Category Archives: culture

Ethnic and race profiling, unconscious bias

On 29 July 2020, while promenading, my son and I were stopped by French Police asking for our IDs. Unlike in Australia and other western countries, in France, we are legally obliged to show our photo identification if we are stopped and asked to by a police officer. This is called the identity check “Contrôle d’Identité’”. Pretending to be having a conversation with my son, I commented in English: “ethnic profiling”, “why us”, and “I wonder what criteria they use to decide who to stop”. I was hoping they would understand what I was saying; after all, English is taught widely in elementary, secondary and tertiary institutions in France.

Ethnic or racial profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person based on assumed characteristics or behaviour of a particular ethnic or racial group rather than on individual suspicion. I’m a Filipino-born Aussie and have a typical south-east Asian appearance. My 18-year-old son is 178 cm tall and has physical similarities with his white French-Australian father. They probably thought we were not together because I was some steps behind him trying to fix my hat while picking up my mask. Whereas, my son was in a hurry to avoid the soaring heat and was already under a shrub. When I called him back and he turned around, there was a change on the face of one of the police officers. His eyes became amiable, and he handed back my ID.  At least we were not searched during this “contrôle”. We had our identification cards with us; otherwise, they could have taken us to a police station to establish our identity (“vérification d’identité”).

Ethnicity is a social grouping based on common and distinctive culture, religion, or language. Race, however, refers to the person’s physical appearance; for example, Black, White, Asian, or Indigenous. An individual can be Asian but, ethnically, German.

Western countries’ statistics show that non-white people are more likely to be stopped by the police on the street. It is widely known that Australian and Canadian Aboriginals are more likely to be charged with crimes. In the USA, there is sufficient information on how African Americans and members of other minority groups (Hispanic and Latino Americans, Middle Easterners and South Asians) are suspected of criminal activities. In Germany, there was a court ruling concerning racial profiling in its policy allowing police to use skin colour and “non-German ethnic origin” to select persons who will be asked for identification in spot-checks for illegal immigrants. Of course, non-western nations are not exempted from this bias. The media have reported the Chinese government’s use of a facial recognition technology to track down and control its Muslim minority.

“Racial profiling” occurs when government and law enforcement people target those of colour for a humiliating and often frightening stoppage, detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of an illegal behaviour but based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.  Racial profiling must not be allowed in countries where the core promise of its Constitution is equal protection under the law for all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Is racial profiling effective? Studies and consultations show that this jeopardises law enforcement because police officers lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve.

Is racial profiling discriminatory? The general principle of equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental element of international human rights law.

Anti-/non-discrimination law refers to legislation that prevents discrimination against particular groups of people based on sex, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, mental illness or ability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, sex characteristics, religion, creed, or individual political opinions. It is designed to hinder discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other areas of social life (this includes being in the streets or elsewhere). However, “not every distinction or difference in treatment will amount to discrimination. In general international law, a violation of the principle of non-discrimination arises if: a) similar cases are treated differently; b) a difference in treatment does not have an objective and reasonable justification; or c) if there is no proportionality between the aim sought and the means employed.” (http://www.humanrights.is/en/human-rights-education-project/human-rights-concepts-ideas-and-fora/s…)

In other words, with such international human rights legislation, we have the right to pursue our material, spiritual and social well-being in conditions of freedom, dignity and equal opportunity.

Discrimination is unproductive. In employment, it is economically unwise as victimised employees are unable to focus their energy on performing their tasks fully. Their feeling of negative vibes from a supervisor or colleague not only adversely impacts their job performance but causes absenteeism and ill-health.

France, for example, stands to gain some €150 billion over 20 years (i.e. a 0.35% increase in GDP per year) by increasing women’s and minorities’ access to skilled jobs and their overall employment rate (France Stratégie, https://www.strategie.gouv.fr/english-articles/economic-cost-workplace-discrimination-france-billions-euros-lost-potential).

How can prejudice and discrimination be dealt with? Employers, big or small, should have anti-discrimination policies and procedures in place that include regular training on cultural awareness and unconscious bias.  In the case of police departments, there should be a preference for community policing over strategies of power and fear.

Cheers to the year 2019

Cheers to the year 2019 as it gives us the opportunity to do better at home, work and play.

As in previous years, there were irreproachable and rough moments for me in 2018. The latter has been due to being in France at this time of constant grassroots demonstrations due to economic difficulties caused by political decisions and indecisions, such as regular increases in taxes. Meanwhile, France’s the 2018 World Cup (soccer/football) champion.

During the first two weeks in December I was coming home later than usual and walking a kilometre or so farther because bus drivers were instructed not to enter the city centre to avoid being hit by the demonstrators’ stones. These protesters adopted the name “yellow-vest movement” after a social-media campaign that urged people to go to the streets wearing the high-visibility “emergency” yellow jackets (In France, a yellow vest “gilet jaune” must be carried in every vehicle). Initially, they were against the rise in duties on diesel, which had long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel. Their causes have since widened to include issues concerning education and employment. Do protests work? Well, the French government was forced to scrap the unpopular fuel tax rise. As well, it promised an extra €100 (£90; $114) a month for minimum wage earners. On the other hand, there were ten deaths and many people were injured and properties destroyed.

