Philosophy Ethnicity Studies Affirmative Action and Prison System Essay
For the second reflection assignment, please select both of the essays prompts below and produce a minimum of 4 page (double spaced) or 1,000 words essay. In writing your essay, you must use the course materials.
ESSAY 21 “NOW ALL THE GOOD
JOBS GO TO THEM!” : AFFIRMATIVE
ACTION IN THE LABOR MARKET
Wendy Leo Moore
Texas A&M University
In September of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive
Order 11246, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color,
religion, sex, or national origin in federal public contracts. This executive
order, in addition to prohibiting discrimination, called for federal
contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are
employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without
regard to race, color, sex or national origin.” The innocuous command of
EO 11246, to act affirmatively to ensure people are treated equally,
contrasts sharply with contemporary rhetoric concerning affirmative
action. These two words have come to signify conflicting meanings
concerning U.S. democracy and racial inequality; the mere mention of the
term affirmative action can lead to heated and emotional debates
including assertions of “unfair race-based privilege” or “reverse
discrimination” (see Curry, 1996; Pierce, 2012).
By the 1990s, the discourse surrounding affirmative action had shifted
from one about discrimination and equality to one about White innocence
and injury resulting from the hiring of unqualified people of color. Pierce
(2012) notes that throughout the 1990s, media stories slanted against
affirmative action were much more common than stories in support of
affirmative action—as many as 3:1 tilted against affirmative action (p. 35).
In January of 1994, the topic of affirmative action made the cover story of
Business Week, where the issue was titled “White, Male and Worried,”
and the July 1995 Newsweek cover read “Race and Rage” (Pierce, 2012,
p. 27). The discursive framing of affirmative action had shifted
dramatically from the frame constructed by President Johnson in 1965.
The sentiment is summed up by a 2011 blogger on
worldinconversation.org who responded to a question about opinions of
affirmative action by saying, “I don’t agree with hiring someone who may
or may not be less qualified than someone else just because their race
needs to be represented better”1 (see also Bonilla-Silva, 2009; Moore,
2008). To understand this debate and also the context of President
Johnson’s command for affirmative action, it is necessary to journey into
the history of race and government action.
WHERE THE STORY BEGINS: A LEGACY OF
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR WHITES
Most of the informed public is aware of the history of racialized slavery in
the United States, the institution through which Blackness became a
justification for the enslavement of people of African descent (see Harris,
1993). During the centuries of slavery in this country, race and class
converged as people of color were prohibited from access to resources
such as education, property, and political rights. As Cheryl Harris (1993)
suggests, the economic interests of Whites were so integral to the law
and politics of the United States that Whiteness itself was valued by the
government like a form of property. Initially, this occurred through explicit
legal and political policies concerning who had the right to own property
(Whites), who did not (American Indians), and who became the object of
property (Blacks). However, for at least 100 years after the end of
slavery, U.S. law and social policy continued to overtly and explicitly
privilege the economic interests of Whites, perpetuating the material
value of Whiteness.
The end of racialized slavery did not mean the end of systematic racial
oppression. After the Civil War, Southern states immediately enacted
laws, such as those making vagrancy or joblessness a crime, which
forced Blacks back into exploitative economic relations (Du Bois, 2001;
Woodward, 2002). A new economic system, based on tenant farming,
sharecropping, and a convict-lease system, combined with legally
mandated segregation, supported by the Supreme Court in the 1896
case of Plessy v. Ferguson, resulted in a racial order that was not
meaningfully different from slavery (Woodward, 2002). Within this social
and historical context begins the real story of a legacy of affirmative
action for Whites—that is, affirmative government action taken to protect
and stabilize the economic conditions of White people during times of
At the end of the 1920s, the world experienced a severe economic
depression. Millions of Americans were thrown into joblessness and
poverty. The widespread suffering caused by the Great Depression led to
support for massive government intervention. In the 1930s, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed and signed into law a series of legislative
initiatives designed to ease economic suffering. Roosevelt’s New Deal
legislation created federally funded unemployment insurance, public
assistance for the poor, old age pensions, and work relief for the
unemployed, and injected federal funds into severely depressed local
economies (Takaki, 2008). These programs were the most extensive
government economic aid interventions in the history of the United
States, and they helped end the severe economic depression. Yet, to
secure the Southern votes necessary to enact the New Deal legislation,
Southern states required that terms be implemented to ensure that these
policies would not disrupt the racial status quo of Jim Crow (Katznelson,
Three mechanisms allowed Whites to benefit from government economic
assistance while Blacks were excluded (Katznelson, 2005, pp. 22–23).
First, work-related policies such as unemployment and social security
were constructed to leave out as many Blacks as possible through
racially coded definitions of work. New Deal employment-related policies
excluded individuals employed in farm-related or domestic-labor jobs.
Nationwide, in the 1930s, 60% of Blacks were employed in these sectors;
in the South, that figure was 75%. Thus, the vast majority of Black
workers were excluded from all the federal employment assistance
programs. The second mechanism that functioned to exclude Blacks
from federal benefits was the placement of the administration of federal
funds in the hands of local officials. In the South, this resulted in
widespread racial discrimination in the implementation of these programs
and the enactment of explicitly racist policies at the local level; the level
of poverty required to qualify for financial aid was set much lower for
Blacks than for Whites (see Katznelson, 2005, p. 37). And finally,
Southern House and Senate members resoundingly rejected the
attachment of antidiscrimination provisions to the legislation. The lack of
antidiscrimination measures in the New Deal bills facilitated Southern
states’ segregation and racist policies with regard to the administration of
federal aid programs, leaving no recourse for Blacks denied federal
assistance by local administrators.
The New Deal “combined unprecedented [levels of government]
assistantship with racist policies,” the result of which was a program of
affirmative government action created to end economic suffering largely
for Whites only (Katznelson, 2005, p. 29). But the New Deal policies were
not the end of affirmative action for Whites. During and after World War
II, economic shifts led to more government actions to stabilize the
economy. When the United States entered World War II, there was an
immediate need for military to fight in the war effort. Many White men left
their jobs to join the military (or were drafted), which resulted in a
shortage of workers in Northern industrial jobs. Blacks faced widespread
discrimination in the military, either through complete exclusion from
service or, when they were allowed to serve, exclusion from advanced
military training programs necessary for skilled positions (Katznelson,
2005; Takaki, 2008). By contrast, employers with labor shortages
engaged in a campaign to recruit Black workers to take positions from
which Blacks had previously been excluded. These new job
opportunities, on the one hand, and the desire to escape the racist
violence of the South on the other, facilitated an unprecedented migration
of Blacks from the rural South to the urban North (Massey & Denton,
1993). Unfortunately, however, these jobs were not permanent. At the
end of World War II, when White men returned from military service,
many Blacks lost the jobs they had been recruited for.
