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 19th 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 "criminal black man", 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 criminal black man 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".
Perpetuation of negative images by popular culture
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) blames entertainment and advertising industries for propagating the negative stereotypes, namely, for "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", which has harmed racial integration.
- African-American organized crime
- Statistics of incarcerated African-American males
- Race and crime
- Race and crime in the United States
- Magical Negro
- Mammy archetype
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- 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.
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