Walter E. Williams

One might take the position that while it is acceptable for doctors to use race, ethnicity and sex as indicators of the higher probability of certain diseases, it is not acceptable to use race or ethnicity as indicators for other attributes such as criminal behavior. Other than simply stating that it is acceptable to use race or ethnicity as information acquisition technique in the case of medicine but not in other areas of life, is there really a difference? Surely, race and ethnicity are not perfect indicators of the risk of prostate cancer or hypertension; neither are they perfect indicators of criminal behavior; however, there are concrete factual data that surely indicate associations. Criminologist Marvin Wolfgang says, "For four violent offenses -- homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- the crime rates for blacks are at least 10 times as high as they are for whites."

In a 1999 article, "Capital Cabbies Salute Race Profiling," James Owens writes, "If racial profiling is racism, then the cab drivers of Washington, D.C., they themselves mainly blacks and Hispanics, are all for it. A District taxicab commissioner, Sandra Seegars, who is black, issued a safety-advice statement urging D.C.'s 6,800 cabbies to refuse to pick up 'dangerous looking' passengers. She described 'dangerous looking' as a young black guy ... with shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants, unlaced tennis shoes."

The Pizza Marketing Quarterly carried a story of charges of racial discrimination filed in St. Louis against Papa John’s pizza delivery services. Papa John's district manager said she could not and would not ask her drivers to put their lives on the line. She added that the racial discrimination accusation is false because 75 to 85 percent of the drivers in the complaining neighborhood are black and, moreover, most of those drivers lived in the very neighborhood being denied delivery service.

Some years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson complained, "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery -- then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved."

Here's my question: Is the racial profiling done by cab drivers, pizza deliverers or Jesse Jackson a sign of racism or economizing on information costs?


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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