Racial Profiling as Pejorative Discrimination
Natalie Stoljar (McGill University)

March 1, 2019, 1:45pm - 3:15pm
Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario

University College 1105
1151 Richmond Street

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Racial profiling in policing might seem warranted on the basis of statistical correlations between forms of criminality and people of certain races/ethnic backgrounds. And in fact some philosophers have argued that racial profiling is not morally wrong on either consequentialist or deontological grounds (Risse & Zeckhauser 2004).  Others have claimed that if profiling is wrong, this is for consequentialist reasons (Lever 2005; Lippert-Rasmussen 2014; Eidelson 2015). I propose that racial profiling is wrong on both grounds. Racial profiling generates significant second-personal and relational harms that are often overlooked by the consequentialist arguments. On the deontological side, I argue that racial profiling is disrespectful to the individual targets of profiling.

I employ discussions of ‘generics’ by Sarah-Jane Leslie (2008) and Sally Haslanger (2011) to argue that racial profiling relies on either untrue or pragmatically unwarranted generalizations in which criminal natures are attributed to members of the ethnic groups targeted by profiling. When this happens, profiling amounts to expressing a disrespectful attitude. It is a failure of recognition respect because it effectively communicates (and acts on) the claim that members of certain ethnic groups are by nature more likely to be criminals. Therefore, profiling ‘fails to weigh appropriately in one’s deliberation a feature of the thing in question and act accordingly’ (Darwall 1977, 38). Although the argument concludes that racial profiling is morally wrong in policing, it does not establish that profiling is always wrong. Generalizations do not constitute problematic generics in all contexts, so racial profiling in (for example) jury selection may be morally permissible.

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