Jay Livingston at Montclair SocioBlog discussed the two figures below (full report here). The first shows that Black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be stopped by Los Angeles Police than White drivers. The second shows that, when stopped, if searched, police are more likely to find weapons and drugs on Whites than on either Blacks or Hispanics. Conclusion: Blacks and Hispanics are being racially profiled by the L.A.P.D. and racial profiling does not work. Data from New York City in 2008 tells a similar story.
The New York Civil Liberties Union reports that the NYPD stopped 161,000 people in the first quarter of 2011. A record number. Eighty-four percent of those stopped were Black or Latino. The Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit, claiming that the practice is unconstitutional.
Originally posted in 2011. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.
There is much to be worried about when one considers the role racial discrimination plays in delivering the death penalty. Scholars are newly looking to the way that the race of homicide victims, instead of the defendants, shape outcomes. It turns out a disproportionate number of people who are executed under the death penalty have been convicted of murdering a white person (Amnesty International):
“[H]olding all other factors constant,” Amnesty International summarizes, “the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.”
Originally posted in 2010. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.
In analysis of Presidential pardons during the George W. Bush administration, ProPublica has found that whites were four times as likely as non-whites to be granted a pardon. Pardons were granted to 12% of whites, 10% of Hispanics and Asians, and zero percent of Blacks and Native Americans. The disparity remained even when investigators controlled for type of crime.
…President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the “attitude” and the marital and financial stability of applicants…
Bush followed the recommendations of the pardons office in nearly every case… President Obama — who has pardoned 22 people, two of them minorities — has continued the practice of relying on the pardons office.
Sometimes disparate decisions in pardon cases were eyebrow raising:
An African American woman from Little Rock, fined $3,000 for underreporting her income in 1989, was denied a pardon; a white woman from the same city who faked multiple tax returns to collect more than $25,000 in refunds got one. A black, first-time drug offender — a Vietnam veteran who got probation in South Carolina for possessing 1.1 grams of crack – was turned down. A white, fourth-time drug offender who did prison time for selling 1,050 grams of methamphetamine was pardoned.
ProPublica traces the disparity to age, leniency given to people who are seen as “upstanding” members of society (e.g., they’re married, have little debt), the influence of money and politics (letters from Congresspersons and donations to lawmakers by convicts’ spouses), and simple prejudice. Nevertheless:
When the effects of those factors and others were controlled using statistical methods, however, race emerged as one of the strongest predictors of a pardon.
Originally posted in 2012. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a documenting history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. When the law was passed in 1965, one of its main targets were “literacy tests.”
Ostensibly designed to ensure that everyone who voted could read and write, they were actually tools with which to disenfranchise African Americans and sometimes Latinos and American Indians. Minority voters were disproportionately required to take these tests and, when they did, the election official at the polling place had 100% jurisdiction to decide which answers were correct and score the test as he liked. The point was to intimidate and turn them away from the polls. If this sounds bad, you should see the range of disturbing and terrifying things the White elite tried to keep minorities from voting.
The tactics to manipulate election outcomes by controlling who votes is still part and parcel of our electoral politics. In fact, since most voters are not “swing” voters, some would argue that “turnout” is a primary ground on which elections are fought. This is not just about mobilizing or suppressing Democrats or Republicans, it’s about mobilizing or suppressing the turnout of groups likely to vote Democrat or Republican. Since most minority groups lean Democrat, Republicans have a perverse incentive to suppress their turn out. In other words, this isn’t a partisan issue; I’d be watching Democrats closely if the tables were turned.
Indeed, states have already moved to implement changes to voting laws that had been previously identified as discriminatory and ruled unconstitutional under the Voting Act. According to the Associated Press:
After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
So, yeah, it appears that Chief Justice John Roberts’ justification that “our country has changed” was pretty much proven wrong within a matter of hours or days. This is bad. It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.
The Census Bureau has a new report on nonmarital births. Based on the American Community Survey — the largest survey of its kind, and the only one big enough to track all states — the report shows that 35.7 percent of births in 2011 were to unmarried mothers.
Beneath the headline number, two patterns in the data will receive a lot of attention: education and race/ethnicity. I have a brief comment on both patterns.
The education patterns show a very steep dropoff in nonmarital births as women’s education increases. From 57 percent unmarried among those who didn’t finish high school to just nine percent among those who have graduated college.
Given the hardships faced by single mothers (especially in the United States), it looks like women with more education are making the more rational decision to avoid childbearing when they’re not married. And I don’t doubt that’s partly the explanation. But we need to think about marriage, education and childbearing as linked events that unfold over time. The average high-school dropout mother was 26, while the average college-graduate mother was 33. Delaying childbearing and continuing education are decisions that are made together, based on the opportunities people have. And completing more education increases both the likelihood of marriage and the earning potential of one’s spouse.
So I think you could tell the story like this: Women with better educational opportunities delay childbearing, which increases their marriage prospects, and makes it more likely they will be married and financially better off when they have children in their 30s.
The differences in nonmarital birth rates between race/ethnic groups in the U.S. are shocking, from about two-thirds for black and American Indian women to 29 percent for whites and 11 percent for Asians.
This pattern is related to the education trend, naturally, but that’s not the whole story. One aspect of the story is race/ethnic geography of opportunity in this country. I’ve written before about the shortage of employed men available for women to marry, a particular expression of racial disparity first popularized by sociologist William Julius Wilson a quarter century ago.
