I Get Mail – Racial Profiling

This one comes in from Koro.

I am setting up some extra work for myself so I haven’t been around to blog as much. Hence the older posts and relative “quiet”. I also donated a lot of blood to save a patient (nearly 700 mL in 2 days and I donated 2 weeks ago) because of a lack of donors so am rather “gloopy” at this point.

But this was in my inbox today in response to my stance on profiling and how it “does work”. 

Not only does profiling work, but every single one of us, including everyone in A+ does it every single moment of every day … it is basic human nature to assess people and situations based on prior information we have … stereotyping people is not actually a bad thing, it allows us to very quickly evaluate situations and make judgements based on limited information …


I repeat. I am not associated with A+. I am in the bizarre position of being accused of being a Social Justice Warrior (Well I fight for social justice by offering healthcare and being part of many many schemes which help the poorest and weakest). I don’t understand why people keep associating me with it. I have agreed with them on some things and have disagreed with them on some things.

Dear people who send me mail. If you are writing to me about A+ and how it sucks, I get you but frankly I am not part of it and I got other stuff to do than sit around and bash people who want to help in their own way. At least they are trying to help. I have voiced my views EXPLICITLY on why I think A+ isn’t for me. I am not flogging that dead horse. I understand you enjoyed it when I point out their mistakes, but frankly they make relatively few and they tend to leave me alone to do my damn work. Which is a lot more than can be said by Anti-A+.

Profiling works on stereotypes. And stereotypes harm. I am sorry? White people are stupid, don’t have disciplined children and encourage their kids to not hold any real skills.

What? Don’t think we have stereotypes for you guys?

The difference is what we can achieve. As I said. The Nation of Islam may think White people are so evil that if Satan and Hitler had a baby it would be the epitome of Caucasian. However the Nation of Islam doesn’t have any effect on society as a whole. A few black people may join it but frankly they are so powerless that they are raging against the machine.

Black boys are thieves is a lesser piece of racism on comparison. But it’s a view held by the majority.

It’s a view held by the machine.

It’s a view that allowed George Zimmerman to accost Trayvon Martin and quite legally shoot him despite neither of them breaking any laws. That is institutionalised racism.

I don’t speak for A+. I speak for A Million Gods which is basically 3 writers (Jade, Me and Hera) and well it mainly is me since Jade’s got like 10 posts, Hera around 5. The funny joke was that when I joined I explicitly voiced my relatively sensible anti stance and the lovely folk here still hired me to blog.

Why? Because my stance wasn’t the spiel posted by anti-FTB/A+ but one based on a lot of hard won experience.

Sure that teenager in the torn jeans, leather jacket and gang colours might not actually be a criminal … but we will probably avoid him on the street, just in case

Unless he is white then he probably isn’t all that harmful.

If we dealt with white people like they dealt with minorities, we would not trust them with any investments and firearms. Just in case they turn out to be one of those idiots who destroyed the economy for a quick buck or a spree killer. And all that serial killing.

Or you know. Your youth here seems to have stepped out of a gang fight in the 80s. I don’t think anyone wears leather jackets these days.

And this is one of the problems with stereotypes. It means we judge people based on things we know little about. It’s not that teenager you are seeing in this case. It’s the colour of his skin. If he were white he wouldn’t be given a second glance. Black or Latino or even Indian?

That old woman, white hair, glasses, sweet smile might just be an innocent grandma, but boy will we be shocked and surprised if she started spouting racist expletives 

No. No we won’t.

A little history lesson for you. Older people tend to be more racist because they grew up in a time period where it was more acceptable to refer to me as a sand nigger or a chink or a paki or one of the many stupid terms racists came up to discuss “half breeds” or mixed race people.

What? You think Nazi Grannies were all leather boots and goose stepping? They hated Jews, waved flags and baked pies just like other grannies. Do you think the KKK’s old ladies sit around knitting nooses? No. They have normal lives.

They just hold some damn racist ideas as a product off growing up in time periods where such bigotry was open, accepted and encouraged. They just don’t see why they can’t call me the things they used to call me 30 or 40 years ago.

And I keep an open mind about people. Even racists. I can hold conversations. But the thing is that the reason we “love” racial profiling is because the races being profiled aren’t white. It’s “those guys”.

