As fans of ABC’s What Would You Do? (a hidden-camera show that tests whether people will intervene when they witness, unbeknownst to them, staged instances of ethical misconduct sexual harassment, bigotry, theft, and the like), we were struck by the results of last Friday’s episode. In this particular segment, a Hispanic man in a Tucson restaurant is confronted by an off-duty security guard (both of them are actors working with the show) who asks to see some identification. Will the other patrons step up to defend the Hispanic man? Will they defend the security guard? We suspected it might be a little of both. But the results were completely one-sided: Time after time, patrons came to the defense of the Hispanic man (or men, or family, depending on the setup), often passionately. Not once did anyone defend the security guard who was racially profiling.
Perhaps you’re wondering the same thing we did: Maybe ABC selectively edited the segment to fit a political narrative — that racial profiling is so obviously wrong, nobody is willing to defend it. But a publicist for the network tells us that’s not the case.
It’s a TV show, not a scientific study, but this does tell us something about attitudes in Arizona, or at least in Tucson, toward the immigration debate. Even if some of the patrons sympathized with the bigoted security guard, nobody decided to defend him, demonstrating that, at the very least, anti-immigrant sentiment hasn’t reached a point where it’s socially acceptable to proclaim your support for racial profiling in public. There’s this perception among some people in New York and elsewhere that your average Arizonan is racist, xenophobic, or both, but this social experiment convincingly proves otherwise.