Professor Lim: “Why Racial-Profiling is like Affirmative Action”

In a column for the Faster Times news and opinion site, Assistant Professor of Government Elvin Lim comments on arguments for and against race-based screening and pat-down procedures at airports around the country.

Specifically, Lim makes the compelling case that to oppose racial profiling for security purposes on the basis of racial equality while favoring race-based affirmative action policy is intellectually inconsistent at best, and he concludes:

Profiling on the basis of race, among other characteristics, such as behavior, is likely to become a de facto, if not a de jure, policy in our nation’s airports in the years to come. It is going to inconvenience some innocent people simply because, among other factors, their skin was colored a particular way just as, and the hope is, it will save a lot more innocent people a lot of hassle if everyone were treated equally at airports. If Americans accept this trade-off to be worth it, then perhaps we should also accept the analogous trade off: that as affirmative action on the basis of race, among other characteristics, such as gender, has become law and policy in employment and college admissions, the policy is going to make things harder for some equally qualified people, but it is going to make things easier for a bunch of people who would otherwise have had to endure many obstacles to employment and admission to college.

It’s a compelling and thoughtful and effectively non-partisan piece of political commentary, and it seems especially pertinent in the wake of recent related debate at Wesleyan. Read the whole piece at Faster Times here, or at Professor Lim’s blog here.

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11 thoughts on “Professor Lim: “Why Racial-Profiling is like Affirmative Action”

  1. Robert

    very interesting.

    racial profiling is a commonsense policy – can someone name the last bombing of an airplane by a non-Islamic extremist since I’ve been born? yeah, i can’t either.

    1. Anon

      1989:

      September 19: Suitcase-bomb destroys UTA Flight UT-772 en route to Paris, killing all 171 passengers and crew. Libyan intelligence involved.

      November 27: Avianca Flight 203 bombed over Colombia; 110 victims. Medellín drug cartel claimed responsibility.

      1996:

      Comoros and Ethiopia, November 23: 125 people died after a hijacked jet (Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961) crashed into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Comoros.

      Oh, and Lockerbie?! Seriously, how could you forget that. Idiot.

  2. Let Down and Hanging Around

    Oh, Professor Lim. You built me up, then you break me down. How could you toy with my heart so?

    I was very excited to read that he pointed out the intrinsic intellectual dishonesty of differing pro/con stances on racial profiling and affirmative action. I wish he had clarified his stance much more solidly in the last paragraph, though. Just positing that “if we go along with this racist policy, we’re probably still going with this one” skirts around the issue that both policies are still race-based and ultimately immoral (at least, from an individualist viewpoint).

  3. asddsttywgnetq1

    it is not ironic or inconsistent to be pro affirmative action and anti-racial profiling, or vice versa for that matter. it is ok to base your opinions on individual situations rather than over-arching principles of equality or discrimination.

    1. Boy

      You’re totally right that “it is ok to base your opinions on individual situations rather than over-arching principles of equality or discrimination” in the same way that it is also “ok” to be stupid; nobody is going to come and force you out of your stupidity. likewise, nobody can force you to think differently; they can merely point out the intellectual tensions present in your opinions. if you choose to disregard principled consistency entirely, you have (successfully) insulated yourself from any unwanted intrusion into your relativist bubble.

      1. yeah but

        there are exceptions in society to every principle that we value. the inability to evaluate individual situations on a case-by-case basis is myopic

        1. Let Down and Hanging Around

          Affirmative action at large and racial profiling at large don’t qualify as individual situations–each potentially directly affects millions of people, with their own separate circumstances. If you actually believe in judging things on a case-by-case basis, then neither is acceptable as policy.

          1. yeah but

            depends on how you break it down. if “equal treatment based on race” is the principle, then affirmative action and racial profiling are social situations pertaining to that principle. i agree that it’s not feasible in a large government system to alter policies on a person-by-person basis, though

          2. yeah but

            depends on how you break it down. if “equal treatment based on race” is the principle, then affirmative action and racial profiling are social situations pertaining to that principle. i agree that it’s not feasible in a large government system to alter policies on a person-by-person basis, though

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