At the same time, a widespread housing shortage and desire to ensure
postwar economic stability led the federal government, at the end of
World War II, to enact the Selective Service Readjustment Act, widely
known as the GI Bill. The GI Bill assisted veterans with buying homes,
attending college, getting loans to start up small businesses, and finding
skill-appropriate jobs. Many young veterans, most of them White, used
these government services and as a result were able to move into the
middle class (Katznelson, 2005; Massey & Denton, 1993). As well, the GI
Bill, in combination with the construction of the Federal Housing
Authority, which provided government subsidies enabling Americans to
secure loans to purchase homes without huge down payments, facilitated
a boom in homeownership, the result of which was the largest swelling of
the middle class in U.S. history (Massey & Denton, 1993). However,
repeating a history of White economic advantage, the boom in the middle
class occurred disproportionately for Whites. The majority of Blacks were
shut out through explicit discrimination in the implementation of the GI
Bill, which like the New Deal programs took place at the local level, as
well as through policies of discriminatory lending and racial segregation.
Black veterans wishing to access the education assistance of the GI Bill
found that there were not enough spaces for them in Black educational
institutions, but they were excluded from White institutions in the South
completely and Northern schools allowed only a small number of nonWhite applicants each year. In 1947, 20,000 Black veterans eligible for GI
Bill education assistance could not find schools to attend because Black
colleges and vocational schools were filled (Katznelson, 2005, p. 133).
Blacks, veterans, and nonveterans wishing to purchase homes were
excluded in two ways. First, many Blacks faced explicit discrimination
from local administrators of the GI Bill, as well as from banks, so they
were not able to secure loans to purchase homes. Second, residential
segregation and lending policies often meant that even those who could
qualify for loans could not find neighborhoods where they could purchase
homes. White neighborhoods were off limits to Blacks through legal
instruments such as racially restrictive covenants and government
policies that favored segregation, so they could not secure loans for
houses in these White neighborhoods (Massey & Denton, 1993). Black
neighborhoods were in a state of economic crisis—resulting mainly from
the massive loss of employment that occurred as Blacks were displaced
from jobs they had been recruited for when White men returned from
military service. The result of the poverty and economic instability in
these neighborhoods meant that banks could “redline” Black
neighborhoods, which literally meant that these neighborhoods had red
lines across them on maps, signifying they were ineligible for federally
secured housing loans (Massey & Denton, 1993).
Katznelson (2005) notes, “There was no greater instrument for widening
an already huge racial gap than the G.I. Bill” (p. 121). The reason for the
widening economic gap was not just racial discrimination against Blacks,
which was nothing new, but instead was a result of the widespread
upward mobility of huge numbers of Whites resulting from affirmative
government actions to facilitate their economic security and growth.
Thus, affirmative government actions resulted in the racially unjust
enrichment of Whites and corresponding unjust impoverishment of
Blacks (see Feagin, 2010, p. 10).
It was within this context on June 4, 1965, only months before President
Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, that he called for affirmative
government action to create equality in his speech “To Fulfill These
Rights” at Howard University. Acknowledging the connection between
racial inequality and government action, Johnson said
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by
chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race
and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and
still justly believe that you have been completely fair . . . [E]qual
opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and
women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But
ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted
by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in
—by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your
The U.S. government, which had for centuries acted affirmatively to
create economic stability and prosperity for Whites, would now have to
act not merely passively by no longer permitting racial discrimination but
affirmatively again to correct the structural racial inequalities resulting
from centuries of racial discrimination.
AFFIRMATIVE INACTION: THE POLICY THAT
Although President Johnson articulated a government obligation to take
affirmative steps beyond just ending discrimination to create economic
security for Blacks, Johnson’s view of affirmative action never came to
pass. There occurred a political backlash against affirmative action, one
that has been virulent and pervasive throughout the decades since
Johnson’s speech. Rhetorical assertions of the supposed unfairness of
unqualified minorities’ gaining access to jobs that should go to Whites as
a result of quotas, as illustrated in the introduction to this chapter, have
guided that backlash into a frenzied attack on the idea of affirmative
action (Pierce, 2012). What is particularly confounding about this antiaffirmative action sentiment is that U.S. law does not permit quotas as
part of affirmative action programs. In fact, the language of Title VII of the
1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited racial discrimination in employment
also explicitly prohibits quota-type systems. Section 703(j), titled
“Preferential treatment not to be granted on account of existing number
or percentage imbalance,” specifies that
nothing contained in [this subchapter on nondiscrimination in
employment] shall be interpreted to require any employer . . . to
grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group
because of the race, color, religion, sex, or national origin of such
individual or group on account of an imbalance which may exist
with respect to the total number or percentage . . . employed by
Moreover, in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled definitively on the issue
of quotas in the case of The Regents of the University of California v.
Bakke, outlawing quota systems, even as a remedy for historical
discrimination, in higher education admissions (Greene, 1989).
Rigid quotas were never legal, and there was never an intention to create
a system of affirmative action employing such a method. What affirmative
action was, then, was a system of laws and policies designed to allow
educational institutions and businesses to take into consideration the
social consequences of racial inequality when making decisions about
equally qualified candidates in school admissions and employment.
Affirmative action occurred in two ways in employment. First, private
(nongovernment) employers were legally able to enact voluntary
affirmative action programs as part of a program to increase their
numbers of underrepresented groups, including racial minorities (see
Greene, 1989; Pierce, 2012; Reskin, 1998). The types of voluntary
affirmative action programs employers could enact ranged from
advertising in news outlets catering to people of color to recruiting from
schools that are predominantly of color to giving preference to an equally
qualified candidate for hire or promotion because the person was a
member of a group underrepresented in the institution (Greene, 1989).
Note, however, that when private businesses choose to implement
voluntary affirmative action plans that include giving preference to
underrepresented groups in hiring and promotion decisions, they must
take on the heavy burden of documenting that their business does in fact
have an underrepresentation (this must include statistical demonstration)
and that their race-conscious employment decisions are based only on
otherwise equally qualified candidates and will remain only until the
underrepresentation is remedied (Greene, 1989). The burden of this
requirement is one reason many businesses do not implement this form
of affirmative action (as opposed to purely recruiting programs).
The second labor market arena in which affirmative action–based
programs take place is in federal contract compliance. Federal agencies
and employers who hold federal contracts in excess of $50,000 must
demonstrate that they are “affirmative action compliant,” which means
that they are taking positive steps to increase racial equality in their
organizations (Greene, 1989; Pierce, 2012). To be compliant with this
regulation, businesses must illustrate that they are making a “good faith”
effort to recruit underrepresented minorities (they need not actually
recruit underrepresented minorities, only show a good faith effort).
Although President Johnson conceived of an affirmative action program
that would set aside a percentage of government contracts (10% to be
exact) for qualified minority-owned businesses (businesses whose
ownership was at least 50% racial minorities), the U.S. Supreme Court
rejected that program as unconstitutional, first prohibiting state
government set-asides in the 1989 City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co.
case, then federal contract set-asides in the 1995 Adarand Constructors,
Inc. v. Peña case. Thus, even this limited attempt at redistribution of
government resources to remedy racial inequalities was declared
There is one other area of government policy that has sometimes
mistakenly been considered affirmative action; it is not actually affirmative
action at all but antidiscrimination enforcement. The enactment of the civil
rights legislation of the 1960s, which prohibited discrimination on the
basis of race in U.S. institutions and organizations such as education and
employment, was met with resistance, particularly in the South. For
example, in 1972 the Alabama Department of Public Safety was held to
have engaged in “egregious discrimination” by systematically excluding
Blacks from employment and promotion among state troopers. After the
initial finding of discrimination, the department failed to enact remedies to
correct the discrimination, particularly in the promotion of Black
employees. As a result, in 1981 the court ordered that the department
promote one Black trooper for every White trooper promoted until the
systematic discrimination was remedied (see United States v. Paradise,
1987). Court orders such as this one may be a source for the myth that
affirmative action means quotas and “reverse discrimination”; yet these
remedies were not affirmative action but punitive court-ordered sanctions
for failing to comply with antidiscrimination laws.
