The discussion was relatively civil, but tension hung in the
Glenn Auditorium air at the third annual State of Race Debate, Thursday
night, Feb. 13.
The subject matter, “Racial Profiling: Pre- and Post-September
11,” was a volatile one, the speakers—Michelle Alexander
of the American Civil Liberties Union-Northern California and Dinesh
D’Souza, Rishwain Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover
Institution—were passionate, and the audience of several hundred
took sides and did not apologize for it.
With D’Souza, a senior domestic policy analyst during the
Reagan administration, setting himself up on the right, and the
ACLU lawyer, Alexander, on the left, the battle lines were drawn
In the middle, physically if not politically, was John Ford, senior
vice president and dean for Campus Life, serving as moderator. He
kept the proceedings moving along from the guest’s 15-minute
opening statements to a detailed back-and-forth discussion followed
by responses to audience questions.
Alexander said that racial profiling seems appropriate when people’s
security is at stake, but she did not say that it was right. “We
can have a careful conversation about the costs and benefits of
sacrificing the civil rights of a certain racial group,” she
Alexander also spoke at length about the drug war, which she said
unfairly targets people of color although they are not statistically
more likely than whites to be drug users.
“The war on drugs creates an Us vs. Them mentality,”
she said. “Rather than fight the causes of drug abuse and
terrorism, it’s easier to just round people up.”
D’Souza began his address with a joke (“My job is to
make the case for racial profiling, so I have titled my talk ‘Two
Cheers for Racial Profiling.’”), but he played the role
of attacker much of the night.
While D’Souza derided what he called “stupid profiling,”
defined as racial profiling without a reason, but he staunchly defended
profiling based on statistics, such as the investigation of Middle
Eastern men for terrorist activities or African American men of
a certain age and of a certain appearance for crimes.
D’Souza was most in defense of profiling in cases where national
security and personal security were involved (an example he used
was of cab drivers not picking up young African American men because
that demographic has the highest incidence of violent crime). When
you can find out all the information about an individual person
of color, he said, it should be done. But in cases where that is
impossible, profiling should be acceptable.
“In the fog, when you don’t know who to blame, you are
forced to act on hunches,” he said. “I would much rather
have that than somebody sitting comfortably in the offices of the
ACLU saying, ‘At no price will we relinquish our civil rights.’”
Although the set up was there, Alexander did not take the bait.
Through most of the night, when D’Souza would attack, Alexander
would either let it pass or mildly redefine his words. For instance,
D’Souza described an attack on a Sikh man by a white man in
Texas as “racial profiling,” Alexander termed it a “hate
Each told personal stories of profiling as well. Alexander recounted
a time when she was a child and her black father was stopped while
driving in a predominantly white neighborhood and questioned. Her
white mother, seated in the passenger seat was questioned about
their relationship and asked by a police officer if “she was
D’Souza’s story was a bit lighter. When interviewing
an information technology professional for a book he was writing
about culture, D’Souza said his subject went into great detail
about the technical aspects of his job—something D’Souza
didn’t care about.
“That’s when I realized this person thought I was interested
because there are a lot of Indians in the technology industry,”
The audience, which packed Glenn’s lower level and part of
the balcony, was made up primarily of students, and it played a
role in the evening. Only a small percentage of people in attendance
applauded for both speakers. Much of the time competing factions
in the crowd (Alexander’s supporters a bit scattered in the
front and D’Souza’s a large group in the back) attempted
to out-root each other. Nothing beyond a couple soft murmurs was
said among audience members, but the unease in the building had
The event was presented by College Council, and more than 20 campus
organizations contributed to or cosponsored it. “This phenomenon,
based on race, affects all members of the Emory community,”
said College Council Vice President Amanda Edwards in her introduction.
“It is a matter of racial equity, homeland security and civil
A third speaker, Arun Gandhi, cofounder of the Memphis, Tenn.-based
M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, was scheduled to appear but
could not because he was taking care of his wife, Sunanda, who had
suffered a fall earlier in the week and required surgery. Ford read
an apology sent to him by Gandhi.