I believe a major theme of American Violet is racial profiling. By definition, racial profiling is the act of discrimination against a race, as well as law enforcement officials targeting individuals for crimes that they may not have committed centered on their racial characteristics. The actions of a few members of a certain race often affect how law enforcement officials view that particular race. For example, if one black male commits a crime, police may be more likely to target other black males who could be innocent. While there are many examples of racial profiling in American Violet where innocent people’s lives were turned upside down and they became victims of the corruption that is concealed as law (Newman & Yedlin, 2008).
In the beginning of the film law enforcement officers, using military tactics, arrest a group of African-American people living in a government housing project called Arlington Springs. Many of the people arrested are innocent and are caught up in the middle of a corrupted social justice system. The corruption of the system is due to the federal government offering money to the state that compiles the most convictions. The police, along with Calvin Beckett, the local District Attorney, set forth to falsely accuse and arrest African-American residents of a government housing project for so-called drug crimes.
The group that the police decided to target was not a random choice. The area surrounding Arlington Springs is comprised of a majority of white people, and as a result, the town would not be shocked if the African-Americans were arrested for drug related crimes (Newman & Yedlin, 2008). Although race is a major factor in why these innocent people are arrested, it is not the only reason.
The African-American people were also arrested based on their financial state. Already living in government housing projects, the people of Arlington Springs would not be able to afford top notch lawyers to bail them out of prison due to their low income levels. Consequently, the innocent people were bullied into taking plea bargains. If they decided to turn down the plea bargain, they would spend a majority of their lives behind bars. After taking plea bargains and now having a criminal record, the African-Americans would be forced out of Arlington Springs and lose any other type of federal help they were receiving, such as food stamps (Newman & Yedlin, 2008).
The theme of racial profiling is also present throughout what we have been discussing in class. In Sojourner Truth’s article, “And Ain’t I a Woman?”, Truth expresses her thoughts on why black women are treated differently than white woman, and why women do not have as much rights as men. Also, in Brent Staples article, “Black Men in Public Spaces”, Staples explains to us how he feels out in public, and how people treat him in places where white people would not be treated the same way.
Sojourner Truth is obviously angry in her article “And Ain’t I a Woman”. She is angry because “women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere” (Truth, 207, 2009), however, she is not helped into carriages or over ditches and certainly does not have the best place to live because she is African-American. Truth then says that she can eat as much as a man and has worked, plowed, and planted enough to be treated fairly, yet she is not because she is black. (Truth, 2009) The result: Sojourner Truth becomes a victim of racial profiling because she is not treated the same as white women due to her race.
Brent Staples tells us in his article, “Black Men in Public Spaces”, about how people perceive him in public. Staples tells us about a night where he happened to be walking behind a white woman alone on the sidewalk. The white woman must have thought Staples was going to attack her, because she was constantly glancing over her shoulder and soon was running away from Staples, who was innocently walking behind her (Staples, 309, 2009). Staples also tells of his experience in a jewelry store.
Staples was the only one in the store, and the owner of the store went to the back and brought out a viscous dog on a leash to protect himself from Staples, who was killing time in the store before an assignment for a local paper (Staples, 2009). Unfortunately, Staples becomes another victim of racial profiling due to other members of his race committing crimes, such as robberies and attacking women at night, leading people to believe he is a thief and rapist.
After reading about Sojourner Truth’s anger towards racism and white privilege, reading about Brent Staple’s troubles in public due to his race, and seeing the devastating effects of racial profiling in American Violet against innocent and financially struggling African-Americans, it is obvious that these prejudices are still thriving today. Many would argue that racial profiling is the result of a population feeling threatened, such as the way we responded towards Muslims following the September 11th attacks.
While the prejudices may never go away, there are ways in which the situation can be helped, such as organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP is a civil rights organization in which the main objective is to ensure social, political, economic, and educational rights to everyone. The NAACP also attempts to put an end to racial profiling and discrimination once and for all.