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Racial Profiling in a “Post-Racial” America

Resource type: Video

In May 2011, The Atlantic Philanthropies and The New Press hosted a discussion about racial profiling in the United States. The panel included former litigator and law professor Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and former federal prosecutor and law professor Paul Butler, author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice. Kent Hutchinson and Justin Coello, two young men who have been racially profiled in their neighbourhoods, also gave firsthand accounts of their experiences.

You can watch the full discussion here, courtesy of Fora.TV.

Shorter video highlights:


Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

Justin Coello

Justin Coello


Kent Hutchinson

Kent Hutchinson

Paul Butler

Paul Butler


The Situation In Brief

 “In the era of color blindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.  So we don’t.  Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color as criminals and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind… As a criminal, you scarcely have more rights and arguably less respect than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.  We have not ended racial caste in America, we have merely redesigned it.”

 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow 

Black Boys are:

  • 4x more likely to be suspended for the same behavior
  • 2x more likely to be arrested
  • 4x more likely to be detained in a juvenile correctional facility

Black Men:

  • 1 in 8 black men in their 20s are in jail or prison
  • 1 in 3 is estimated to be under supervision of the criminal justice system

Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, many have called the United States a “post-racial America” – the notion being that the election of a black President somehow proves that racism in any form no longer exists in the country.  Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As Michelle Alexander outlines in her book, The New Jim Crow, people of colour are aggressively targeted by the criminal justice system and as a result end up being excluded from housing and other social service eligibility, voting rights and participation as jurors.  The criminalisation of people of color doesn’t even require a crime.  The recent book 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today features essays from men diverse in background, age, education and economic status who have been subject to interrogation, search, harassment and assault from police on account of one shared identity – being black.  Former federal prosecutor, Paul Butler, writes of his personal experience with racial profiling in his book, “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice” and explores what “doing the right thing” means when the judicial system itself is broken.

Racial profiling is an unspoken but pervasive problem throughout the United States.  It stigmatises and criminalises people of colour from as early as their pre-teens, violating the rights and civil liberties of innocent people, and having devastating consequences on entire communities. 


About the Speakers

Michelle AlexanderMichelle Alexander
A longtime civil rights advocate and litigator, Alexander was a 2005 Soros Justice Fellow. She holds a joint appointment at the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives. The New Jim Crow is her first book.

Read Bio  |  Buy The New Jim Crow

Paul Butler
A former federal prosecutor, Butler is the country’s leading expert on jury nullification. He provides legal commentary for CNN, NPR, and the Fox News Network, and has been featured on 60 Minutes and profiled in the Washington Post. He has written for the Post, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times, and is a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice is his first book. 

Read Bio  |  Buy Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice


12 Angry MenKent Hutchinson
A devoted father and former job counselor, Hutchinson contributed his multiple racial profiling experiences to 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today.

Buy 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today


Justin Coello
A 20 year-old man from East New York, Brooklyn, Coello is a Freshman at Medgar Evers College and a youth member at the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform & Alternatives, a project of the Center for NuLeadership.  He has experienced racial profiling and illegal frisk and search by the police in New York City numerous times.

Related Resources


Human Rights & Reconciliation

Global Impact:

United States


civil rights, Michelle Alexander