Racial profiling is a trade-off, not a bug


When developing software, a Product Manager (that’s the job that I do) has to choose between whether to do the Cadillac version of a product (or feature) or the Accord version. Picking between one or the other is called making a tradeoff. Do you tradeoff completeness (which takes more time) or polish (which allows you to more quickly validate that the product has value to customers)?

When a feature that you’ve built doesn’t work the way you expect it to work, that’s called a bug. You’ve designed something a certain way to accomplish a specific task, but – in certain conditions – it can’t complete that task.

I’ve always thought racial profiling was a bug in the American justice system. I now realize that it’s actually a trade-off.

Let me tell you why:

In designing our justice system, we’ve decided that instead of having the hard conversations that we need to have as a society (building the Cadillac version of our justice system) around:

  1. The War on Drugs and its disproportionate effect on inner city, black and Hispanic men
  2. Our foreign policy as it relates to apartheid in Israel and the impact of that on Islamist aggression
  3. Our immigration policy and how it relates to an open border and the ideologies that come with that

that we would rather racially profile (the Accord version of our justice system), and then ask for forgiveness when it turns out we’ve reached too far.

If this were a bug, then we’d just say stop doing that police/TSA/FBI/ICE/etc. That isn’t nice. But the thing is – we can’t. Because if we stop doing it, then the wheels fall off our ability to avoid those conversations.

As a result, we’ve chosen racial profiling over humaneness. It helps us feel safer. It gives us an enemy against which to build our police state. And it blinds us to the human right abuses running rampant in some of our closest allies. We have too many hard conversations, and so this is one we’re happy to push into the future.

When you see that Arabs voted for Trump – it is because Hilary Clinton would have continued a blindly pro-Israel foreign policy that would leave Syrian and Palestinian children constantly looking over their shoulders for the next attack on their lives.

We see the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and yet have seen no real movement to end the War on Drugs in 8 years of an Obama presidency (and we’ve just started to see a movement against the for-profit prison system that profits off of this policy).

And the inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform because both sides are afraid of losing future votes to the other is leaving the lives of millions in limbo, stalling our economic growth, and continuing to fan the xenophobic flames of nativism.

If we’re serious about this country being a melting pot, and if we’re serious about this country being a place of opportunity, then we need to have these hard conversations instead of settling for the trade-off.

Because the worst decision you can make when developing a product is the decision to do nothing at all.