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"... 'Cause it turns out they were stopping every driver traveling down that particular sidewalk. And that's profiling. And profiling is wrong!"
Ron White

Or, "How I learned to start worrying and hate prejudice".

Here we're talking about instances of law enforcement determining that the likelihood of a suspect being guilty or an individual being involved with a crime is raised or lowered by their race or ethnicity.

You can't get through a cop show without running into profiling, it seems. It can make for a Very Special Episode or can be imbued into every element of a piece to shift down the Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism. Normally treated as definitely a bad thing, sometimes its appearance on the work is accompanied by a souring of the mood or a sudden change in view of a character, revealing the subtle bigotry underneath. Conversely, with the Noble Bigot with a Badge, it's actually a softer way of definitely showing that they are bigoted, without them doing something so terrible that we can't still view them as noble. Lately, there has been a trend of casting and costuming parts so that it invites the "profile" (gang member, perv, etc.), drawing the audience into profiling and then flipping it as a Red Herring.

Has nothing to do with The Profiler -- despite what those who use this trope think.

Truth in Television, and we all know it.

Examples of Profiling include:


Film

  • This was pretty much the point of the film The Siege with Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Tony Shalhoub where a series of terrorist atttacks results in New York being put under martial law, habeas corupus being revoked temporarily, all citizens of middle eastern descent being arrested and the use of torture.
  • A line about DWB (Driving While Black) in Men in Black 2: the car's stoic autopilot decoy "used to be a black guy, but he kept getting pulled over".
  • Parodied in the gas station scene in Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. The Asian Store Owners consistently harass Ashtray and Loc Dog while they're frequenting their store, while completely ignoring the white customer who is robbing them blind in plain view of everyone.

Literature

  • In A Deeper Blue of the Paladin of Shadows series; middle eastern terrorists are threatening to unleash VX on Florida. As the situation spins closer and closer to deadline, the situation isn't helped by the fact that the local law enforcement can't prioritize suspects based on nationality or color of skin due to sensitivity about media reactions about profiling, bringing up issues related to the debated benefits on racial profiling.

Live Action TV

  • The West Wing spent an entire episode on this, with Bartlett's Supreme Court nominee Roberto Mendoza being arrested for driving drunk--even though he had a liver condition that meant if he drank that much, he'd be dead.
    • In the Canon Dis Continuity episode Isaac and Ishmael, a worker at the White House is detained after a security flag runs up against his name. He has a rather heated discussion with Leo about his anger at being subject to racial profiling and Leo telling him that's what you get when you look like the enemy.
  • There was an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will and Carlton are driving a car belonging to a friend of Uncle Phil. They get pulled over by the police and then arrested with little regard for due process. During this all the writers contrast Will's cynicism with Carlton's Woobieish optimism in authority figures as he blunders through several actions that a well behaved rich kid can't see the shame but the Genre Savvy Will tries to advise him against.
  • On Everybody Hates Chris, Chris tells us that the only thing that can distract the cops from seeing a black kid in a car is two black kids in a car.
  • There was an episode of Angel with evil zombie police racists or something where they need to get arrested by them and Gunn says it will be easy to get their attention because he'll be committing the offense of WWB - Walking While Black.
    • To be fair, the police zombies were attacking anyone out after dark, on account of the incredibly high violent crime rate in the area. That didn't stop Gunn from bringing race into it, though.
  • An episode of Smart Guy had Yvette's friend Nina getting a job at a clothing store, only to find that the store manager wanted her job to be following black people around the store to stop them from stealing. She awkwardly follows people around, not wanting to get fired, but then Yvette comes in and it gets really awkward. Nina then tries to change the manager's point of view, only for the manager to justify her own position with some anecdotal evidence and ask Nina to leave. Later we see the manager following a black guy around the store...who turns out to be an executive of the clothing chain, contacted by Yvette and Nina about the manager's behavior. Oops.
  • In Veronica Mars, a character accused of stealing because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time is described as having been "lurking" in the area. "Lurking? You mean, 'standing while black'?"
  • Happens to Eddie on Family Matters. Carl, suspicious of Eddie's claim, simply gets angry at him for getting another ticket until he speaks to the cops who pulled him over. It turns out the one in charge is indeed a racist jerk.
  • Done in That's So Raven, with the show's typical subtlety - Raven isn't hired as a sales clerk, while her friend Chelsea is, despite Raven performing much better in the preliminary tests (such as folding and categorizing clothes). Fair enough... but then she has a vision that the manager confessed to not liking black people. So, Raven wears a ridiculous disguise, with a hidden camera, to engineer the confession, which, after much pratfalling, she gets. The manager doesn't even try to justify it like the one on Smart Guy does - she just cheerily admits to being racist, almost without provocation, to a perfect stranger, in a public place, while working as a salesperson.
  • Averted HARD with Martin. Martin is pulled over by a police officer and decides to fight the ticket. While in court he accuses the officer of being racist. The officer disagrees and as evidence asks his wife to stand up. Martin is left speechless when the elegant, black woman in the front row stands and introduces herself.

Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun establishes that in certain parts of Seattle, "driving while meta" is enough to get you pulled over.

Video Games

  • Mass Effect: An unfortunate young Quarian on her pilgrimage is being harassed by a volus and a C-Sec officer aboard the Citadel. The volus is in a rage about the supposed theft of his money, which had to have been the quarian because she had bumped into her earlier. The C-Sec officer speaks only to the volus about the matter and says at least once in conversation, in regards to the quarian, "You know what they're like." Even after she is found innocent, the officer threatens her with arrest if she does not get some permanent housing soon, allowing the player to deliver a pissed off rant from Shepard towards both the volus and the C-Sec officer on the slighted quarian's behalf.

Web Original

  • Funny Or Die brings us The White Women's Workout, which consists of hiring a black guy to sneak up on you and chase you around.
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