Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Race as Proxy

In Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, she discusses the impacts of 9/11 on contemporary life. In the chapter "A to B" she illustrates the effects of the catastrophic terrorist attack on domestic life for people such as Bennie Salazar, a dark-skinned resident of an affluent neighborhood. Egan's fictional account of the discrimination faced by all people of the Middle East, or people who resemble those of the Middle East, sheds light on the domestic effects of the "war on terror."

In the wake of 9/11, security measures in airports and elsewhere have come to rely heavily on racial profiling, or the practice of systematically discriminating against people of a particular race due to characteristics associated with other people of that race. In the case of the war on terror, the reality that Al Qaeda originated from nations of the Middle East has created a correlation between all persons bearing resemblance to Middle Easterners and possible terrorists. 

Egan places her character of Bennie Salazar in the position of one such supposed Middle Easterner:
The topic was the presence of Al Qaeda in the New York area. Operatives were present, Bill confided, especially in the outer boroughs, possibly in communication with one another (Stephanie noticed Clay's pale eyebrows suddenly lift, and his head gave a single odd jerk, as if he had water in one ear), but the question was: how strong a link did they have to the mother ship–here Bill laughed–because any kook with a grudge could all himself Al Qaeda, but if he lacked money, training, backup (Clay gave another quick head shake, then flicked his eyes at Bennie, to his right), it made no sense to allocate resources...(116).
This quotation highlights the suspicion with which some dark-skinned people are approached as a result of the events of September 11, 2001. The question now facing our nation is: Is racial profiling effective? Are the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration justified in their use of this tactic to reduce incidence of airplane-related terrorism? This question can be extrapolated to the usage of racial profiling by the general police force.

While a plethora of research has been conducted on the matter of racial profiling, the results of this research are easily manipulated. What anyone can deduce from a simple google search of "does racial profiling work?" is that opinions on its effectiveness vary widely. And whether it is effective or not, some people argue that racial profiling is deeply and biologically engrained into the way each of us thinks.

The idea of race as proxy for other likely characteristics also appears in Affirmative Action. Some would argue that when a university affords a minority applicant an advantage, that university associates the applicant's race with a set of characteristics that arise from a set of likely experiences. This is, in fact, the use of race as a proxy. So by that rationale, if one were to support Affirmative Action, one is supporting the basic principle of racial profiling.

The issue is much more complicated than that. Supporters of Affirmative Action offer many justifications, only some of which boil down to race as proxy for experiences or characteristics. It is important to realize, however, that the profiling of individuals based on race exists in many different versions in our society. It is up to each American to decide whether or not racial profiling ought to exist in our society.

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