And at some point someone will say “I don’t see what they have to complain about, it’s our country” or “It’s their duty to make us feel safer” or something along those lines. Or my personal favourite “it’s just a small inconvenience”.

It’s not. It’s my country too. I fought for it in my own little way. My patriotism and pride for it isn’t the stupid flag waving idiocy but a pride in the people who do good things and who have the same values and culture as me. It’s not my duty to make you feel safer about an irrational fear you have. If you fear that I am secretly going to break into your house and eat your dog then frankly that’s your stupidity and therefore your problem.

Everyone here did it with the “who do you let into the bunker” test a few days ago … and everyone on FTB and A+ constantly do it with all the people they tone police

Everyone? I am sorry the people banned here are

1. A racist spammer

2. Someone who was incredibly abusive to me and threw politeness back with abuse aimed at my girlfriend.

People who “fucking needed to go”. If you stepped into a bar and yelled stuff about the Dutch we would think you are an arsehole and kick you out. If you in the same bar picked a fight with the bar owner and he tried to defuse it but you wouldn’t back down despite you being in the wrong then frankly you deserve to get kicked out.

Oh yes, I have associated the group  known as the Slymepit with anti-FTB activity and pro-MRA nonsense but frankly every conversation with them is like my conversations with A+. Unproductive but for diffferent reasons. I am routinely told that I am some sort of parasite and that I don’t do anything positive which is fine. It’s your opinion. I don’t have the luxury of being physically present in the USA so I cannot actively take part in the Atheist social movement properly and honestly forking out a grand to travel down for a few days seems frightfully wasteful.

So people don’t think I do or achieve anything. But that’s because the things I do are like the actions of the Nation of Islam. The people it affects are far far away and not likely to speak up online in areas where atheists hang out. The people I work with don’t hang out in the same groups. The things I do have little to do with atheism. At the moment? I am writing about the “spoon trick” to avoid a forced marriage.

Want to spot a member of the IRA? Chances are they have an Irish accent … does it mean all Irish people are members of the IRA? Not at all, but it’s a damn fine way to narrow your choices 

Which means I would have to round up every white American in Boston on St. Patrick’s day as they remember a dour puritan saint by getting wankered and throwing up green beer on each other’s shoes while speaking like the Lucky Charms Leprechaun.

Do you want to know why that did not work? Because the IRA had American help and Scottish supporters too who didn’t fucking speak like Irish men. Where do you think their money came from? Shamrock sales?

Jesus fucking Christ this is ignoring the entire fucking Dynamic of the Northern Ireland crisis. You may as well have said trust all the Orange blokes and Shoot the Green Ones for all the sense your plan makes.

Want to spot a muslim terrorist? There’s an amazingly high chance firstly that they are a Muslim … and it’s a fair bet that most Muslims will be of an ethnic group where Islam is predominant … does it mean all young Pakistani men are terrorists? Nope, but it’s a damn fine way to narrow down your choices

And how do you detect Muslims?

Swarthy? Funny Names? Weird Outfits?

And how did that work when they hunted down Sunil Triparthi’s family and harassed them in the aftemath of Boston? I repeat. They harassed the family of a missing young man SIMPLY and I repeat SIMPLY because he was not white and looked “a bit Muslim”. Alex FUCKING Jones carried the story. Reddit had the story.

His family were devastated. They were searching for their son who they feared for deeply and who were trying to organise a campaign to send messages everywhere so that he would see one and maybe come home and they were faced with the vile hatred of a group of people who thought they could spot a Muslim terrorist.

Surprise, turns out the terrorists were as Caucasian as humanly possible (by being ethnically from the Caucasus) and having non-typical muslim names and not looking like a Pakistani.

WHOOPS. I am sure Sunil’s family did’t suffer too much being regarded as the parents of a terror suspect.

And another instance? Want a spot a thief? Black and Wearing a Hoodie? Except for you know… Trayvon Martin.

And honestly, anyone who cannot see the blindingly obvious there, is just trying to be politically correct for the sake of it, under any psychological test condition, they would fail miserably to not make stereotypical judgments … evolutionary speaking, it is far better to mistake the shadow for being a tiger, than it is to mistake the tiger as only being a shadow.

