Odds Are

I received a lot of flack for my post yesterday about the ills of racial profiling. People don’t seem to be able to differentiate between the statement that “most acts of terrorism in the US are committed by white males” (which is true) and the statement “most white males are terrorists” (which is not true).

“Racial profiling” refers to the targeting of particular individuals by law enforcement authorities based not on their behavior, but rather their personal characteristics. It is generally used to encompass more than simply an individual’s race. As used in this report, it encompasses race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion—and means the impermissible use by law enforcement authorities of these personal characteristics, to any degree, in determining which individuals to stop, detain, question, or subject to other law enforcement activities. 

This is different from criminal profiling where a body of hard evidence has been gathered from a crime scene investigation and the likely identity or general profile of the suspect is given.  According to the US Department of State most of the victims of terrorism around the world are not Americans, most are Muslims and civilians.

Here is what the National Center for Victims of Crimes says about crime statistics:

  • Overall, crime is disproportionately committed by males
  • Some crimes (e.g., stalking, intimate partner violence, sexual assault), are predominantly committed by males against females
  • Although crime tends to disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities (both as victims and offenders), most crimes are committed by whites against whites.
  • Certain populations are disproportionately affected by crime, not necessarily because of the sheer numbers of victims but as a result of crime’s greater impact on these groups (see “Elder Victimization,” “Crime against Persons with Disabilities,” “Children, Youth, and Teen Victimization”).
  • Young people (16-24) are the population group most victimized by crime. They also commit the most crimes

We can say that this crime in Boston that recently happened fits these statistical parameters and general statements. It disproportionately affected women, minorities and children (who were the main victims) and it was likely committed by a male.

Lets take a look at something a lot less controversial and apply profiling statistics to it. Presidential elections. We have, for the first time in the history of our nation a non-white leader. What have the rest looked like? If were were profiling presidential candidates we might uses these statistics:

73% of all presidents have been either Democrats or Republicans (100% of the last 31 presidents have been either Republican or Democrat)

98% of all presidents have been white

100% of presidents have been male

100% of presidents have been Christian to a greater or lesser extent

12 % of presidents have been related by blood

14% graduated from Harvard Yale or Princeton

87% of presidents are university graduates

88% of presidents have served in the Military in some fashion

87% of presidents have owned a dog

99% of presidents were (or are) married

100% of presidents have been between the ages of 40 and 70, with over half being between the ages of 50 and 59

And, although the data is scarce before Herbert Hoover, we know that at least five out of the last seven presidents have been left-handed.

So, If I am going to profile the next president I would pick someone who is a white, left-handed, christian-affiliated, married male who has prior military service, is either a Democrat or Republican, owns or has owned a dog, is over 50 and is a University graduate. Does this mean your neighbor is going to be the next president? No. But it does mean that he is historically and statistically more likely to be than say the single, Asian, right-handed, cat owning, Green Party Buddhist with no prior military service who lives on the other side of you – even if he is an Ivy League Graduate and is over 50.

If we were racially profiling the next president we might go interview your white male neighbor to see what he will do in his next term and dismiss your Asian neighbor with a “no thanks, you’re not likely to win”. I think that would be embarrassing, particularly if your Asian neighbor is Gary Lock (who is 63, Baptist, married, Democrat and graduated from Yale).

If anyone is interested in betting on the next presidential elections and wants to put money on a  Muslim candidate from the Libertarian Party who is a single mother with Middle Eastern Heritage, I’ll take that bet. Because the truth is, we are still a country full of prejudice and bigotry, just like every other country in the world.

The point is simple, when we jump to conclusions about people based on superficial criteria created by skewed perceptions we may be overlooking the real threat to our well-being or the best person for the job.


She’s 23 years old, and the way she is – is just exactly the way we brought her up to be. We answered her questions. She listened to our answers. We told her it was wrong to believe – that white people were somehow essentially superior to black people – or the brown or the red or the yellow ones, for that matter. People who thought that way were wrong to think that way. Sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always wrong. That’s what we said – and when we said it, we did not add – “But don’t ever fall in love with a colored man.”  – Christina Draton, from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


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