Use it to open dialogue on profiling in your school and in your town.
Join The Movement to End Racial Profiling
The following groups joined to help create a dialogue and curriculum on profiling: NAACP, Not In Our Town/Not in Our School, NEATeaching Tolerance/Southern Poverty Law Center, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Human Rights Educators of the USA (HRE-USA) Network, and Facing History and Ourselves.
Racial Profiling Tools for Educators, Parents and Administrators
Tips for youth on how to interact during encounters with law enforcement


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