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In the world of racism, is brown the new black?

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10 years ago, when we thought about racial profiling, we would think about the unfair, prejudicial suspicion of people who were caught "driving while black". These days, however, "breathing while brown" appears to be a much more suspicious activity.

Ever since the attacks of 9/11, swarthy Middle-Eastern-looking men are often viewed as potential terrorists by the public and law enforcement alike. Middle Eastern men were responsible for 9/11, the logic goes. Al-Qaeda consists mostly of Middle Eastern men, they say, and so that's who law enforcement and security personnel should look at first.

By that logic, then, why didn't we crack down on all white European-American men after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or after Eric Rudolph bombed the Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996? Is it because McVeigh and Rudolph look like any other guy from the American heartland? Is it because without the dark skin they don't look scary? If so, doesn't that attitude actually make us less safe?

According to the human rights group Amnesty International, "discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or on any other particular identity undermines the basic human rights and freedoms to which every person is entitled." Racial profiling is a violation of the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution and international human rights laws and treaties. Furthermore, it simply does not work.

Racial profiling gives terrorists a formula for greater success. It tells them who they need to recruit in order to be more effective. This became apparent way back in World War II when, despite the massive internments of Japanese Americans and visitors, none of the people convicted of spying for Japan were of Japanese or Asian ancestry. Moreover, the arrests of John Walker Lindh (a white, middle-class Californian), Jose Padilla (an Hispanic gang member), and Richard Reid (a British citizen of West Indian ancestry) suggest that terrorist organizations have already been successful in recruiting a diverse group of sympathizers who by their nature could not be identified through racial profiling.

And these days, when illegal immigration is such a hot issue, Middle Eastern people share the burden of racial profiling with Hispanics. No Mexicans were involved in the 9/11 attacks. Why then does the issue of migrant workers provoke such hysteria? Are they really such a threat to our national security?

No, they're not. It just seems as though Americans have somehow been programmed to feel threatened by our brown-skinned neighbors. And they need to get over it if we want to achieve greater homeland security.

In a nutshell, racial profiling is ineffective, impedes the process of finding the real criminals, encourages hate, and undermines national unity. It fails to address the true roots of terrorism. And, for these reasons and more, racial profiling in itself will likely fuel even more anti-American hatred.

Indeed, America will be much better protected if law enforcement and security personnel focus on what people are doing, and not on what they look like.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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