Dr Marco Goldoni: A discussion on racial issues and the law

Passing through a major station, wearing a back pack because you are on your way home, you are stopped and searched. No one else around you is searched or even appears to be considered. Why are you stopped? Is it because you have brown skin and fit a certain stereotype, you hope not. However sadly the police on duty has decided you fit the classic ‘terrorist’ description. Therefore your bag, instead of containing clothes and your reading for the evening, must be carrying some form of explosive.

A woman was stopped and searched, her husband was left unquestioned and when she asked; ‘why did you stop me?’ The police officer replied: ‘well, obviously because you are black.’ She took it to court, stating that it was a violation of Article 14 of the Spanish constitution. However her complaints were discharged saying that it was not an issue of racial discrimination, but instead based on factual evidence that had showed that certain ethnic groups were more likely to commit a crime.

Ethnic profiling is still used by both American and British police forces with no justification as is acts of prejudice within policing decisions, education and limited access for ethnic minorities. This breaks and breaches Article 14 of the American constitution and also the Humans Rights Act.

In a discussion led by Dr. Marco Goldoni at our meeting on Tuesday 28th October, he outlined a few major issues of racial prejudice in law cases. As well as the issue of ethnic profiling, he explained that in most cases of racial differentiation your “identity is externally determined by external forces.” He  used the example of slavery to explain this, as during this period African Americans were “assumed to be part of a certain work force” solely because of their racial identification. (Consider the situation in the film 12 Years a Slave).

Even though law has declared a removal of prejudice, on all grounds of race (as well as gender and sexuality) this does not mean that laws can be twisted and prejudices can exist outside of the law. One situation, Goldoni explained, falls down to urban development.

Take this an example: Imagine a high school is being built in a suburb to help with local education as there is a shortage of schools in the area. The school is built far enough away from the communities largely made up of ethnic minorities that it is not accessible by foot, instead you need to get a car or a taxi. How about if you cannot afford a car or a taxi? Public transport links happen to have been cut to this certain high school. With no available public transport, the new school, that is built in a leafy suburb, is only accessible to those with a certain level of income, as they either own a car or live in the surrounding area. This shows how public services can be limited by decisions based on prejudice in urban planning.

The issue of race, Goldoni explained, is that it is always going to be a plural term and it will always depend on a hierarchy. This hierarchy positions ‘white’ at the top of the ranking, as a ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ race, declaring all others ‘impure’. The fact that this is even a topic for discussion shows that while it is the 21st century and people can talk to each other on the other side of the world through a computer screen, the Western world socially still has a long way to go.

Maybe we should all just take a leaf our of Sweden’s book and remove the word race from our constitution? However, whether the word is used or not, Goldoni reminded us that unlike citizenship which can be tested for and given or in the case of Malta even sold, race is something “you will never be able to escape” as there will “never be a market for race.”