Racial inequality continues to organize U.S. society today, as it did before
the civil rights movement. The inequalities in wealth resulting from the
housing boom experienced by Whites post–World War II, which largely
excluded people of color, has left us with extreme and pervasive racial
inequalities in wealth (Massey & Denton, 1993; Oliver & Shapiro, 2006).
In 2011, the census reports that the median net worth (total assets minus
total debt) of White, non-Hispanic families was $110,500, whereas the
median wealth of non-White and Hispanic families was $41,408.2 These
figures, because they compare Whites to all non-Whites, obscure the
disparities between White and Black families; the Pew Research Center
reported that in 2014, White family wealth had declined (possibly due to
the housing crisis) to a median of $144,200, but median family wealth for
Blacks in 2014 was only $11,200.3 This difference in wealth, as Melvin
Oliver and Thomas Shapiro (2006) explain, means differential access to
equity, which may be used for such things as collateral for education or
small-business loans and a cushion during times of economic recession.
Blacks and other people of color do not have the same access to these
resources as Whites, and this is largely the structural result of wealth
disparities solidified post–World War II.
Wealth inequality is distinct from inequality in income and employment. In
2009, 11.3% of Black families made less than $10,000 per year,
compared with 4.2% of White families. On the opposite end of the
spectrum, among families that made between $100,000 and $149,999
per year, 15.7% of White families were represented and only 8.1% of
Black families (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).
This can be partially explained by the fact that Blacks remain
overrepresented in unskilled labor. As Bonilla-Silva (2013) notes, in
managerial and professional occupations, we find “35.43 percent of white
males and 40.64 percent of white females, compared to 21.65 percent of
black males and 31 percent of black females” (p. 55), whereas in servicerelated occupations, we find “20.23 percent of black males and 26.39
percent of black females compared to 10.85 percent of white males and
17.03 percent of white females” (pp. 55–56). Although much of this
inequality can be linked to inequalities in education, researchers also
continue to find persistent patterns of racial discrimination in employment
(see, e.g., Bendick, Jackson, Reinoso, & Hodges, 1991; Pager, 2003).
Thus, affirmative action—as a policy originated to remedy the unjust
enrichment of Whites and unjust impoverishment of people of color
resulting from years of government-sponsored racial discrimination—has
widely failed. Although exceptional individual Blacks and other Americans
of color have probably benefited from affirmative action programs (and it
is hard to know what portion of the benefit is a result of nondiscrimination,
as opposed to true affirmative action programs), these programs have
failed to change the inequalities in the racial social structure. Moreover, a
1995 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that of
the 300 cases filed by Whites against employers for so-called “reverse
discrimination,” only six cases were found to have been unlawfully based
on race. The rest of the cases involved erroneous assumptions, on the
part of Whites who did not receive jobs or promotions, that affirmative
action was used to give less-qualified minorities the position (Pierce,
2012, p. 39). Thus, much of the vehement criticism and debate
concerning “reverse discrimination” and preferences for undeserving or
unqualified minorities is simply factually inaccurate.
WHITE RACIAL FRAMING: TURNING THE
MYTH OF REVERSE DISCRIMINATION ON
Given that quotas, as well as all allocation programs that consider racial
demographics in any meaningful way, have been declared illegal, it is
curious that the rhetoric of quotas and reverse racism persists. Even
more curious is the continued persistence of heated and emotional
debates concerning affirmative action in the face of its clear failure to
affect structural racial inequality. Sociologist Jennifer L. Pierce (2012)
notes that the notion of reverse discrimination against victimized Whites
became part of a dominant narrative in the post–civil rights era and thus
became a “broader cultural memory” (p. 3). The cultural memory of the
victimization of Whites by affirmative action supplanted our memory of a
legacy of affirmative government action for Whites and President
Johnson’s comment that equal opportunity was not enough to remedy the
resulting racial inequality. Because of that shift in cultural memory,
Whites massively rejected and resisted affirmative action (as well as
antidiscrimination laws), and the result is that affirmative action has been
a bust as a policy.
This process is an example of what Joe R. Feagin (2006) has called
“White racial framing.” The White racial frame can be defined as “an
organized set of racialized ideas, emotions, and inclinations, as well as
recurring or habitual discriminatory actions, that are consciously or
unconsciously expressed in, and constitutive of the routine operation and
racist institutions of US society” (p. 23). This frame facilitates the
development of a cultural memory of (false) White victimization and the
collective forgetting of a legacy of (true) racial advantage for Whites and
oppression of people of color. If we were to reject the White racial frame
and reframe the debate about affirmative action in the context of the
structural reality that President Johnson emphasized in his Howard
speech, we could create a new and more accurate argument concerning
affirmative action: Racially conscious affirmative action is necessary for
democracy and the assessment of individuals based solely on their merit.
Historical and current racial conditions provide Whites with unfair
advantages in the form of access to resources that have been denied to
people of color. To prevent Whites from feeling inferior because their
successes are not based on merit alone, but instead stem from unearned
privilege, we must institute affirmative action programs that correct for
structural racial differences and racial oppression. This will result in a
better system of evaluation of the talents and contributions of all
individuals based on their relative access to resources.
Wendy Leo Moore is an associate professor of sociology at
Texas A&M University and the author of the award-winning 2007
book Reproducing Racism: White Space, Elite Law Schools, and
Racial Inequality, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Her research
focuses on the intersections of race and law.
1. What is your opinion of affirmative action, and has the lecture had an
effect on you? 119 Blog. (2011, February 23). World Conversation
Project. Retrieved June 9, 2012, from
2. See https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/wealth.html.
3. See http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/1-demographictrends-and-economic-well-being/.
Suggested Additional Resources
Feagin, J. R. (2006). The White racial frame. New York, NY:
McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible
knapsack. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding prejudice and
discrimination (pp. 191–196). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Pierce, J. (2012). Racing for innocence: Whiteness, gender, and
the backlash against affirmative action. Stanford, CA: Stanford
Reskin, B. (1998). The realities of affirmative action in
employment. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.
Wise, T. (2005). Affirmative action: Racial preference in Black and
White. New York, NY: Routledge.
African American Policy Forum: http://www.aapf.org
American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity:
American Civil Liberties Union: http://www.aclu.org/racialjustice/affirmative-action
Americans for a Fair Chance: http://www.civilrights.org/equalopportunity/fact-sheets/fact_sheet_packet.pdf
U.S. Department of Labor:
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER
1. Watch the YouTube video titled “Unequal Opportunity Race,”
created by the African American Policy Forum
about the elements of structural racism visually presented in
the video and the discussions about material inequality
presented in this chapter. What role, if any, should
government play in the dismantling of racial inequality? Does
it matter that government policies facilitated the creation of
2. What do you think of the counterframe presented at the end of
this chapter? Would merit be more accurately evaluated if we
considered people’s accomplishments in relation to their
access to differential resources?
