How do we know?

A couple of weeks ago I posted a claim by a muslim man that his 4 hour detention at Miami airport was racist. That claim was challenged. How could I know his account was right? Well, I still don’t have more evidence for that case, but there is new evidence of racial profiling in another part of the TSA (see below). To many of us, this will be no surprise.

Here’s a tentatve Account of how and what we know: whether or not we’ve read up on the theory, many women in philosophy are all too familiar with the operations of implicit bias in people with power. We have a practical expertise at spotting its operation.

How to turn this into an argument that could support interpretations is something I am thinking about. Maybe someone could help?

The new news about the TSA in Boston:

BOSTON — More than 30 federal officers in an airport program intended to spot telltale mannerisms of potential terrorists say the operation has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

The T.S.A. said on Friday that it had opened an investigation into the claims.

5 thoughts on “How do we know?

  1. This is definitely the takeaway sentence: ““They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic.” If you are given the command, “pull aside anyone who doesn’t look right” you are opening yourself up to using all sorts of irrelevant and terrible criteria, especially if you start seeing superficial-yet-socially-salient patterns in the people your colleagues and superiors don’t think “looks right.”

  2. Stacey, I think that’s the result of what they are told, as opposed to their starting instructions.

    There are some of these people working in Houston; they couldn’t be more obvious. They joke with people going through the security lines, for example, looking for anyone who seems secretive and nervous apparently. But of course that’s culturally relative.

    On a plane ride I took recently, a “perfectly respectable” white women said she is often pulled out of line for a search. One day she was traveling with her daughter, who asked why her mother was always getting search. She was told that they often search people they wouldn’t mind being near: the smelly, the obese, etc., were another matter. Garlic may turn out to be a terrorist weapon.

  3. Law prof. Russell K. Robinson has a great article, “Perceptual Segregation,” in which he discusses discrepancies between white and black interpreters of behavior (Columbia Law Review Vol. 108, 2008). On p. 1130 he notes that “[a] study by Jennifer Richeson and J. Nicole Shelton found that black subjects were more adept than white subjects at identifying implicit bias from viewing ‘thin-slices of nonverbal behavior’ by white people.” I have not read Richeson and Shelton, but here’s the source: Jennifer A. Richeson & J. Nicole Shelton, Thin Slices of Racial Bias, 29 J. Nonverbal Behav. 75, 80 (2005).

    This suggests that members of oppressed groups develop practical expertise that is relevant to their status as knowers about oppression.

  4. SI, that’s so interesting; many thanks! That definitely belongs on an implicit bias reading list.

  5. I could add to the last point that the article may mean a person who experiences such bias may live perceptually in a different world. This is an aspect of occupying the oppressed perspective that I didn’t consider in that earlier piece.

Comments are closed.