Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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02 September 2005

The Roots of Racial Profiling

By Anita L. Willis

Ms. Willis is a writer, researcher, and genealogist, and author of the forthcoming book, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color: Colonial Virginia, 1650-1850 (March 2003).

Willis's article is thought-provoking and if her book poses similar arguments, I think it would make worthwhile reading. Here's a quote from "The Roots of Racial Profiling".

"Although racial profiling is not backed by written statutes, its roots are in the laws enacted during colonial times. Racial profiling, for want of a better term, is a Gateway Act -- an excuse used to approach citizens assumed to be criminals."

Wilis describes what happened to Mary, a seven-year-old girl in 17th-century Virginia, who was taken to court, judged to be mulatto, and then sentenced to a thirty-year indenture with the Washington family. Willis writes: "Because of her mixed race status, Mary had no rights in her community. Today , because of their appearance and ethnicity, citizens are being stopped, searched, and arrested. Were Mary to return to modern-day America she might pause to wonder if she was in the 18th century, not the 21st."

I think the foregoing is a bit of hyperbole and grossly overstated--does she really see but little difference between the plight of 17th- and 21st-century blacks or mixed race/non-white people in the US? -- yet I think her assertions provide some interesting grist for the mill in our study of the history of race relations in the South.

[Be sure to read the very polemical comments(arguments) asccessible through the link at the bottom of the article page.]

[See also "ANNOUNCEMENT OF BOOK RELEASE - NOTES AND DOCUMENTS OF FREE PERSONS OF COLOR: COLONIAL VIRGINIA 1650-1850 (#5499) by Anita Wills on December 7, 2002". Note that Ms. Willis's book is published by a genealogical publisher, rather than an academic press.]

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