3. Given that quotas and the hiring of less-qualified people of
color over more-qualified Whites is not legal affirmative action,
why do you think the myth of quotas has had such staying
4. How do you think the current myths about affirmative action
affect the experiences of people of color who are presumed to
be in institutions (employment and education) as a result of
affirmative action and not their qualifications?
5. In a democracy, what is the relevance of racial inequality, or
conversely, does a democracy require a commitment to some
level of racial equality?
Reaching Beyond the Color Line
1. Imagine that you are the chief human resources officer for a
major company in a diverse city and your board has asked
you to develop a diversity plan to ensure that the company is
truly providing equal opportunities to the community in which
it is located. Using the materials you’ve learned from this
reading, develop a diversity plan for the company that
considers the following:
Recruiting (i.e., where will you advertise for your hires or
go to locate your workforce?)
Hiring (i.e., how will individual applicants be evaluated in
the hiring process?)
Retention (i.e., what kinds of steps will you take to ensure
that people from different backgrounds feel welcome in
Promotion (i.e., what kinds of trainings or opportunities
for promotion will you implement so people from diverse
backgrounds will rise to positions of experience and
Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995).
Bendick, M., Jackson, C. W., Reinoso, V. A., & Hodges, L. E. (1991).
Discrimination against Latino job applicants: A controlled experiment.
Human Resource Management, 30(4), 469–484.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2009). Racism without racists (3rd ed.). Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2013). Racism without racists (4th ed.). Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield.
City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989).
Curry, G. (Ed.). (1996). The affirmative action debate. Reading, MA:
Du Bois, W. E. B. (2001). The spawn of slavery: The convict lease
system in the South. In S. Gabbidon, H. Greene, & V. Young (Eds.),
African American classics criminology and criminal justice (pp. 83–88).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Feagin, J. R. (2006). The White racial frame. New York, NY: Routledge.
Feagin, J. R. (2010). Racist America (2nd ed.). New York, NY:
Greene, K. (1989). Affirmative action and principles of justice. New York,
NY: Greenwood Press.
Harris, C. (1993). Whiteness as property. Harvard Law Review, 106(8),
Johnson, L. B. (1965, June 4). “To fulfill these rights.” Commencement
address at Howard University, Washington, DC. Retrieved from
Katznelson, I. (2005). When affirmative action was White: An untold
history of racial inequality in twentieth-century America. New York, NY:
W. W. Norton.
Massey, D., & Denton, N. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and
the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Moore, W. L. (2008). Reproducing racism: White space, elite law schools
and racial inequality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Oliver, M., & Shapiro, T. (2006). Black wealth/White wealth: A new
perspective on racial inequality. New York, NY: Routledge.
Pager, D. (2003). The mark of a criminal record. American Journal of
Sociology, 108, 937–975.
Pierce, J. L. (2012). Racing for innocence: Whiteness, gender, and the
backlash against affirmative action. Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
Reskin, B. (1998). The realities of affirmative action in employment.
Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.
Takaki, R. (2008). A different mirror (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Bay Back
The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265
United States v. Paradise, 480 U.S. 149 (1987).
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011, August). Labor force
characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2010. Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from
Woodward, C. V. (2002). The strange career of Jim Crow. New York, NY:
Oxford University Press.
ESSAY 18 “IF BLACK PEOPLE
AREN’T CRIMINALS, THEN WHY ARE
SO MANY OF THEM IN PRISON?” :
CONFRONTING RACIAL BIASES IN
PERCEPTIONS OF CRIME AND
Sara Buck Doude
When discussing race in relation to crime, students often focus on a few
observations to support their idea that racism ended with the civil rights
movement and that therefore the criminal justice system is without racial
bias. Each semester, I ask criminology students to anonymously write
down their picture of the typical criminal. Responses vary. Often, recently
publicized crime stories come to mind, such as the 2012 mass shooting
at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado or the Sandy Hook
Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut. However, the general picture
of a criminal is a young Black male who, in the process of drug dealing or
gang banging, commits murder via drive-by shooting. Recent examples
from this assignment reveal that students’ perceptions are veiled in
stereotypes associated with Black males. For example, one student
writes “hooded male with baggy clothes.” Another student writes “thugs,”
while another writes “Black male, sweatpants, and hoodie” (for further
discussion on race and perception, see Ray in this volume). Although this
is anecdotal evidence, I have received these types of responses over the
course of many years of teaching criminology.
Generally, students do not recognize racial disparities in those arrested
and convicted of crimes until they are pointed out through this
assignment. They may recognize this perception subconsciously but do
not acknowledge it until they have to write or verbalize their picture of the
typical criminal. When and if they do recognize such disparities, they
argue that they aren’t due to racism, because the justice system is colorblind and racism isn’t as bad today as it was in the past. As Rose M.
Brewer and Nancy A. Heitzeg (2012b) argue, for many, “the issue then is
crime, not race, and certainly not racism” (p. 383). Thus, many look at the
“personal responsibility” involved in those who commit crime, rather than
at a racially biased justice system. Others make group-based arguments,
but about the culture of the perceived criminals and not about the system
—that it just so happens certain groups of people (specifically Black
males) are crime-prone, have bad values, and choose to commit crimes.
The possibility that racism is institutionalized in the justice system is met
with deep hostility. If students consider such a fact, they propose that
there may be racist individuals among those enforcing laws but the legal
system itself is not a racist entity. Student responses to these questions
are a reflection of social perceptions of crime and criminals, and research
reveals that this is not a recent phenomenon.
According to Katheryn K. Russell (1996), “‘race and crime’ is almost
always a negative referent for ‘Blacks and crime’” (p. 595). Analysis of
race and crime coverage in media has been extensively studied (e.g.,
Feagin, 2000; Loury, 2008; Rome, 2006; Tonry, 1995; Western, 2006).
Britto and Dabney’s (2010) analysis of three political talk shows on cable
television reveals that people of color were presented as offenders nearly
10 times more frequently than they were presented as victims and were
7.5 times more likely to be shown as evil, compared with Whites (pp.
210–211). However, when White violent offenders—such as mass
shooters, who are predominately White males—are discussed, they are
presented as mentally ill and coming from good families and
neighborhoods (see, e.g., media coverage regarding The Dark Knight
Rises and Sandy Hook shooters; Mingus & Zopf, 2010). Meanwhile,
people of color—specifically Black Americans—who commit crimes are
presented as having bad values and no role models, as coming from bad
families, and as living in bad neighborhoods (read: urban inner city).
These portrayals heighten fear of crime in neighborhoods with higher
proportions of non-Whites and those perceived to have Blacks or Latinos
living nearby (Chiricos, McEntire, & Gertz, 2001). These messages are
absorbed by the public through the media, which has a horrid history of
portraying the typical criminal as a person of color (more specifically, a
Black man) with White female victims—a stereotypical portrayal that is
not consistent with offending and victimization data (Britto & Dabney,
Incarceration data also support this perception of the Black criminal.
State prisons house disproportionately poor, uneducated Black men
(Loury, 2008; Western, 2006). About two thirds of all inmates are serving
time for drug and property offenses, while one third are serving time for
violent crimes (Loury, 2008). When analyzing the ratios of incarceration,
Black men are imprisoned at seven times the rate of White men, and
Black women are imprisoned at three times the rate of White women
(Guerino, Harrison, & Sabol, 2012).
