What Would You Do? Racism in Public Surveillance

The ABC news magazine show 20/20 features a regular feature (and erstwhile show) called “What Would You Do?” that poses ethical dilemmas and then films them using a hidden camera. This one highlights the stark differences in the way white and African American adolescents are treated in a public park in the northeastern part of the U.S. (Ridgewood, NJ). This seems like a clear case of racism in public surveillance, but watch for yourself and decide. The video is long for digital video at 6:43, but worth watching all the way through:

In this clip, three white youths who are actively engaged in overt acts of vandalism in broad daylight are barely given any notice. After literally hours of engaging in this clearly illegal behavior, someone finally calls the police. Yet, three African American youths – whose only offense seems to be sleeping while black – have the police called on them, not once but twice.

This social experiment illustrates the way that people who would never identify as ‘racists’ (or even ‘white nationalists’) see the world through a white racial frame. Looking through this frame, the white vandals are given the benefit of the doubt (e.g., “Is that your car?”) while the young black men, even while asleep, are regarded with suspicion (e.g., “They look like they’re getting ready to rob someone.”)

Really people, we’ve got to do better than this as a culture. This video and the recent discussion in comments on a previous post about anti-racism makes me think that the time is right for some enterprising DIY-videographer with a commitment to racial justice to start actively shooting digital video like this one to highlight racial inequality. That’s one way we could do better as a culture.