The reported sightings of drones caused havoc for about 200,000 passengers a fortnight ago at Gatwick airport (LGW) outside of London. A member of my family was impacted and had to travel the following day at a different destination that incurred additional expenses and longer travelling time.

The terrorist attack in Strasbourg, a French city known as the Christmas capital, in the midst of the festivity caused deaths and injuries. My sadness was summarised in this message: “I express all my sorrow for the victims of the Strasbourg attacks. This Parliament will not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks. Let us move on. We will continue to work and react strengthened by freedom and democracy against terrorist violence” (Antonio Tajani @EP President). The EP building is near where it took place.

What a difficult time we are living in! How can we help each other during difficulties? Research studies have shown that we, human beings, are predisposed to feel empathy and show kindness. In 2018, these were evident during the earthquakes in Italy, fire in the USA, tsunami in Indonesia, flooding in the Philippines, bushfire in Australia, and many other natural and human-made disasters. The risky, unprecedented international rescue of 13 Thai boys and their coach reminded us of the selflessness and kindness of strangers when needed.

An act of kindness can be a simple hello, smile, hug or forgiveness. It can be carrying an elderly’s heavy shopping bag, letting another car to merge ahead of you while other drivers have refused, or paying for the parking of the person on line before you who’s having difficulty doing it annoying others behind.

A few months ago, I saw a woman giving a man some coins at the checkout as he didn’t have enough to pay for his groceries. Last November, a young lady wanted to pay her bus fare by cheque which the driver refused. She looked really disturbed and was perspiring (in winter!). There were eight of us behind her waiting patiently in the cold. I asked her how much she needed; she opened her wallet and said “rien de tout” (nothing). I handed the bus driver five euros and gave her the ticket. She offered to issue me a cheque. I declined politely and told her that it’d be alright to pay me next time we meet. Although, to date, I haven’t seen this person again, I don’t regret doing it. Expressing and receiving kindness makes me feel good with modesty.

Hopefully, the year 2019 will be safer and more peaceful for all of us. I wish you good health and happiness every day.

Who are you? What are you? Where are you from?

I am writing this while on a short holiday in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, before heading to Spain and England. It is summer here in Europe and because we travel a lot during this period, we often get asked “Where are you from?” Depending on my mood, my answer ranges from my birthplace to current city or country of residence. Often, I give information on my nationality/citizenship, and I will tell you why later. In some cases, the enquirer really just wants to know the main language I speak and my religion.

During the world cup, when I wore my gold and green outfit, some strangers smiled and commented, “You’re from Brazil” thinking that I had something blue invisible to the naked eye. Whereas, friends and acquaintances teased me “Socceroos, go, go..” My gold and yellow dress, green sandal and green bag said it all. They did not question my citizenship (Are you Australian?), appearance (but you look Asian), etc. On other occasions, however, I have to answer a follow-up question “Yes, but where do you really come from, your family?”

A fortnight ago, a close friend invited me to her barbecue dinner party. Her house is 15 minutes on foot from where we live, and since it was a sunny day, I decided to walk. France had just won the 2018 World Cup and knowing that there would be jubilant crowd, I put on my blue, white and red apparel. The time it took me to her place doubled as I had to stop and shake hands, take photos for others and kiss strangers. Everybody was so happy, friendly, and courteous. How I wished it was like that every day. No one asked me “where are you from”? Instead, many nodded and shouted amicably “On a gagné” (We won). They ignored my physical attributes and my non-French accent. They made me feel like I was one of them, which wasn’t my intention. I am a lover and partaker of peaceful and jovial celebrations, festivals, and traditional gatherings.

I, too, sometimes ask people “where are you from”, but it’s only to start a conversation. When I recognise the accent, I even say, “You’re from _______, aren’t you”? So far, no one has been offended by this question; instead, people have been friendly and helpful.

The answer to the question “where are you from” is generally based on one’s personal identity related to national and cultural belongingness. Though I was born in the Philippines and typically look south-east Asian, I often say with pride “Down Under” then add a few Aussie slang words and expressions as it’s my country of citizenship and where I have my educational, professional and social roots (my dear relatives and friends live there). Furthermore, I have this sense of pride and familiarity with Australia being considered by many people in other countries (such as those in France and Luxembourg) as a great place with fair and peaceful inhabitants, which is always a bonus to new and old relationships.
When the situation warrants the question “where are you from”, I present myself as a global citizen with a Filipino heritage and dual nationality (Australian and French).

Regarding France, one thing that amazes me in this astonishing country is that 2nd and 3rd generations of North African immigrants still call themselves Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, etc. Recently, I said to one of my students, “Why did you say you’re from Algeria when you were not born and have never lived here? For me, you’re French”. He said, “That’s nice, I feel French when I’m with those who think I’m French”. Many French people don’t make me feel that way, so it’s ridiculous to claim I’m one of them”. This situation demonstrates that the question “where are you from” has a temporal element.

As well, the answer to the question “where are you from” has moral and political grounds, as my case with Australia. I can identify with its values of simplicity over exuberance, resilience and reward for effort, and layback mentality. Compared to the majority of nations, it is a more middle class country with more efficient social and welfare services.

Have you asked someone “Where are you from”? Did their answers meet your expectations?