How should we interpret the overrepresentation of Blacks in crime
statistics? As Loury (2008) argues, “the nation’s social policy—intimately
connected with public rhetoric about responsibility, dependency, social
hygiene, and the reclamation of public order—can be fully grasped only
when viewed against the backdrop of America’s often ugly and violent
racial history” (p. 11).
FEAR OF THE BLACK MALE
Throughout American history, the behavior of Black men has been strictly
policed through both formal (e.g., the criminal justice system) and
informal (e.g., vigilantism) social control and for the purposes of
maintaining a White patriarchal society. We can see this most specifically
when we look at the crime of rape. As Susan Brownmiller (1975) states,
“The White man has used the rape of ‘his’ women as an excuse to act
against Black men” (p. 255). Prior to the mid-1900s, in cases of rape
when the offender was Black and the victim was White, White male juries
and judges assumed that a White woman would not consent to sexual
relations with a Black man (Allison & Wrightsman, 1993; Estrich, 1987).
Ample historical evidence has shown, however, that rapes of White
women committed by Black men were very rare and often fabricated by
Whites as an excuse to lynch a Black man, where this “explanation” was
frequently applied after the alleged assailant had already faced a horrific
death at the hands of White mobs (Chasteen, 1998). Lynchable offenses
related to rape included “whistling at a White woman, entering a White
woman’s home or talking ‘inappropriately’ around White women” (p. 30).
Historically, Black men were more likely to serve a heavier sentence for
rape, which is still the case today. In addition, Black men were more likely
than White men to be executed by the state or lynched if they raped a
White woman or were merely suspected of doing so. Punishment during
the colonial South was especially harsh. In Virginia, the punishment for a
slave who raped a White woman was dismemberment. Indeed, a Black
man raping a White woman was perceived as the “ultimate purpose of
the slaves’ revenge” (Brownmiller, 1975, p. 237), where Black men were
perceived as being determined to get back at White men for a variety of
injustices by raping “their” White women (see also Chasteen, 1998). After
slavery, the lynching of Black men increased as Whites sought new ways
to police the behavior of Black men in the absence of institutionalized
Black men have felt the brunt of the vigilante justice system as well as
the criminal justice system throughout the history of the United States; at
many points in history, these two systems were one and the same. The
perception of the criminality of the Black male still prevails with the
stereotype of the Black rapist and has subsequently transformed into the
Black criminal or drug dealer. This perception has been accepted by
governmental agencies and the public, specifically the White public.
The criminal stereotype has fallen squarely on young African American
men, the repercussions of which are deadly. It prevails in American
history and popular culture and was a possible contributing factor in the
2012 shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and many
others since, including Philando Castile and Alton Brown. Since 2012,
police use of force and shootings of unarmed Black men have flooded
the media. In many of these incidents, cell-phone video captured officers
shooting men in the back or shooting as they reached for their wallets
while sitting in their cars, among many other encounters. The Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 2014 Uniform Crime Report (UCR)
supplementary homicide data show that 31.8% of individuals shot by the
police were African American. Indeed, Blacks are overrepresented given
their smaller population in comparison with Whites (Guardian, 2016). This
has created a national conversation on race and the criminal justice
system, which acknowledges that the system is experienced in a very
different way depending on one’s race. After the shooting of Trayvon
Martin and the acquittal of his shooter, the media began to question the
notion of an equal justice system. The existence of structural racism and
subconscious bias in the criminal justice system began to be seen as a
possible contributor to the overcriminalization of Black men prior to and
during arrest (where use of force is a distinct possibility) and during the
THE EVOLUTION OF THE STEREOTYPE OF
THE BLACK CRIMINAL
From the fear of the Black rapist, the stereotype of the Black criminal as a
drug dealer or a violent criminal has evolved. It has yet to be determined
as a cause or an effect in relation to, say, racial hoaxes, although
correlations exist. A racial hoax is the accusation that a person of color
committed a crime—usually murder, rape, or assault—when in fact the
crime was committed by the one making the accusation, usually a White
person (Russell, 1996, 2009). The Black male criminal stereotype is thus
used as a method to hide the real crime (Russell, 2009), usually a violent
crime. Examples of racial hoaxes include Susan Smith’s 1994 claim that
a Black male carjacked her and fled with her two children, when in fact
she had killed her two children. In a more recent example, in 2016, a
New York firefighter was charged with second-degree arson for burning
down his own house. He claimed that the supporters of the Black Lives
Matter movement set it aflame and graffitied “Lie with pigs, fry like bacon”
in response to a Blue Lives Matter flag hanging in his yard (CBS News,
2016). These hoaxes are ultimately believable because Americans’
perceptions of crime include the criminal having a Black face.
Another way we see this is through racial profiling. Racial profiling is the
use of race in conjunction with the profile of a criminal suspect. It
encompasses many activities, such as “driving while Black,” wherein
drivers are stopped because of their race and not because of illegal
activity. The term racial profiling didn’t become a part of the lexicon until
1994, when minority drivers were subject to a disproportionate number of
stops, searches, and arrests along the New Jersey Turnpike (Withrow &
Dailey, 2012). Stopping someone exclusively based on race is
discrimination, yet it is often difficult to ascertain if race is the determinant
for a traffic stop. For a stop or arrest to be legal, race must be only one of
several descriptors of an individual suspect. Race and other factors
constitute “reasonable suspicion,” which is cause for a lawful stop
(Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2007; Withrow & Dailey, 2012). That is, if a
tall young Black man committed robbery in a red T-shirt and drove away
in a red car, stopping all Black men in the area not fitting the rest of that
description would be illegal according to the U.S. Supreme Court
(Withrow & Dailey, 2012).
Racial profiling has primarily occurred in the context of the war on drugs,
which has come to be interpreted as a war on Black Americans
(Tomaskovic-Devey & Warren, 2009; Withrow & Dailey, 2012).
Tomaskovic-Devey and Warren (2009) describe the Drug Enforcement
Administration’s Operation Pipeline, which began in 1984. Officers were
trained to recognize profiles of drug couriers, which included drivers who
didn’t “fit” their cars (i.e., drivers in cars that appeared to be above their
economic means), drivers with dark skin, drivers who wore gold jewelry,
and drivers belonging to racial groups involved in the drug trade. Thus,
racial profiling became a practice endorsed by the federal government.
Further, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has insisted that racial profiling
is a more effective strategy to control crime than random stops
(Tomaskovic-Devey & Warren, 2009). Withrow and Dailey (2012)
elaborate on this practice along the New Jersey Turnpike: “More than
250 troopers are assigned to patrol this stretch of highway. Most of them
. . . are heavily influenced by intelligence reports of the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency indicating the increased probability that racial and
ethnic minorities are drug couriers” (pp. 134–135). This profile is a
contributor to the overrepresentation of Black men in state and federal
prison systems for drug-related crimes. Indeed, Tonry (1995) argues that
“urban Black Americans have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs” and
“the recent Blackening of America’s prison population is the product of
malign neglect of the war’s effects on Black Americans” (p. 105).