If in the city you opened fire on shadows thinking they were tigers we would quickly cart you away to jail and your argument would hold up about as solidly as china under a sledgehammer.

It’s politically correct in your eyes because no one is discriminating against you. The people who call you honkey or cracker or gaijin aren’t in charge of society. No one is saying “Look at his pasty face? And that awfully stupid name! What sort of name is Kevin? Ewwww. And did you hear about that weird murder? I bet Kevin did it. It’s always people like Kevin. I bet he trades in securities and is a racist to boot. We should call the cops!”. We are however saying that about various groups who we discriminate against.

I repeat the only reason people WANT such Racial Profiling is because they know  that they are the majority and the profile will never fit them. They will never be told to strip in order to fly. The cop will not stop them if they drive a nice car. The cops will stop them nicely and not hold a gun on them. No one will care what clothes they wear. They can stand their ground and not get penalised. They don’t have to run to be safe even when there is nothing to worry about. They can ask for help from the cops and random strangers and not get shot. They can fly without being treated as a deadly weapon.

In short? It doesn’t affect you, which is why you defend it.


  1. says

    Racial profiling, besides being de facto racist, is also an incredibly stupid way to do anything, because of the base rate fallacy. That is, basically, you’re always going to get a vastly larger number of false positives (cases where you think the person is a terrorist), and a very small number of true positives. But there is no immediate way to sort out which is which until they’ve done something. So the profiling adds…nothing.

    Racist andstupid is not a good way to go through life, son.

  2. scienceavenger says

    I wonder if the Kevin’s of the world would change their tune if homicide police used the most predictable attribute of murderers as a damn fine way to narrow down their choices. It isn’t being black, and it isn’t even owning a gun. It’s being male.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    Here’s how I’d respond to your letter, Avi:

    You’re right that most people have a set of fallback stereotypes. There’s a lot of evolutionary pressure to make snap judgments about the people we meet — how trustworthy are they? How competent are they likely to be? Our ancestors had a lot riding on the answers to those questions.

    And our distant ancestors, back in the days when different tribes first started merging, probably found the “in-tribe vs. out of tribe” sorting heuristic to be reasonably effective.

    But nowadays, when people from every country are rubbing elbows every day? The problem with using race as a sorting heuristic for behavior isn’t that bigotry is awful. The problem is that race is crap data.

    Suppose that, on one side of the street, you see a middle-aged black man wearing a suit and spectacles, carrying a briefcase. And on the other side of the street, you see a bald white teenager wearing an army jacket and covered with tattoos. Which side of the street are you going to feel safer on? Even the president of the KKK would probably feel safer on the side with the black guy. So guess what? You’ve just noticed that maybe age, dress, and other external indicators might be better sorting heuristics than skin color.

    And that’s before you’ve even spoken to either person. Suppose later on, you meet the tattooed kid at a party. You talk to him for a bit, and you find out that he’s a film student at an expensive major university in town. Now your opinion of him is likely to change again.

    If your goal is to figure out who is most likely to be trustworthy and competent, I’d suggest the following list of sorting heuristics that people tend to use. Some of these are better than others, but I would suggest that any one of these is probably better than skin color and what it’s proxy for, national origin.

    First glance: clothing, age, posture
    After conversing: education level, job, parents’ jobs, vocabulary, speaking ability, personal history, goals and aspirations

    The bell curves on trustworthiness related to skin color overlap so much that, if that’s the main thing you rely on, you’re probably just as well off flipping a coin.

  4. doublereed says

    Profiling is also bad because it’s an easy way to duck security systems. It’s especially stupid with Muslims, because they don’t actually look like anything. Trying to profile by race would leave you more vulnerable to the caucasian muslim. Combine this with the base rate fallacy and it’s just bad all around.

    There are times when profiling may be useful, but trying to make it part of an institutional system tends to fail miserably. Sometimes you’re looking for quick & dirty judgement calls with non-noticeable effects. Yea, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about things that affect real people and undermining our freedoms and equality. We’re talking about making institutional racism.

