Profiling Vs. Stereotyping
Politics and Activism

Profiling Vs. Stereotyping

Why profiling is not necessarily a bad thing, and where the line between profiling and stereotyping lies.

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assets1.bigthink.com
pro·fil·ing: noun
"The recording and analysis of a person's psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup of people."

This is the first result that comes on screen when "profiling definition," is searched on Google. As you can tell, there is no mention of discrimination, racism, or bigotry. Simply put, profiling is observing, analyzing, and making a judgement about a person based upon their behaviors, actions, and image. So, essentially, it is an educated study or prediction of a person's capabilities and intentions.

The term "profiling," is all-too-often associated with stereotyping, which is much different. Stereotyping is judging someone based upon a generalized, oversimplified standard or prejudice set upon them. It does not take deep investigation to stereotype an individual. This is ignorant, unethical, and biased.

Here is an example of profiling:

An off-duty police officer is getting a fountain drink from a convenience store. While standing in the corner, he notices a man pacing up and down the aisles, glancing nervously at the various security cameras in the space. He also observes that the individual is shaking and has his right hand inside of his coat pocket. The officer deduces that this man may be out to cause harm, so he walks over to confront him. Sure enough, as the officer is walking over, the man reaches into his pocket and removes a ski mask - although he did not have time to put it on. The officer pulls his concealed weapon and demands the man get on his knees, with which he complies. After subduing the assailant, he searches him, finding a loaded handgun.

This police officer used profiling techniques to prevent a dangerous, and potentially deadly, crime. He chose to take action based upon the behaviors and activities of the individual. Race, gender, or sexual orientation never came to mind.

Here is an example of stereotyping:

A clean-cut, African-American male walks into a gas station. He's well-dressed, polite, and calm; however, the gas station attendant is only concerned with his skin color. Simply because this man is black, the attendant follows him around the store, ensuring he doesn't try to steal anything. He believes that "black people are thieves." After the African-American customer realizes he is being watched, he confronts the store attendant - in a respectable manner. "Is there a problem, sir?" He asks, to which the attendant responds, "Just making sure you are not like the rest of your kind." In an attempt to suppress this situation, the customer simply leaves without saying anything else.

In this scenario, the gas station attendant labels an individual as a threat simply because of his racial background. This is not profiling, but rather stereotyping. This attendant did not observe any behaviors or make any educational decisions, but simply acted on a prejudice.


There is a fine line between profiling and stereotyping; however, that line can sometimes become fuzzy. The term, "racial profiling," is the main cause of confusion. This term is predominately used to describe law enforcement targeting individuals based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Racial profiling and stereotyping are essentially the exact same thing, making this term highly controversial and over-complicated.

Our modern society has made it a trend to place blame upon law enforcement, stating they "profile." Well that is true, they do profile. We all profile. Profiling is in human nature. We do it to identify threats, learn our environment, and read people. Profiling is a part of a police officers job. What law enforcement should not do is stereotype. There are good and bad people in this world, none of whom can be described by a single race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etcetera. We are all unique in our own ways, and that is what makes the world great.

Take this information and learn a thing or two about profiling and stereotyping. Keep in mind that profiling is not a bad thing, so long as biases and prejudicial opinions are left out of judgement, and be aware of the fine line between the two terms.

Stay informed and #StopStereotyping!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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