Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?

A while back I wrote a post called White Identity Politics. In it, I wrote:

Whiteness has a political meaning as much as does Black or Asian or any other racial category. In order to define non-Whites as inferior and deviant, Whites needed to be defined as superior and normal. By claiming the category “normal,” Whites imagined themselves outside the racial paradigm they had created. But, in fact, they were and are at the center of it.

I was trying to make the point that while Whites seem to think of themselves as raceless, they in fact are the inventors of the whole system of race. They have a racial identity, and their historic (and contemporary) role in creating and perpetrating racism is as integral to that identity as surviving slavery and facing it’s continuing legacy of injustice is to the identities of African Americans.

In the name of White racial identity, Whites have engaged in genocidal warfare against Native Americans. As the victor in this war, Whites took land and natural resources not rightfully their own and corralled the surviving Native Nations onto reservations and forced them into inequitable treaty agreements, before attempting to make them disappear entirely through programs of forced assimilation. And ever since, it’s been part of White identity to celebrate White settler history and tout U.S. exceptionalism in spite of the fact that this nation is founded upon genocide.

Whites enslaved Africans – they invented race as we know it for this purpose. Even after a war was waged to end slavery, Whites invented convicted leasing. Through this system, they unjustly imprisoned Blacks for the purpose of re-enslaving them. By doing so they not only created a pool of free labor, they terrorized the mass of the Black community of the South into remaining in poor jobs, often for their former masters and their descendents, for fear that they would be imprisoned since unemployment was a crime for Blacks in some jurisdictions. And where Blacks are concerned, much more followed, including Jim Crow and our current war on drugs (notice how I bring that up constantly? I think you should, too).

Whites vilified, persecuted, and alternately exploited and then excluded Asians and waged a war against Mexico and forced them into an inequitable sale of territory that includes all or part of seven U.S. states. And there was Jim Crow, lynchings, mass race riots targeting Black and Asian laborers, and more, and largely with impunity. I would go on, but I think you get the point.

The whole of the U.S. experiment in democracy is marred by incidents of racist brutality, violence, and warfare, and the legal diminution, dehumanization, and exclusion of people of color.  In fact, it is what most characterizes race relations in America.

If an attempt were made to racially profile Whites, the picture we would come away with would be anything but pretty. So I’ve been wondering lately, why is it that in spite of the fact that very nearly every modern mass shooting is committed by White males there is still no White racial profile of the mass shooter. One would think that a population, defined by race by their own choosing, that has for so long condoned mass murder, especially in the name of their race, would be, therefore, suspect every time an act of terrorism and mass murder took place in America. But they aren’t.

There is also no federally commissioned Report on White Families that parallels the Moynihan Report. When we think of welfare, we don’t see White people even when welfare was created for White people. When we think of drug crimes, we see Black people in spite of the fact that Whites drive the illegal drug trade in the U.S. And we don’t just see them, we arrest them, prosecute them, and imprison them en masse.

A Race Files reader sent me an article by Tim Wise about the 2001 Santee, CA mass school shooting resulting in injury to 13 White children and the deaths of two, asking the same question. In it, he says:

…once again, we hear the FBI insist there is no “profile” of a school shooter. Come again? White boy after white boy after White boy, with very few exceptions to that rule…, decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? Imagine if all these killers had been Black: would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.

In the wake of last Sunday’s mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (by no less than a self-professed white supremacist) I think the question needs to be asked again. Why is there no White profile? I’m not saying it’s just, nor that racial profiling is the solution, but as long as law enforcement is going to continue to racially profile people of color, I think we need to create an echo chamber around this issue and say it again and again, White is a race, it has a history and tradition, and mass murder is by no means outside of it, so why aren’t we talking about this?

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

13 replies on “Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?”

Excellent post. It reminds me of the phrase “That’s mighty white of you”, usually used in reference to some altruistic or generous act. Historically speaking, if I were mugged on the street, and the police arrived, and promptly assisted my assailants in their robbery and arrested me, it would in fact be “mighty white” of all of them.

Very cool and so great to hear from you. Every time your face pops up on my fb page I remember those good old, bad old days.

Man this is one of new favorite blogs. The post reminds me of that old Public Enemy song “911 is a joke”. A lot of folks don’t consider the fact you raised about race being an invention. It’s a convenient invention to justify a perpetual system of economic inequality(sounding like a Marxist huh?). Keep up the great work

I agree with your original point, and the point i think you are trying to make here, but i disagree with the frame you are using-we totally profile whites. I think this piece reinforces the frame ‘racism is only bad things for POC,’…rather than ‘racism does bad things to POC, and good things for whites.’ That frame doesn’t show whites how much their ‘success’ is caused by the system, and not their individual achievement. we faced that frame in the EJ movement when we moved from just arguing ‘POC got all the polluting stuff’ to ‘POC also got none of the good things’ finally to ‘POC got most of the bad stuff and few of the good stuff, and whites got most of the good stuff and few bad stuff.’ Most POC have seen whites getting profiled…they get better service, more goodies, and folk work extra hard to deal with their needs.

All true, and a good way of framing things, but is that really profiling, or is that just a consequence of the pecuniary value of whiteness – in other words, the cash, social advantages, etc., built into whiteness that gives it the value that white folks fight for when they go all backlash-y on us? I gotta ponder that one. Thanks for raising it.

Thank you again, and as always, Scot, for raising the bar higher on conversations not held out loud, often enough, or merely for ‘polite’ conversation. (Okay, you and Ludovic know I’m a resident of one of the most “polite” issues talk cities in America). You’ve pressed the issue up against the place where it needs to be – out loud, in technicolor, and with historical frankness. I also love Ludovic’s thoughtful and different framing, and cannot wait for the two of you to talk more of this – out where we can read about it, and do something. I’m pondering all of this now.

Whites also enslaved whites: what the Ancient Irish (not so much the Norman Irish) endured under the Brits for 700 years amounted to cultural and physical genocide as well… The problem with lumping together.

@ Finneran: I think you must also look at the context of this conversation. Instead of arguing that Whites enslaved other Whites (which no one is arguing against), it is important to identify that status of Whites in relation to (racial) Others in America. Is your argument that the enslavement of Africans “isn’t worse” than any other enslavement? I don’t think that argument is valid or necessary. Instead, looking at race-based discrimination and its manifestation in incarceration rates, air pollution, poverty rates, education rates and health rates is what we should be focusing on. Even if one believed that race-based discrimination is “over,” they would have to then look at the people accused and sort of deem them as biologically predisposed to violence, obesity, and low intelligence, among other things (like they did back in the day…and like some people still do). Is that where we want to go? I don’t think so.
There’s a book called Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self, a text that unpacks the “invisibility” of Whiteness via photography. It really goes in. It discusses why we don’t notice Whiteness, the history of its invisibility, and it includes work by anti-racist activists and Whiteness studies scholars. It discusses “strange-ing Whiteness” by focusing on it, like we focus Blackness or Otherness (the quotes you included reminded me of the book).

I think you could take one more step and ask an even more specific question: Why don’t we racially profile white males? As I’m sure you know, over 98 percent of all violent crimes (and 100 percent of mass-shootings) are committed by males. THERE’S an elephant in the room if there ever was one! These are conversations that need to happen, and I thank you for taking a step forwards and doing that. This blog is really interesting; I look forward to reading more. Thank you for what you do. I am researching a paper, and your blog and the links have helped me find what I needed to confirm (as I already guessed it) the truth.

I’m glad that you mentioned Jim Crow in the context of Asian Americans. There isn’t much information about how Asians were victimized by Jim Crow. I’d be interested in you all discussing the topic in greater detail in future posts.

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