    Institutionalizing racial profiling or enabling institutions to racial profiling quite frankly just encourages racism. It’s like how the Inquisition encourages Inquisitors. If we don’t want racism and sadism as part of society, then obviously you shouldn’t institutionalize racism or sadism. It’s as simple as that.

  5. A. Noyd says

    Today’s Pandagon illustrates nicely the high cost of mistaking shadows for tigers. Of course, it’s a cost those of us with more privilege don’t usually pay directly. Only in society becoming less safe as rights erode.

  6. says

    I for one am going to forward all anti-A+ people to Avi as our “official spokesperson” from now on… Seems we have to be hierarchical and authoritarian for the atheism-minus people to be able to parse our existence. So makes even more sense that someone against A+ should be this official mouth piece!

    In regard to the post it never fails to amaze me that the “true skeptics” who make up most of the anti-lot are so for the “common sense” view. Which almost always turns out to be sexist/racist/whatever-ist and above all unskeptical and irrational.

  7. smrnda says

    I studied social psychology for a while (did not finish that program though) and one thing that teaches you is that yes, everybody is influenced by stereotypes and biases, some conscious and some unconscious, no matter what their stated beliefs. I have not subjected myself to extensive tests, but I’m sure you could find some biases in me.

    The difference between me and this *person who wrote you* is that I see this as a problem and not as a good thing because I have no confidence that these biases are going to lead to sensible conclusions. They are a cognitive deficit that we should work to overcome, not just because it leads to treating people worse, but because they aren’t likely to be helpful.

  8. Shlumbumbi Rafsandschani says

    What a strange, strange article.

    (1) Avicenna, I find it irritating that you condemn stereotypes while using them in raw abundance yourself.

    (2) Stereotypes are what they are, a method of predicting behaviour in the absence of conclusive evidence. That’s what they’re good for and it’s the only thing they’re good for. Noone thinks that stereotypes will reliably predict individual behaviour, or that they won’t eventually create situations which are perceived to be unjust by individuals.

    (3) Upon closer inspection, stereotypes are not used to “judge” people. Judgement would require actual knowledge about an individual, but exactly that knowledge is perceived to be absent by the person who relies on a stereotype. It’s not about stating a “You are, therefor you don’t get a pass”, it’s an “I don’t know enough about you to give you a pass”.

    (4) If you want to argue that people, let’s call them the “usual suspects” in terms of lack of general insight, will eventually try to judge individuals, solely based on stereotypes, you’re probably right. Stupid people will always do stupid things, in all aspects of everyday life. However, inept misuse says pretty much nothing about the inherent usefulness of a method, when applied correclty.

    What? Don’t think we have stereotypes for you guys?

    (5) If they make you feel better about your surrounding, they’re yours to play with. And the only person who will eventually get embarrassed for holding them, is you. I couldn’t care less.

    If you fear that I am secretly going to break into your house and eat your dog then frankly that’s your stupidity and therefore your problem … […] … And at some point someone will say […] “It’s their duty to make us feel safer” or something along those lines. Or my personal favourite “it’s just a small inconvenience”.

    (6) I’m glad you see through the stupidity of “Schroedinger’s rapist”.

    Snarks aside, it is infact not your duty to make other people feel safe. But it is their prerogative to take measures, which they think will provide them an actual increase in safety.

    It’s politically correct in your eyes because no one is discriminating against you. The people who call you honkey or cracker or gaijin aren’t in charge of society

    (7) How irrelevant. The only thing that actually matters, is that these people might be in charge of your immediate surroundings. And given the polydomous monocultural ghettos in our cities, it can change on every 2nd street corner.

    I repeat the only reason people WANT such Racial Profiling is because they know that they are the majority and the profile will never fit them.

    (8) Flatout wrong.

    Firstly, even those who publicly support profiling along personal (and behavioural) traits, among them people like Sam Harris, freely acknowledge that they might be seen as belonging to a group which could be focused, e.g. by airport security. And they still say it is the right thing to do, simply because it makes sense.

    Secondly, an “I don’t care as long as it doesn’t concern me” attitude, by itself, doesn’t get anything done. It’s a useless and empty exercise. I don’t doubt that there are people who think of themselves as the specimen example of “general trustworthiness”, obvious to all around them, and who would feel personally insulted by anyone who comes even near suggesting otherwise, but again, as well: Stupid folks will be stupid. A reasonable person understands that he/she might get into the focus at some time.

