My original post on racial profiling provoked quite a discussion on the Spirit of 1848 listserve. A colleague wrote that he wasn’t sure that racial profiling has a profound effect on health outcomes. Indeed not.
But I use the word “profound” not as a simple synonym of “big”, but to mean deep — going down many levels. Several people gave examples of how racially motivated traffic stops for minor offenses structure health outcomes at deep levels of the causes of causes of health outcomes. Lisa Moore wrote that the
“anger” that results from repeated abuse by state power is undoubtedly part of the allostatic burden that contributes to higher morbidity and mortality.
Moreover discriminatory policing leads to the disproportionate arrests and incarceration that drive the drug war. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are not more likely to have illicit substances but we are much, much, much more likely to be caught and to end up in prison. Discriminatory policing has also become a way of controlling and “taxing” residents. A busted tail light or, in the case of Sandra Bland, failure to use a blinker, leads to escalating fines and jailing. This, in turn, can lead to job loss for some.
There were other examples of how racial profiling reaches down to affect many deep layers of the causes of causes of people’s health.
But my point was actually a bit different. Because we operate as health promoters within the constraints of a particular social context, we should care about the things that affect that context, even if they don’t directly have a large influence on health. If racial profiling makes the public sphere into a hostile place, it’s going to be harder to encourage outdoor physical activity. If racial profiling gets read as discrimination tolerated by authorities (and how else could it be read?), then we can’t be too surprised if there is mistrust of authorities in other domains–physicians, for example.
One person argued that we should be careful about not sounding the alarm on minor issues, because resources are limited, which is a fair point. But the nice thing about a policy change, as opposed to a program, is that it takes very few resources. We could end racial profiling, almost for free.
And the research field is not exactly expending a lot of resources on this topic either. Doing a quick search of “racial profiling” on AJPH, I found 18 articles that mention it over the past 10 years, none of which directly analyzed the issue. Surely one or two articles directly addressing the issue is not too much to ask. And to get there, it helps to have good data. Hence the original request.
Governor Brown did sign the measure into law, so now we’ll eventually have the data, and can have a more substantive–not to say profound!–discussion.