The Thoughts of an Educated Young African American Male

Understanding Racial Profiling

The framework of this entry is based in the legal profession which I will be employed shortly. I intern during the year at a local district attorney’s office. There, I interact with roughly 300 or so African Americans per day. I see many African Americans at the trial and punishment phase for the crimes they commit. As such, I have a duty to run their criminal records for sentencing purposes. After performing such searches for over a year, I have become immune to African American mens and women’s records which are 6 – 8 pages long, with conviction after conviction for a multitude of crimes. When they are in court, they dress as they would in their normal life: long white tee shirts; big baggy jeans; long chain around their neck; and a hat if the bailiff did not make them take it off.


In undergrad we were required to take a class called psychology. There, we learned the concept of conditioned stimuli. The concepts’ premise is that when you see or hear something repeatedly (the condition) and it is accompanied by a certain result (stimuli) you will eventually expect the result (stimuli) every time you see or hear the condition. The concept is similar to training a dog. If you point your finger down and tell the dog to sit (condition), once the dog knows he will get a treat every time he obeys the command (stimuli), he will do it mostly every time.  


When people in court see black men and women dressed a certain way 300 times a day (condition), and run their records half the time, seeing long records of convictions most of the time (stimuli), they become conditioned to believing that most every young black person they see in their personal lives dressed that way has a long record for the crimes like the people we see in court.   


Further, there is nothing in these white peoples lives to break the condition. When they go home, they have no reason to interact with blacks who look that way. Of course, they work with other blacks and went to school with many others. But, those blacks seem different and outside the condition. They do not wear their jeans baggy, with a big white tee-shirt, and a straight brimmed hat. Thus, they do not place the blacks they know within the conditioned group. The result is that when you dress a certain way (like anyone in a basic rap video) you will be perceived by these whites to have a long criminal record.  And, I do not condone such stereotyping. However, I must say, I understand where it comes from.


Some will say, they don’t know the real me. That is true. But, they do not have to get to know you. They see many blacks on a daily basis, and a person’s record is as much a reflection of their person and character as anything. 6-8 pages of convictions for assaults, larcenies, theft crimes, and violent crimes tells a white person all they need to know. We may not like it, but its real.


All of this just to say, we need to break the mold and do better to stop the conditioned stimuli.   

December 3, 2006 - Posted by | African American, Black men, Black women, college, court, Law, racial profiling, teens, university


  1. Hey man, loved the article. I agree with everything written, too. I also took a psychology class in undergrad where we learned much the same thing. The funny thing about the condition is that if you try to go against it, you may not be stereotyped by white people, but you will sure as hell be stereotyped by other black people INSIDE of the condition. They call you a ‘house nigga’ make it seem like you’re betraying your ‘blackness’ by not dressing the part.

    Well, excuse me for not wanting to get pulled over in my all-white neighborhood and actually having aspirations beyond working at Burger King. Call me what you want, but I, for one, refuse to further the negative stereotype against blacks by dressing like some thug ‘wannabe’.

    Thanks for the article.

    Comment by Ice9 | December 4, 2006 | Reply

  2. Bro….I need you in my blog for a sec. I just wrote an entry regarding the Queens police shooting and dress and mannerisms were alluded to in the piece and I can’t get some of the commenters to understand what dress(costuming, really) means. I will also highlight your entry which breaks it down to the nth degree. Great and TRUE article!

    Comment by dburt aka Afronerd | December 6, 2006 | Reply

  3. It pleases me to read this article of yours, brother. Again, everything is based on perception isn’t it? The image one projects as an individual is the only image people get to see, thereby forming an image of their facy as to his/her character. But with black people, a single individual is seen by the whites as a represntation of the entire Black nation, which is misleading. And indeed, that is a mold that needs to be broken, but there is a slight problem!

    the mold cannot be broken, until and unless black people are willing to free themselves from the mold first! this conditioned stimuli is prevalent amongst the black folks, as i witness here in London, and America. We need to unntangle ourselves first, to untangle others, isn’t it?

    Even some people have gone as far as believing that we are savages from a savage environment, who cannot adopt American ways!

    Comment by shafi | December 11, 2006 | Reply

  4. Youngblackman.

    Here is another take on “perception”.

    A well-known black woman author (Dr. Gail Elizabeth Wyatt) was visiting relatives out of town, and she was staying in a hotel with her husband and children. (She was in town for the wedding of a relative of her husband.) While she was waiting in the lobby for her husband to come down [he and the children were up in the hotel room getting ready], she remembered something she had left up in the hotel room, and left the lobby to head up to the floor they were on.

    As she approached the elevator, before she got on, two white men were exiting the elevator. One of them loudly said to the other, “Wow, she must cost at least $100.00!” The two men kept on walking towards the hotel exit, unmindful of the cruel remark they had just made to a woman who had done them no harm. The lady was devastated by their remarks.

    She was nicely, conservatively dressed. Her hair and make-up was not garish. She was in no way behaving in any way to draw such a callous hateful remark. She started crying in the elevator, but, quickly composed herself before she saw her husband and children. She did not tell him what happened until later that evening. He of course was very upset.

    A few years later, this same black lady and her husband were visiting an Asian country. While she and her husband were strolling arm-in-arm, enjoying the sights, an Asian man came up to them and said to her husband, “Where can I get one of those?”, while pointing at her. Her husband, livid with anger, chased after the man. The lady caught her husband to keep him from beating the man to a pulp.

    Once again, she was sensibly dressed, and in no way, through her behaviour, did nothing to warrant such denigrating treatment.

    My question to you, youngblackman, how do you explain what happened to this lady?

    How do you explain black women who show decorum, dignity, femininity and respect for themselves encountering disrespect just because of their race?

    How do you explain a lady who did nothing to bring disrespect aimed towards her just because she was a black woman?

    My question is:

    How do you explain this black woman being treated like s++t even when she was doing nothing to bring this mistreatment on herself?

    Just a question, since “perception” is everything to many people.

    Comment by Ann | June 7, 2007 | Reply

  5. I think it is a legetimate question, and again, it is on perception. My guess, honestly, is that the hotel they they couple resided was not one which is frequented by African Americans. Thus, when they saw an African American woman the men assumed she was a prostitute and at the same time validating their own racist sterotypes.

    As for Asia, I have no idea. I have never been there and do not know enough about their culture to make an informed decision. It is interesting though.

    Comment by youngblackman | August 10, 2007 | Reply

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