    One should think, that in an age, in which anybody is subjected to screening of some sort (besides being spied on by default, as it now turns out), people would start thinking hard about what makes sense and what does not.

    That might or might not be true, but I would say this :
    Instead of continuing to let stupid folks (ie by voting for them and putting them in public office) decide about the methods by which stereotypes are used for public purposes , I’d rather say we should learn from those who have a trackrecord of using stereotypes successfully.

    In terms of airport security, the Israelis seem to be No.1.For them, terrorism is nothing that happened 10 years ago. It’s an everyday thing and they’re surrounded by folks who want to harm them. They can’t afford to distract themselves with intellectual and political babble. It’s the power of everyday reality that forces them to get their house in order.

    Maybe we need the same kind of pressure to become honest about what is more important, self-preservation or the hurt feelings of others.

  9. smrnda says


    I’m not sure what your exact point is, but I had to respond to your mention of Schroedinger’s Rapist. First, I myself don’t like the term since it’s not a perfect analogy, but Schroedinger’s Rapist is actually built around *not* thinking in terms of stereotypes. It’s the idea that rapists don’t fit into predictable types that can be easily spotted, therefore universal caution is best. It’s also worth noting that unlike other crimes, sex crimes do not seem more prevalent among lower socioeconomic groups as well, meaning that one of the stronger predictors of criminal propensity doesn’t work for that type of crime.

    On the idea of white people being in a ghetto full of nasty minorities who stereotype them, I have been that white person on many occasions and I report that I was probably far safer in those neighborhoods than the people who lived there. If something had happened to me, the cops would give a shit, if another Black teenager got shot, it’s another statistic. Even within these ‘ghettos’ minorities don’t have real power. The police frequently show up to hassle residents and violate their civil liberties, all while showing minimal concern for residents when they actually call to report crimes.

  10. says

    Your problem with the Anti-crowd stems from their own narrative. They suffere from a mighty prosecution complex where anybody who is not A+ gets hunted down by the feminazistasiwitchhuntlynchmob, so you being pretty un-feminazistasilynchmobbed can only mean you’re A+.


    Want to spot a member of the IRA? Chances are they have an Irish accent … does it mean all Irish people are members of the IRA? Not at all, but it’s a damn fine way to narrow your choices

    “what do you mean “you shot a Scottish carpenter?”*
    “Here Police Londonderry. We’re looking for an IRA terrorist. The suspect’s got an Irish accent”**

    *actually a case that happened somewhere back in the 1990’s. A carpenter who carried table legs in a bag was shot because the form of his bag and the mistaken accent could only mean IRA terrorist. Ooops, sorry you’re dead.

    **Which tells you something else about this: Most people have never heard about “UVF terrorist”

    Want to spot a muslim terrorist? There’s an amazingly high chance firstly that they are a Muslim … and it’s a fair bet that most Muslims will be of an ethnic group where Islam is predominant

    Hmm, you mean like these guys?
    BTW, one of the things that got them hooked up on Islamism was its misogyny. They were very upset that women weren’t willing to submit properly in mainstream German culture.

    And since we’re talking about German terrorism: Ever heard about these people?
    Interestingly, I don’t hear many people talk about “profiling people for being German”, because being German is quite a precondition for being a German fascist terrorist.
    Just like you never hear anybody talk about profiling young white men for schooschooters and spree-killers, even though they are in such an overwhelming majority young white guys that you have to go and look for one who isn’t. Yet somehow whenever another such act of terrorism happens, their race and gender becomes all but invisible. Nobody asks “what’s worng with white boys?” Nobody goes on asking questions about “white on white violence”. When it’s the dominant group people see pretty quickly that stereotyping and racial profiling not only nonsense bullshit that doesn’t actually do anything, but also that it’s discriminatory.

    And since he’s already forgotten: anybody remember Jean Charles de Menezes? Murdered because he was “somewhat looking like somebody on a CCTV”, i.e. not white.

  11. angharad says

    @Shlumbumbi #8:

    It’s not about stating a “You are, therefor you don’t get a pass”, it’s an “I don’t know enough about you to give you a pass”.

