"Racial profiling refers to the use of an individual's race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement (e.g. make a traffic stop or arrest)" is how Wiki defines the term. I haven't travelled much, so I cannot speak for all those who've been subjected to intrusive interrogation and security checks, but I do wonder sometimes - why does the term invoke a violently negative connotation whenever it's mentioned?
Loathe as I am to cite the example of overbearing film stars like Shah Rukh Khan who kicked up his trademark fuss when he was detained at Newark airport in 2009 while on a promotional run for My Name is Khan, that is the most identifiable instance that comes to mind. The fact that it seemed more like a rather staged attempt at garnering publicity for the film aside, (I still don't believe his name/profile could turn up in an alert list - for hamming, maybe) that is when we actually sat up and took notice of the practice of 'racial profiling' in the US. Maligned that it already was, and that it has been deemed illegal in certain nations, the fact that one of our superstars was not spared of this 'humiliating' intrusion sent us war-crying about racist behaviour that ethnic minorities have had to suffer at the hands of USA's security forces.
Let me state clearly that I'm not an apologist for hate crimes and civilians and miscreants targeting racial minorities to heap abuse on them. Hate crimes against certain races and ethnicities have existed for a long time in the US. The Dotbusters of 1987 targeted all Hindu women who dared to sport a bindi in New Jersey. Balbir Singh Sodhi had to pay with his life because the killer, Frank Roque, didn't know a Muslim from a Sikh. But this isn't the security forces at work.
Is it not important for a nation to put the safety of the lives of its citizens above all else, (ahem, cough, I hope certain powers-that-be are listening) even if it means subjecting its visitors to somewhat humiliating checks? I'm not trying to justify what some see as an exaggerated practice of full body-frisking and the racial intolerance that citizens of the sub-continent have had to face over the years, far from it. But in the face of terror lurking in every corner and the risk of millions of lives being wiped out within minutes because of negligent security, is it such a bad idea?
If it is, aren't we all guilty of 'racial profiling' at some point or another in our lives? As a Brahmin, I've had to laugh off several racist jokes about my lineage. Some of them are pointedly hurtful, but most of them are laugh-out-loud hilarious. During crime investigations, detectives and investigators 'profile' the perpetrators and sometimes, maybe often, race plays a very prominent role in piecing the puzzle together. Isn't this racial profiling? When we move cities or when we want to rent out our homes, we look for prospectives who're tolerant, if not of our own ethnicity and religious leanings and food preferences. Aren't we guilty of racial profiling? Forget everything else - for generations, older and wiser people in the Indian have besought their progeny to seek mates of their own faiths and beliefs and to discard even the notion of marrying outside their community. Isn't this pure, unadulterated racial profiling?
Having said that, I agree that this is by no means a valid analogy for what racial profiling actually is. Neither can one ignore the fact that 9/11 was extremism in its ugly form. But isn't a moment's inconvenience, derogatory that it may be, a rather small price to pay for the security of a nation and its people? Are we making the mistake of equating extremism and civilian rage with racial profiling?