#TrueStoryASA Social Experiment: Exposing racial profiling ***UPDATED!***

UPDATE 23-10-2014: as it turns out the video by #TrueStoryASA is staged. See below.


Adam Saleh and Sheikh Akbar are Youtube stars who make all kinds of prank videos which can be viewed on their Youtube account TrueStoryASA. Recently they made a video with their ‘cultural clothing’ apparently resulting in the police following them constantly. This gave them the idea to come up with a new experiment on racial profiling:

Too many innocent people get stopped and frisked every day because of what they wear or their skin color. We’re against people stereotyping others because of what they wear or what skin color they are. Hope you all can spread the message and help bring an end to this.

The social experiment
In the video we see both of them first in what they call ‘Western clothing’ and ‘American accents’ having an argument. A police officer observes them but does not intervene even when they get physical and Adam threatens and pushes Sheikh Akbar.

Later they have changed in their so-called ‘cultural clothes’ and walk past by again; the same officer is at the scene. Again they act as if they have an argument and now the police officer immediately steps in. He demands the guys tell him what is going on and when they tell him ‘nothing’ he asks again: ‘What’s all the arguing about, why are you dressed like this?’ The two men repeat that nothing is going on and walk away. The police officer tells them to stop and pushes both of them against the wall because they are a ‘disturbance’. The officer frisks Adam and at one point he thinks he has found a weapon: ‘What is this? Is it a gun? Is it a knife?’. It turns out to be a mobile phone.

After both end up pushed against the wall, Adam takes off his headdress and says: ‘I’m the same guy as before. I came 20 minutes earlier, we hit each other and you did nothing.’

Racial profiling
Now of course we can say this is only an isolated incident but it does fit into a larger pattern of complaints about ethnic and racial profiling related to stop and frisk policies in, for example, the US, the UK and also the Netherlands. As Adam states on his twitter account:

A regime of surveillance
The video shows how particular stereotypes which define ‘normal’ behaviour (usually associated with being white and non-Muslim) guide peoples reactions to others.It says a lot about the surveillance regime with regard to Muslims and/or black people. I regard a surveillance regime as a complex of policies and debates through which categories and labels are generated that are meant to distinguish between people and their behaviour regarded as ‘normal, accepted and expected’ and those who are out that moral community.

In order to assess if one is ‘out’ people look at outward appearances. If someone is categorized as ‘out’ a whole repertoire of meanings can be associated with them often related to violence, threat and ill-adjustment. If someone is not categorized as ‘out’ as both guys are in the first part of the video and they show behaviour that is outside what is regarded as normal, acceptable and expected, they are still being monitored: the officer does not walk by but stays and observes them.

If similar behaviour is shown by someone who is categorized as ‘out’ with its associated meanings of violent, intolerant and posing a threat that categorization appears to shape, inform and produce the behaviour the officer shows: he intervenes by putting them against the wall and frisking them and expecting them to have a weapon.

Debunking racism and Islamophobia
At the same time the two in the video also repeat those stereotypes when they calk about ‘cultural’ clothing since of course ‘Western’ clothing is cultural as well and furthermore their dress in the second part is not just ‘cultural’ clothing but often being perceived as ‘traditional Muslim dress’ for example in this report by The Mirror. This begs the question as to how debunk stereotypes without reproducing them?

Furthermore one of the arguments people often make against Islamophobia is that Islam is not a race; people can freely choose their religion and it is not related to how one looks. This video shows that being categorized as Muslim or Arab or ‘from a different culture’ is not something one freely chooses; it is imposed by others who act upon it and is dependent among other things of how one looks. And probably more often than not, religious profiling is mixed with ethnic and racial profiling making resisting such categorizations even more difficult.


UPDATE 23-10-2014: as it turns out the video by #TrueStoryASA is staged.

Today, Thursday, I heard the video made by Adam Saleh and Sheikh Akbar was staged by them. My sincere apologies to my readers for this unfortunate and misleading event.

What happened? A day after the video was released Sheikh Akbar and Adam Saleh posted an apology video and acknowledged the video was in fact a “dramatization” meant to bring awareness to racial profiling:


We sincerely apologize to any body who may have been misled that this was an actual event. It wasn’t, it was a dramatization a re-enactment of what happened to us whilst filming in our traditional clothing. We just wanted to bring awareness to the world that we weren’t going to be treated unjustly. We apologize to you if you were effected directly or indirectly especially the NYPD it wasn’t our intention to make anyone look bad. We are sorry to the Islamic community especially the relations officers world wide. We are sorry to the Huffington post and the daily mirror, and we personally thank you for protecting our solitude in regards to the video and believing in what we had to say. Our management team we apologize we’ve let you down we sincerely are grateful for the support we get from our friends, family and fans, all we were trying to do was raise the fact that racial profiling does happen in some places it happened to us at ( location time and date ) but we’re here to work with all the NYPD and we strongly believe that they are just in most cases.
So please take our apology into consideration and let’s work together to help rectify the unjust people who are all about racial profiling.

To be absolutely clear: if these guys had said from the beginning that it was a reenactment and dramatization I still would have posted the video since racial profiling was and still is an issue (see the links I have used above).

For more info see Al Jazeera’s The Stream and The Huffington Post.

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