Allegations of racial profiling have led to lawsuits involving traffic stops in
the states of New Jersey and Maryland (Walker et al., 2007; Withrow &
Dailey, 2012). More recently, research from Philadelphia and New York
City law enforcement agencies has found that people of color are
stopped and frisked at far higher rates than Whites (Buettner &
Glaberson, 2012). Stop and frisks, or Terry stops, occur when police
officers stop and detain individuals for a short period of time. Stops are
based on reasonable suspicion, and officers are required to articulate the
suspicion for said search, or the suspicion that someone is breaking the
law, has likely committed a crime, or is in the process of committing a
crime (Withrow & Dailey, 2012; again, see Ray in this volume). Police are
required to have reasonable suspicion that a person is about to or has
just committed a penal code violation before stopping that person
(Goldstein, 2012). However, what constitutes reasonable suspicion is
highly subjective, which causes much disagreement in the courts.
The New York Police Department’s (NYPD’s) stop-and-frisk policy led to
685,724 stops in 2011, of which people of color represented more than
80%, despite the fact that they represent only about half of the New York
City population. Only 1.9% of those stops resulted in a weapon
confiscation, and Whites were more likely to possess a weapon. Young
people of color experienced more than 40% of the stops, despite being
only 4.7% of the city’s population. Shockingly, young Black men were
stopped 168,124 times, which exceeded the population of 158,406 young
Black men in the city (Baker, 2012). Some were likely stopped more than
once. In the August 2013 ruling on the constitutionality of the policy, U.S.
District Court judge Shira A. Scheindlin asserted that the policy was
unconstitutional and in violation of protections provided by the Fourth and
Coining the term indirect racial profiling, she explained how the
department’s reliance on data indicating that Black men committed a
disproportionate amount of crime amounted to a constitutional violation
(Goldstein, 2013). Her decision was partially based on a commander’s
testimony on the “right people” to stop, in which he was specifically
referring to people of color. The NYPD defended this policy by asserting
that specific people (read: people of color) were committing violent
crimes in specific neighborhoods and needed additional police scrutiny.
The police commissioner allegedly stated that young Black and Latino
men were the focus of the stops because the commissioner “wanted to
instill fear in them, [that] every time they leave their home, they could be
stopped by the police” (Goldstein, 2013).
Despite the nation’s falling crime rates over the past decade, this
increasingly punitive response is partially based on the stereotype of the
African American criminal. This perception is reflected in statistics from
the FBI UCR, where Blacks are overrepresented in crime statistics. While
Whites compose 77% of the U.S. population and are underrepresented in
arrest and incarceration data, Blacks compose 13% of the U.S.
population and are overrepresented in arrest and incarceration data (FBI,
2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). In 2014, 69.4% of all persons arrested
for violent crime were White, and 27.8% were Black (FBI, 2014). In nearly
all categories of crime recorded by the UCR, with the exception of
gambling, Blacks are overrepresented as per their population (FBI,
2014). These statistics indicate the pervasiveness of the stereotype,
which carries real-life consequences for many Black Americans.
RECENT POLICE BRUTALITY CASES
Data on police use of force and race are not consistent, thereby making
generalizations difficult. Consistency is lacking in wording of variables,
such as “killing” versus “shooting”; the range of perspectives (i.e., officer
versus suspect); and the use of citizen complaints. An analysis of the
NYPD stop-and-frisk data from 2003 to 2013, for example, indicates that
police are 24% more likely to point a weapon at a Black person
compared with a White person in a similar situation and that Blacks
stopped by police are 17% more likely to experience police use of force.
The same study used two other data sets from a Houston, Texas, police
department and found no racial differences in officer-related shootings. In
addition, Blacks are 24% less likely to be shot at in comparison with
Whites (Bui & Cox, 2016; Fryer, 2016).
However, recent cases have proven just how deadly Black men’s
interactions with the police can be. The 2014 police shooting of Michael
Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, triggered a DOJ investigation into the
Ferguson Police Department. The police officer who shot Brown, Darren
Wilson, was not indicted by the grand jury in the criminal case. This
outcome and the subsequent protests drew the DOJ’s attention. Their
investigation revealed a pattern of abuses of Black citizens that
permeated the city’s culture and illustrate the power of police subculture
and systemic racism.
The department found that the Ferguson Police Department regularly
conducted stops without reasonable suspicion and made arrests without
probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; interfered with the
right to free expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and
frequently used unreasonable force, in violation of the Fourth
Amendment. These violations were part of a larger problem of systemic
racism within the city of Ferguson. For example, the DOJ found that the
Ferguson Municipal Court had a pattern of focusing on revenue over
public safety, thus leading to court practices that violated the Fourteenth
Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. Moreover,
the court exhibited practices that exacerbated the harm of Ferguson’s
unconstitutional police practices and imposed particular hardship on
Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially those living in or near
poverty. The DOJ found that minor offenses often generated crippling
debts, resulted in jail time because of inability to pay, and led to the loss
of driver’s licenses, employment, and/or housing. Finally, the department
found that the harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices were borne
disproportionately by Blacks and that this disproportionate impact was
avoidable, in part because Ferguson’s harmful court and police practices
were partially due to intentional discrimination, as demonstrated by direct
evidence of racial bias and stereotyping of Blacks by certain Ferguson
police and municipal court officials (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015).
The 2015 death of Freddie Gray also spurred a DOJ investigation, this
time into the Baltimore, Maryland, police department. On April 12, 2015,
Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. was approached by Baltimore police officers and
proceeded to flee. After he was detained, Gray was arrested for allegedly
having an illegal switchblade, which was later found to be a legal knife.
Gray was handcuffed and, despite pleas for his inhaler, was placed in the
police van without receiving medical attention. During the ride to the
police station, the officers claimed that Gray became “irate,” which led
them to place him in ankle cuffs. He was then loaded “on his stomach
head first into the wagon” (“Freddie Gray’s Death,” 2016). During the ride
to the station, the officers picked up a suspect from a different case. The
van made a total of four stops between the arrest of Freddie Gray and
arrival at the police station. After the police arrived at the station, they
requested paramedics to take Gray to the hospital. When he arrived at
the hospital he was in critical condition. His spine was 80% severed at
the neck. Gray’s family stated that the hospital performed surgeries on
Gray to treat three broken vertebrae and an injured voice box. Mr.
Rodriguez, the other suspect in the van, stated, “I know that when Mr.
Gray was placed inside that van, he was able to talk, he was upset, and
when Mr. Gray was taken out of that van he could not talk and he could
not breathe.” On May 1, 2015, the state prosecutor brought criminal
charges against the six police officers involved in the case. State
Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged the six Baltimore officers days later with
offenses ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder to
manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. All six
officers were acquitted (Rector, 2016). Mosby has subsequently faced
significant negative backlash, including a malicious prosecution suit from
several of the officers (Fenton, 2017).
The Baltimore report revealed similar findings to those in Ferguson:
regular violations of Black citizens’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Essentially, the department found reasonable cause to believe that the
Baltimore Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of
conducting stops, searches, and arrests without meeting the
requirements of the Fourth Amendment;
focusing enforcement strategies on Blacks, leading to severe and
unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights
Act and the Safe Streets Act;
using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
interacting with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner
that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First
Amendment (U.S. Department of Justice, 2016).
