Lin’s rise raises racial profiling specter

By Daniel J. Bauer

A delegation of aides from the United States Congress visited my campus some years ago, and I was quick to accept an invitation to meet them as a group in the company of several colleagues and student representatives.

For the benefit of readers who may not know, every member of the U.S. Congress relies on a trusted batch of aides (carefully chosen and trained, we can imagine) to research legislative issues, help speed along communication with constituents, and carry out a variety of administrative tasks.

The next day I won an invitation to hop into a van and accompany the aides to a nearby restaurant for what was mislabeled as “a lunch.”

In the van I plopped beside a young black woman and promptly asked her which Democrat in Congress was her boss. With a twinkle in her eye, she smiled and said, “Well, actually, I am a Republican. And, of course, so is my boss.”

I didn’t even try to cover my red face with my hands. I shrugged and apologized for my ridiculous assumption that race was an accurate indicator of a person’s political views.

A recent study found that in exit polls on American presidential election days from 1992 — 2008, about 88 percent of African-American voters voted for the candidate from the Democratic Party. As we can see, that still leaves a healthy wedge of American blacks who voted for candidates from the Republican or independent parties. What had I done that day with the black congressional aide? On the superficial basis of physical appearance, I had assumed I could read her political leanings. I had profiled her. You may have noticed that the Asian edition of “Time” magazine (and other editions?) this week features a splendid picture of New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin on its cover. Inside, writer Sean Gregory points out that 83 percent of the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s most recent all star roster was composed of African-Americans. “How many Harvard grads and how many Asian Americans were in the current NBA,” asks Gregory, “before (Lin) arrived? Zero and zero” (2-27-12, p. 29).