The Illusion of Prejudice: The Minority Rules

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sad, but true. In the electronic age of omnipresent wall-to-wall news coverage, the opinions of the very few are quickly blown way out of proportion.

As everyone knows by now, there has been a confrontation between a white policeman and a black resident who a passerby thought, innocently enough, might be burglarizing what turned out to be his own home. Whether there was race involved in what occurred is problematic, and my personal opinion on the subject, irrelevant.

In fact, it’s not the event itself, but what happened next that is, I think, most significant. As if the event had not been newsworthy enough in and of itself, the President of the United States, admittedly without a full understanding of what transpired that day in Cambridge, chose to comment, to second guess the local police and make the assumption that racial profiling had been involved. As to latter, if that hadn’t been his assumption, why was he commenting – and, of course, we’ve since learned that that was exactly what the President was talking about when he accused the Cambridge police of having behaved stupidly.

The next thing you know, it’s all over the media, day in and day out. The opinions of a relatively few number of Americans, a miniscule proportion of our total population – virtually none of which were there or have complete knowledge of the event – become the subject of the news. Even the few polls that have been taken are based on very small samples and questions which force the respondent to form an opinion, however well poorly developed or uninformed. “My gosh,” the rest of us say, “I had no idea…” and you can fill in the rest.

The result can be that the existence of a phenomenon, in this case, adverse racial profiling, is blown way out of proportion to the point of actually convincing many people that that’s what actually happened, and that the problem is everywhere, that black Americans are being discriminated against left and right, everywhere, all the time. I certainly hope that’s not the case, but the news that is today’s excuse for legitimate journalism is no proof of anything but that your set or personal computer is on.

The problem is not just the ever-present, compelling nature of today’s electronic media technology. More to my point, it’s the people who report the news – cable news being the worst example – who spend much more time telling us what a few people think, and way too little about precisely what actually happened. As to the larger, national issue, the American people are not served well by anecdotal statements by people, whatever their color. What are the facts of the problem? What do legitimate studies of the subject of continuing racial prejudice and profiling tell us?

President Obama, in an attempt to spin positive his inappropriate and frankly prejudicial* comments on the event in Cambridge, says this should be a learning experience for all of us – and invites the two principals over for a beer. (Unbelievable.) Far from being educational, the President and the media have created a mess that does the serious issue of racial profiling a disservice, and is distracting us from more pressing issues at hand.

*Suggested reading… “President Obama: The Presumption of Prejudice“, posted July 23, 2009 on the WordFeeder.


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