Criminal stereotype of African Americans
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The criminal stereotype of African Americans in the United States is an ethnic stereotype according to which African American males are stereotyped to be criminal and dangerous. The figure of a the African-American man as criminal has appeared frequently in American popular culture and it has been associated with racial profiling by law enforcement.
People in different countries have tried to associate criminality with different physical types. The Italian Cesare Lombroso was an early writer in criminology; he developed a theory that some people were more "civilized" and others more "savage". In the latter category, he grouped colored peoples, specifically black, yellow and mixed. His concern specifically was with southern Italians and gypsies, as he believed the southern Italians had mixed ancestries over the years with Arabs and people from North Africa. He based his theory of atavism on the prevailing scientific racist theories. He believed that crime was primarily a manifestation of innate qualities and that humans could be classified as prone to crime by evaluating their physical characteristics, such as shape and size of head, facial looks, skin color, etc. He classified humans as the white and the colored races, claiming that the whites were more civilized.
As the United States was a slave society, slaveholders began to associate African Americans with crime as part of their justification for the institution. Historians have noted that the South historically has had a higher rate of violence than other parts of the country, and attributed it to the traditions of violence to enforce slavery, and actions in the late nineteenth century after Reconstruction of the white minority trying to dominate African Americans. The rise of drug-related violence and homicides in the inner cities in the 1970s and early 1980s caused people to become more worried about young African American men as "ominous criminal predator", rather than "petty thief", according to Marc Mauer.
Research on perceptions in the US shows that many people believe that African-American men mostly engage in violent crimes at the highest rates of all racial categories, a belief which is supported by crime statistics. Per capita, African Americans are much more likely to commit and be arrested for crimes of violence than other racial groups. African Americans are significantly more likely to be profiled, arrested and incarcerated in the US than white suspects who commit similar offenses and have equal to longer criminal records. African-American men are overrepresented in the American prison system; according to numerous sources African Americans are approximately six times more likely to spend time in prison or jail than whites. According to research, African Americans receive up to 60% longer federal prison sentences than whites who commit similar offenses, and 20% longer prison sentences than whites who commit the same offenses. Some academic sources state that this is partially due to prosecutors over charging African American defendants in contrast to white defendants.
While the 'black drug user' stereotype is heavily associated with young African Americans, recent studies show that African American young people are less likely to use illegal drugs than other racial groups in the US.
Katheryn Russell-Brown in her book The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment and Other Macroaggressions (1998) refers to the stereotype as the "criminalblackman", because people associate young black men with crime in American culture. She writes that the black male is portrayed as a "symbolic pillager of all that is good". Russell-Brown refers to the criminalblackman as a myth and suggests that the stereotype contributes to "racial hoaxes". She defines these as "when someone fabricates a crime and blames it on another person because of his race OR when an actual crime has been committed and the perpetrator falsely blames someone because of his race". Stuart Henry and Mark Lanier in What Is Crime?: Controversies Over the Nature of Crime and What to Do about It (2001) refer to the criminal black man as a "mythlike race/gender image of deviance".
Linda G. Tucker in Lockstep and Dance: Images of Black Men in Popular Culture (2007) argues that the representations in popular culture of criminal African American men help perpetuate the image. She writes that the portrayal of crime by conservative politicians during heated campaigns is used as a metaphor for race: they have recast fears about race as fears about crime. For instance, Republican opponents of Dukakis used the case of Willie Horton to attack the Democrat's stand on law enforcement, suggesting that people would be safer if led by Republicans. She says that such politicians used Horton as a collective symbol of African American male criminality.
The criminal African American man appears often in the context of athletics and sports. Arthur A. Raney and Jennings Bryant discuss this in Handbook of Sports and Media (2006). They cite Beyond the Cheers: Race as Spectacle in College Sport (2001) by C. Richard King and Charles Fruehling Springwood, which examines the connection between race, crime, and sports. They study the ways in which "criminality indelibly marks the African American athlete". Raney and Bryant says coverage and reception of accusations of crimes by sportspeople differed depending on the race of the individual.
John Milton Hoberman in Darwin's Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race (1997) writes that "the merger of the athlete, the gangster rapper, and the criminal into a single black male persona ... into the predominant image of black masculinity in the United States and around the world" has harmed racial integration.
- Gabbidon, Shaun L. (ed.); Greene, Helen Taylor (ed.); Young, Vernetta D. (ed.). (2001). African American Classics in Criminology and Criminal Justice. SAGE Publications. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-7619-2433-3.
- Edles, Laura Desfor (2002). Cultural Sociology in Practice. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-631-21090-0.
- Tucker, p. 4.
- Vera, Harnan; Feagin, Joe R. (2007). Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic Relations. Springer. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-387-70844-7.
- Russell-Brown, p. 77.
- Welch, p. 276.
- Lombroso, Cesare. Gibson, Mary; Hahn Rafter, Nicole. (eds) (2007). Criminal Man, Duke University Press, pp. 17–18.
- Welch, p. 278.
- Slate Magazine
- "Race Gap: Crime vs. Punishment". New York Times. October 7, 2007.
- "Racial Disparity in Sentencing". Sentencingproject.org. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
- FBI — Table 43
- Top Stories - Black Americans Given Longer Sentences than White Americans for Same Crimes - AllGov - News
- Controversies - Prison Sentences for Black Men Are 20% Longer Than Those for White Men for Same Crimes - AllGov - News
- "Program in Law & Economics Working Paper SEries". Fjc.gov. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
- Study: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks
- Russell-Brown, p. 84.
- Russell-Brown, p. 114.
- See, Letha A. Lee (2001). Violence as Seen Through a Prism of Color. Haworth Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-7890-1393-2
- Russell-Brown, pp. 70–71.
- Henry, Stuart; Lanier, Mark. (2001). What Is Crime?: Controversies Over the Nature of Crime and What to Do about It. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 159. ISBN 0-8476-9807-6.
- Tucker, p. 5.
- Tucker, p. 8.
- Tucker, pp. 8–9.
- See: King, C. Richard; Springwood, Charles Fruehling. (2001). Beyond the Cheers: Race as Spectacle in College Sport. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-5005-8.
- Raney, Arthur A.; Bryant, Jennings. (2006). Handbook of Sports and Media. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 531. ISBN 0-8058-5189-5.
- Hoberman, John Milton (1997). Darwin's Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. xxvii. ISBN 0-395-82292-0.
- Russell-Brown, Katheryn (1998). The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment and Other Macroaggressions. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-7471-7.
- Quillian, Lincoln; Pager, Devah. (November 2001). Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime. American Journal of Sociology 107 (3): 717–767. For a copy, see PDF (207 KB).
- Rome, Dennis (2004). Black Demons: The Media's Depiction of the African American Male Criminal Stereotype. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-97244-5.
- Tucker, Linda G. (2007). Lockstep and Dance: Images of Black Men in Popular Culture. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-57806-906-4.
- Welch, Kelly (August 2007). "Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 23 (3): 276–288. doi:10.1177/1043986207306870.
- Marsh, Ian; Melville, Gaynor. (2009). Crime, Justice and the Media. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-44490-3.