    Um…you actually don’t need a stereotype to do this at all. You can be distrustful of any stranger without making any assumptions at all.

    Also in point 2 you suggest there is no problem with having stereotypes (so long as you are applying them correctly), but then in point 5 you appear to suggest that Avicenna should be embarrassed for having them. Is it only stereotypes of white people which will eventually cause embarrassment? Or is Avicenna not using his stereotypes in the right way?

  12. Schlumbumbi says

    @smrnda #9

    (1) The Schroedinger’s Rapist part:

    Indeed, SR suffers from many shortcomings, but I made the reference because I see points of contact with Avicenna’s article.

    I think Avicenna got it wrong. “Stereotyping the stereotypes”, meaning using a broad brush to paint all stereotypes as either useless and/or harmful, is not only a self-refuting, but a needlessly futile notion.

    Without too much detail:
    A “good stereotype” will offer you a “headstart” piece of information for an otherwise out-of-the-public-focus and out-of-usual-experience situation, which usually cannot be managed by just applying “common sense”. A particularly “bad stereotype” is the one that is based on false, misleading or incomplete information (in regard to the informational value it claims to posess).

    The most common mistake made: Over-generalisation, diluting the informational value of an otherwise good stereotype, turning it into a bad stereotype. The second most common mistake made: Only (claiming to) know(ing) the bad version of a previously good stereotype.

    I agree with SR’s general point, that people are infact allowed, infact bound, to act in certain ways, if a particular situaton (aka applied stereotypes) rings their alarm bells. The problem I have with SR: It misuses a good number of already bad stereotypes, resulting in, what you call “universal caution”, but what others, including me, call full blown “paranoia”.

    Secondly :
    Avicenna has argued that she isn’t obliged to make other people feel safe. I agree completely, but the original SR article (remember the subtitle?), and commenters like Crommunist (here on FTB) like to think otherwise.

    That’s why I made the reference to Avicenna having arrived at the right position about her obligations towards other people, despite having gotten the stereotype part wrong (not as wrong as SR though).

    (2) The ‘ghettos’
    My fault for being not precise enough. I’m not talking about ‘literal’ ghettos, run down housing areas with low income and high crime, I’m talking about the thousands of scattered places in cities and even within institutions, in which a particular monoculture is practiced.

    My point was simply this:
    If you have to be in specific place, dealing with a certain crowd of people, by neccessities of your private or professional life, then these people determine how you’ll be treated and how this aspect of your life develops in the process. The people with the biggest influence on your life, are probably not the ones you think are “in charge” of general society.

    @Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- #10

    Hmm, you mean like these guys?

    Funny that you say that. As the media dug deeper into the matter, it turned out that not only the people around them knew perfectly well what kind of radicalisation process they went through, but that the authorities knew it as well (and that’s why they could ultimately prevent the group’s plan from being carried out).

    You seem to argue that solely focusing on a single ethnicity isn’t working out. You’re right. Working with a single trait doesn’t get anything done. To create a better dragnet, we have to apply another additional search option: “Converts”, all too often found among the crazies. If you’re a westener, and you convert to Islam, all eyes should be on you.

    The people around the group already knew that to be true. So did the authorities. The only reason why these things are hushed up until they (almost) explode, is infact the notorious political correctness and its ugly child, “Islamophobia”. The reality of the matter is, had someone called them out for their silly Islamic bullshit beliefs early enough, they would’ve stood a chance to remain a part of society. But saving actual lives isn’t really known to be one of PC’s top priorities.

    @angharad #11

    but then in point 5 you appear to suggest that Avicenna should be embarrassed for having them. Is it only stereotypes of white people which will eventually cause embarrassment? Or is Avicenna not using his stereotypes in the right way?

    Since I do not consider myself a keyboard warrior, I’m not in the buisiness of shaming people.But yes, if you hold silly beliefs and act upon them publicly, you will draw unwanted attention towards you.

    Read the part I wrote to @smrnda. I’m not really sure how seriously Avicenna treats the stereotypes she used in her article (white people, old people, grannies in particular, germans of the last century, and so on) but if I take them at face value, yes, they sound really dumb.

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