Another significant concern identified by the department was transport
practices that place detainees at significant risk of harm. In the Gray
case, the officers were accused of giving him a “rough ride,” which is a
long-standing police tactic in which the arrestee is injured without having
direct physical contact with the officer. A rough ride is accomplished by
not securely placing arrestees in the vehicle and then driving recklessly
so they injure themselves. For Gray, this included being handcuffed,
shackled at the ankles, and placed in the transport van on his stomach,
with no safety belt restraint, in violation of police policy. This DOJ report
further supports the notion of systemic racism engrained in the policing
subculture, which is highly protective of its members. It also points to the
dehumanization of Blacks—Black men in particular—who often become
victims of this stereotype in a way that leads to higher arrest rates and
the overrepresentation of Black men in the correctional system.
RACE AND INCARCERATION
Unsurprisingly, Black men are substantially overrepresented in jail and
prison populations. This is often the result of compounding racial biases
throughout the whole criminal justice process—arrest, courts,
adjudication, and corrections (Brewer & Heitzeg, 2012a, 2012b; Walker
et al., 2007). It is also the result of the idea of neutral application of law,
which presumes White innocence and ignores the cultural context in
which people of color live, a context shaped by America’s racially
charged past (Loury, 2008; Ross, 1996).
Essentially, Black Americans now experience “the new plantation—in the
prison industrial complex” (Brewer & Heitzeg, 2012b, p. 380), where they
are victimized by the unequal protection of law, greater police
surveillance, and ultimately, greater rates of incarceration. After
incarceration, they often become inmate labor (which closely aligns with
slave labor) within the confines of the penitentiary and are thoroughly
under the control of the state (Alexander, 2010; Davis, 2003). Inmate
labor has been used through the inmate lease system (Blackmon, 2008).
Throughout the early 20th century, the inmate lease system (which was
primarily composed of Blacks) was used to build mines in Birmingham,
Alabama, and pave the streets in Atlanta, Georgia (Blackmon, 2008).
These inmates had often been charged with crimes specifically created to
target Blacks, such as “carrying a weapon, riding on empty freight train
cars, or violation of racial etiquette such as speaking loudly in the
presence of white women” (p. 67). Douglas Blackmon (2008) asserts that
throughout the late 1860s and 1870s, “every southern state enacted an
array of interlocking law essentially intended to criminalize Black life” (p.
53). The inmate lease system still exists and is currently used by several
companies, including Walmart, Hewlett-Packard, McDonald’s, BP Oil,
Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM (Fraser & Freeman, 2012;
Thompson, 2012). This labor is cheap; federal inmates are paid $0.12 to
$1.15 per hour, while state inmates are paid $0.13 to $0.32. Some states
compensate inmates by decreasing the length of their sentences
(Thompson, 2012). In addition, child support and victim compensation
are frequently deducted from federal inmates’ wages. According to
Fraser and Freeman (2012), “the caste nature of the South’s convict
lease system should remind us of the unbalanced racial profile of
America’s bloated prison population today” (p. 96).
While “national security” and “crime control” are often given as reasons
for the mass imprisonment of Blacks (Brewer & Heitzeg, 2012a, 2012b),
incarceration actually functions as a way to segregate Blacks from the
rest of American society. Brewer and Heitzeg (2012a, 2012b) and
Western (2006) argue that a variety of factors contribute to the
overrepresentation of people of color in corrections. Specifically, the
political economy of the correctional industry, which includes the prison
construction boom and development of private prisons, as well as
economic decline and fewer low-skilled jobs, has contributed to harsher
sentences. Policies such as “three strikes” laws, “truth in sentencing”
laws as opposed to indeterminate sentencing, the end of rehabilitation as
a correctional philosophy, incarceration for nonviolent crimes as a result
of the war on drugs, and a general increase in the use of incarceration in
response to criminal behavior are all contributing factors to the number of
people of color under correctional supervision. These factors have led to
an attitude of resignation on behalf of young men of color toward the
criminal justice system, given the oppressive realities listed above: “For
many young males, especially African Americans and Hispanics, the
threat of going to prison or jail is not a threat at all but rather an expected
or accepted part or life” (Irwin & Austin, 1997, p. 156, as quoted in
As Loury (2008) states, “crime and punishment has a color in America”
(p. 22). Americans’ conceptualization of the rapist, drug dealer, and
general criminal have more often than not involved people of color and,
specifically, Black males. This conceptualization is representative of a
long history of racial biases prevalent within American society and is well
reflected in our justice system—from arrest rates to corrections to the
death penalty. How do we rid ourselves of this harmful ideal? Evidence is
abundant that racial biases begin before stop-and-frisk stops and traffic
stops. If race is part of the American perception of crime, then it is no
wonder that it is a consideration in the first stage of the criminal justice
process (e.g., a stop), which can only mean that it is compounded toward
the end of the criminal justice process (e.g., corrections and
imprisonment). In the end, Loury (2008) raises a key question:
Who is to blame for the domestic maladies that beset us? We
have constructed a national narrative. We have created
scapegoats, indulged our need to feel virtuous, and assuaged our
fears. We have met the enemy and the enemy is them.
Incarceration keeps them away from us. (p. 25)
Essentially, as Loury indicates, public safety has come to mean keeping
the public (presumably, the White public) “safe” from people of color.
Sara Buck Doude is an associate professor of criminal justice at
Georgia College. Her scholarship focuses on radical criminological
theory, gender and racial biases within criminal justice, and
interpersonal violence within marginalized groups. Her work has
appeared in the Encyclopedia of Theoretical Criminology (2010),
the Encyclopedia of Women and Crime, and the Sexual Assault
Report. Her forthcoming work focuses on perceptions of rape
based on the sexuality of the victim and offender.
1. The order also froze the stop-and-frisk cases until further appellate
rulings. However, New York City challenged the ruling under former
mayor Michael Bloomberg. Current mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t yet
dropped the city’s challenge to Scheindlin’s ruling.
Suggested Additional Resources
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in
the age of color blindness. New York, NY: New Press.
Blackmon, D. A. (2008). Slavery by another name: The reenslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War
II. New York, NY: Random House.
Daniels, J. (2014). White women and the defense of lynching.
Racism Review. Retrieved from
Feagin, J. R. (2000). Racist America: Roots, current realities, and
future reparations. New York, NY: Routledge.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Uniform crime reports:
Hate crime statistics. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/aboutus/cjis/ucr/ucr-publications#Hate
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2016). Crime in the U.S.
Retrieved from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016
Guardian. (2016). The counted: People killed by the police in the
US. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/nginteractive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database
Irwin, J., & Austin, J. (1997). It’s about time: America’s
imprisonment binge (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Loury, G. C. (2008). Race, incarceration, and American values.
Cambridge, MA: Boston Review.
New York Times. (2017). Police brutality, misconduct and
shootings. Retrieved from
Parsons-Pollard, N. (2011). Disproportionate minority contact:
Current issues and policies. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic
Rios, V. (2011). Punished: Policing the lives of Black and Latino
boys. New York: New York University Press.
