October 2, 2014
Racism is a problem everywhere, throughout many different facets of society from the highest to the lowest. Even well educated, popular people hold (sometimes unknowingly) racist views and don’t consider them such. Consider the respected journalist Michael Kinsley who wrote, “Racial Profiling at the Airport: Discrimination We’re afraid to Be Against.” His opening line “When thugs menace someone because he looks Arabic, that’s racism” (19). It is, but it’s just one aspect of racism, a broad caricature we can all relate to. He pursues this point to try and show his readers that there is a difference between racism and protecting people, Americans specifically, from terrorists by using racial profiling at our airports. Put simply, Kinsley thinks it’s acceptable to discriminate based on race if it might save people’s lives, but his poor rhetoric disproves the point he’s trying to make.
It’s clear Kinsley is a good writer, and even attempts to use a Rogerian style argument, which seeks a middle ground between two parties to discuss the pros and cons of racially based profiling. But his argument comes off as veiled racism because at the end he always justifies some form of discrimination after assuring us he believes it’s wrong, instead of pursuing a point both he and society can realistically agree on. He doesn’t explore the effectiveness of technology in countering terror operations, he doesn’t compare airports that discriminate to those that don’t, and he doesn’t discuss how profiling can go drastically wrong.
In 2011 in Elk Grove, California two elderly Sikhs were fired on–leaving one dead and the other in critical condition in what authorities believe is a misdirected hate crime. Since 9/11, Sikhs have been a target of misguided profiling due to the their head-wraps which resemble those of the Taliban. This isn’t an isolated incident either it’s happened to others (Romney). Profiling doesn’t work in a country with a rich, vast multicultural heritage where it’s extremely difficult to rely solely on superficial characteristics. Assuming someone will blow up a plane because they look Middle-Eastern is the same vein of thinking that assumes all black people love deep fried chicken—when the reality is all sorts of people across the world love fried chicken. Everyone wants to fly safe and a small portion of hyper-religious-zealots simply isn’t enough to encourage any kind of discrimination.
Kinsley tries to make up for this problem with the hard numbers saying, “An Arab-looking man heading toward a plane is statistically more likely to be a terrorist” (20). But he never identifies or describes his stats in any kind of detail. He merely reassures us that they make a clear point, and we should rely on them if we want to be safe. Statistics are a very useful tool, but they’re not written by the hand of God, and if you’re going to call to the numbers as proof of an argument, including just bare-bone details about the math goes a long way—according to statistics.
Lastly, in what appears to be a last-ditch effort the make his point, Kinsley draws affirmative action into the conversation. It’s an effective trap because he’s right when he says: “Racial profiling and affirmative action are analytically the same thing” (20). There’s just one huge problem: affirmative action only exists because of racial profiling. It’s not a “dangerous medicine” as Kinsley would have you think, it’s an embarrassment that we have to deliberately make laws which force white business owners to hire black people because racism is still so rampant in our nation. It’s absurd to use civil protections against discrimination to promote discrimination.
Kinsley wraps up his argument on consoling those singled out for the visible traits of their heritage by mentioning one of his peers who thinks they should be given frequent flier miles. Kinsley doesn’t agree or disagree, which says quite a bit, but instead chooses to give president Bush a bump for pushing sensitivity to prejudices after the attack on Sept. 11. He then closes on the thought that they probably don’t need any consolation at all because nobody wants to burst into flame traveling 700mph though the atmosphere. As true as that is, I can’t help but wonder how many Muslims he interviewed who might have a real problem with discrimination, especially considering that the September attacks probably wouldn’t have happened had we not thrown the entire Middle East under the bus due to shady foreign policy and oil lust.
I think Kinsley genuinely wants a safe America, as we all do, but simply scanning airports for brown people–who make up the majority of the world–isn’t going to make flying any safer, nor does it cut at the real roots of organized terrorism. It is important that we do keep passengers safe, and that is best done with technology. We have the tools to see what people have on their person, and now we can also look at body heat to determine a potential terrorist instead of their skin. Though these instruments aren’t perfect, they will get better with time, and they allow people of the world to keep their dignity while they travel.
Kinsley, Michael. “Racial Profiling at the Airport: Discrimination We’re Afraid to Be Against.” The Structure of Argument Seventh Edition. Ed. Annette T. Rottenberg Dona Haisty Winchell. Boston: Clemson University, 2012. 19-21. Print.
Romney, Lee. “Attack on Sikh men triggers outcry in Elk Grove, Calif., and beyond.” latimes.com. Los Angeles Times, 11 April 2011. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.