Walter E. Williams

Whether genetics, environment, or some other factor accounts for the association between race and the incidence of certain diseases, it is undeniable that such an association exists. That means an easily observed physical characteristic, such as race or ethnicity, can be used as a proxy for a higher probability of the existence of some other, more difficult-to-observe characteristic, such as prostate cancer, coronary disease, diabetes or cervical cancer. Simply by knowing a patient's race or ethnicity, a medical practitioner can be alert to and better customize a patient's screening needs. I wonder how many people would seek action against a doctor for medical profiling if the doctor recognized the association between race and the higher probability of a disease.

In a number of cities, there have been complaints of racism because some taxicab drivers turn down black fares. By simply knowing that a driver refused a black passenger, we cannot make an unambiguous statement about whether the decision was motivated by racial preferences. As early as 1999, D.C.'s taxicab commissioner Sandra Seegars, who is black, issued a safety advice statement urging the city's mostly black cabbies to refuse to pick up "dangerous-looking" passengers. She described "dangerous-looking" as a "young black guy ... with his ... shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants down below his underwear and unlaced tennis shoes." Would anyone argue that black cabbies who turn down black fares are racists? A law-abiding black person denied a taxi is rightfully angered, but to whom should his anger be directed, at the driver who's trying to protect his life or at the people who've instilled fear by robbing and assaulting cabbies?

By the way, unlike us mortals, God wouldn't have to do any kind of profiling, because he knows everything. We mortals, with our imperfections, must find substitutes for his omniscience.


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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