Tonry, M. (1995). Malign neglect: Race, crime, and punishment in
America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
U.S. Department of Justice. (2015, March 4). Justice Department
announces findings of two civil rights investigations in Ferguson,
Missouri [Press release]. Retrieved from
https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announcesfindings-two-civil-rights-investigations-ferguson-missouri (See also
U.S. Department of Justice. (2016). Justice Department
announces findings of investigation into Baltimore Police
Department [Press release]. Retrieved from
https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announcesfindings-investigation-baltimore-police-department (See also
Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New
York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Western, B. (2012). The social impact of the U.S. penal system.
Blackmon, D. A., Allan, C. (Executive Producers), & Pollard, S.
(Director). (2012). Slavery by another name [Documentary].
United States: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved from
CBS News. (2012). “Stop and frisk”: Fighting crime or racial
profiling? [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?
DuVernay, A. (Producer & Director). (2016). 13th. United States:
Orr, M. (2010, July 12). Stop and frisk in Brownsville, Brooklyn
[Video]. New York Times. Retrieved from
Reuters. (2012, June 29). Stories of “stop and frisk”—Reuters
Investigates [Video]. Retrieved from
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER
1. Are arrest and incarceration data a reflection of true and
actual amounts of crime? Why or why not? What do you
believe official crime data tell us about the nature of crime in
America? How would you explain the overrepresentation of
people of color at all stages of the criminal justice system?
2. According to the essay, how has the history of America
contributed to the Black criminal stereotype? Is the criminal
stereotype applied to other groups? (How) is the stereotype of
the Black rapist still prevalent in current American society?
Why were White women seen as entities to be protected? Are
White women still portrayed this way in regard to crime?
Reaching Beyond the Color Line
1. Select a popular television crime show or procedural (e.g.,
Law & Order, CSI, Criminal Minds). Conduct a content
analysis of four to six episodes. Is the Black criminal
stereotype prevalent? If yes, what are the crimes portrayed?
Who are the victims?
2. As a class, construct a survey instrument about perceptions
of the police. Gather data from a representative sample of the
student body at your college and compare the findings across
racial and ethnic groups.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age
of colorblindness. New York, NY: New Press.
Allison, J. A., & Wrightsman, L. S. (1993). Rape: The misunderstood
crime. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Baker, A. (2012, May, 12). New York Police release data showing rise in
number of stops on streets. New York Times. Retrieved from
Blackmon, D. A. (2008). Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement
of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York, NY:
Brewer, R. M., & Heitzeg, N. A. (2012a). The racialization of crime and
punishment: Criminal justice, color-blind racism and the political
economy of the prison industrial complex. American Behavioral
Scientist, 51, 625–644.
Brewer, R. M., & Heitzeg, N. A. (2012b). The racialization of crime and
punishment: Criminal justice, color-blind racism and the political
economy of the prison industrial complex. In H. T. Greene & S. L.
Gabbidon (Eds.), Race and crime: A text/reader (pp. 380–388).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Britto, S., & Dabney, D. A. (2010). “Fair and balanced?” Justice issues on
political talk shows. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 35(4), 198–
Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women, and rape. New
York, NY: Fawcett Columbine.
Buettner, R., & Glaberson, W. (2012, July 10). Courts putting stop-andfrisk policy on trial. New York Times. Retrieved from
Bui, Q., & Cox, A. (2016, July 11). Surprising new evidence shows bias in
police use of force but not shootings. New York Times. Retrieved from
CBS News. (2016, December 9). Firefighter accused of setting own
house ablaze, shifting blame to anti-cop graffiti. Crimesider. Retrieved
Chasteen, A. L. (1998). Rape narratives in the United States: Feminism,
culture and the construction of rape as a social problem (Doctoral
dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations database.
(Publication No. AAT 9825180)
Chiricos, T. G., McEntire, R., & Gertz, M. (2001). Perceived racial and
ethnic composition of neighborhood and perceived risk of crime. Social
Problems, 48(3), 322–340.
Davis, A. Y. (2003). Are prisons obsolete? New York, NY: Seven Stories
Estrich, S. (1987). Real rape: How the legal system victimizes women
who say no. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Feagin, J. R. (2000). Racist America: Roots, current realities, and future
reparations. New York, NY: Routledge.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2014). Crime in the United States.
Retrieved from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-theu.s.-2014/cius-home
Fenton, J. (2017, January 6). Freddie Gray case: Judge allows malicious
prosecution lawsuit against Mosby to proceed. Baltimore Sun.
Retrieved January 10, 2017, from
Fraser, S., & Freeman, J. B. (2012). In the rearview mirror. New Labor
Forum, 21(3), 94–98.
Freddie Gray’s death in police custody—what we know. (2016, May 23).
BBC News. Retrieved January 09, 2017, from
Fryer, R. G., Jr. (2016). An empirical analysis of racial differences in
police use of force (NBER Working Paper No. 22399). Retrieved from
Goldstein, J. (2012, September 25). Prosecutor deals blow to stop-andfrisk tactic. New York Times. Retrieved from
Goldstein, J. (2013, August 14). Police dept.’s focus on race is at core of
ruling against stop-and-frisk tactic. New York Times. Retrieved from
Guardian. (2016). The counted: People killed by the police in the US.
Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/nginteractive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database
Guerino, P., Harrison, P. M., & Sabol, W. J. (2012). Prisoners in 2010
(NCJ 236096). U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from
Irwin, J., & Austin, J. (1997). It’s about time: America’s imprisonment
binge (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Loury, G. C. (2008). Race, incarceration, and American values.
Cambridge, MA: Boston Review.
Mingus, W., & Zopf, B. (2010). White means never having to say you’re
sorry the racial project in explaining mass shootings. Social Thought
and Research, 31, 57–77. Retrieved from
Rector, K. (2016, July 28). Charges dropped, Freddie Gray case
concludes with zero convictions against officers. Baltimore Sun.
Retrieved January 09, 2017, from
Rome, D. M. (2006). The social construction of the African American
criminal stereotype. In M. Zatx, C. Mann, & N. Rodriguez (Eds.),
Images of color: Images of crime (3rd ed., pp. 78–88). Los Angeles,
Ross, T. R. (1996). Just stories: How the law embodies racism and bias.
Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Russell, K. K. (1996). The racial hoax as crime: The law as affirmation.
Indiana Law Journal, 71(3), 594–621.
Russell, K. K. (2009, June 8). Racial hoaxes: Black men and imaginary
crimes [Radio series program]. In M. Martin (Host), Tell Me More.
Washington, DC: National Public Radio. Retrieved from
Thompson, H. (2012). The prison industrial complex. New Labor Forum,
Tomaskovic-Devey, D., & Warren, P. (2009). Explaining and eliminating
racial profiling. Contexts. Retrieved from
Tonry, M. (1995). Malign neglect: Race, crime, and punishment in
America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). U.S. Census 2010. Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Justice. (2015, March 4). Justice Department
announces findings of two civil rights investigations in Ferguson,
Missouri [Press release]. Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Justice. (2016). Justice Department announces
findings of investigation into Baltimore Police Department [Press
release]. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justicedepartment-announces-findings-investigation-baltimore-policedepartment
Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2007). The color of justice: Race,
ethnicity, and crime in America (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson
Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New York,
NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Withrow, B. L., & Dailey, J. D. (2012). Racial profiling litigation: Current
status and emerging controversies. Journal of Contemporary Criminal
Justice, 28(2), 122–145.