Using the new numbers on nonmarital birth rates for each state from the Census report, I compared them to the male non-employment rate — specifically, the percentage of unmarried men ages 22-50 that are not currently employed. Here’s the relationship:
The states with more single men out of work have higher rates of nonmarital births. Single mother, meet jobless man.
My conclusion from these patterns is that unmarried parenthood is primarily a symptom of lack of opportunity, especially for education and employment. Surely that’s not the whole story. Maybe we should be persuading people to marry younger or shaming them into avoiding parenthood. But I think those approaches increase stigma more than they change behavior or improve wellbeing — Pew surveys show that 77 percent of people already say raising a family is easier if you’re married and only 12 percent of single people say they don’t want to marry. So who needs convincing? Meanwhile, if we addressed the problems of education and employment, is there any doubt family security and stability would improve, and with it the wellbeing of children and their parents?
Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
It’s been six months since we’ve discovered evidence of another racist party or antic on a college or high school campus. I guess it was about time for another… well, three more. Updated and re-posted.
This post is a collection of racially-themed parties and events at college and high school campuses. They’re examples of one kind of simple individual racism that still perpetuates daily life in the U.S.
April 2013: This still is from a video celebrating the spring semester induction of new recruits into UC Irvine’s Asian-American fraternity Lambda Theta Delta (via Colorlines). It features a fraternity member in blackface. The entire video can be seen here.
February 2013: Three hockey fans in the audience of a North Dakota high school semifinal donned Ku Klux Klan-ish hoods as a “joke,” they later said:
October 2012: The photograph below depicts the members of the Chi Omega sorority at Penn State (source). It was taken during a Mexican fiesta-themed party around Halloween. The signs read: “will mow lawn for weed & beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”
The Vice President of the college’s Mexican American Student Association, Cesar Sanchez Lopez, wrote:
The Mexican American Student Association is disappointed in the attire chosen by this sorority. It in no way represents our culture. Not only have they chosen to stereotype our culture with serapes and sombreros, but the insinuation about drug usage makes this image more offensive. Our country is plagued by a drug war that has led to the death of an estimated 50,000 people, which is nothing to be joked about.
The president of the sorority sent out an apology. Penalties are under discussion as of this posting.
May 2012: The University of Chicago’s Alpha Delta Phi fraternity required pledges to wear ”Mexican labor outfits” and sombreros while mowing the frat house lawn to Mexican ranchera music (source).
UPDATE: A University of Chicago student involved in reporting this incident wrote it to say that the photograph we originally published is likely unrelated to the Alpha Delta Phi incident (that is, a fake or a photo of a different event). In other words, the incident happened, but the photograph was not of the incident. Accordingly, we’ve removed the photo.
September 2011: Students at Hautes Etudes Commerciales, a Montreal business school, were filmed “wearing black makeup [and] chant[ing] with mock Jamaican accents about smoking marijuana” as part of a skit (source). A student explained that it was part of a skit in honor of Jamacian Olympian Usain Bolt. A spokesperson for the school explained that Francophone Canadians were unaware of the racial history behind blackface.
Anthony Morgan, a law student at McGill University, caught the students on film. He welcomed an apology from the school, is eager to follow up on their own investigation of the incident and, in the meantime, is filing a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission (source). He explained:
[Being black] is not a costume that you put on… This is not just about a few bad apples. This is about a greater problem about what we think about, how we value, how we understand, how we discuss — if we discuss — black history, culture and contribution.
Race-themed events at colleges and universities are a yearly ritual. I include our collection of such parties and “celebrations” below.
February 2010: Members of the Athletics Union at the London School of Economics painted their faces brown and “dressed up as Guantanamo Bay inmates and drunkenly yelled ‘Oh Allah’…” At least 12 students were found to have dressed up in costumes that were deemed “racist, religiously insensitive and demeaning.”
October 2009: University of Toronto students decided to dress up like the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings for Halloween (source). Their costume, which earned them a “Costume of the Night” award at this college-sponsored party, included blackface.
February 2007: Pictures from a “South of the Border” party at Santa Clara University in California. Indeed, that IS a pregnant woman, cleaning ladies, and a slutty gang member.
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Tarleton State University in Texas:
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Clemson College in South Carolina:
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at University of Connecticut School of Law:
In this 20-minute video, the Pew Research Center’s Paul Taylor discusses trends in the racial/ethnic breakdown of the U.S. population over the last century. Taylor discusses a number of related issues, including the income and wealth gap, perceptions about interracial relations, and the electoral implications of the demographic changes. For instance, while Ronald Reagan once said Hispanics are “Republicans who don’t know it yet,” there’s no evidence that they’re any closer to realizing it. As Hispanics and Asians make up an increasing proportion of the voting population, old electoral strategies based on winning most of the White vote are no longer sufficient to win a national election.
I’d skip the introductory remarks and start just after the 2-minute mark.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
A guiding principle driving the sociological understanding and analysis of deviance is the recognition that behaviors themselves are not inherently deviant; rather it is the social perceptions and reactions to a behavior that makes a particular behavior deviant. This explains why opinions and attitudes towards different forms of supposedly deviant behaviors regularly change. A notable change in one type of deviance, using marijuana, is revealed in a report compiled by the Pew Research Center.
According to David F. Musto, a century ago marijuana was an obscure drug used almost exclusively by Hispanics in the Southwest. Its limited association with this ethnic group is largely why marijuana initially became illegal. With the onset of the Great Depression, both federal and state governments sought ways to expel nonwhites from the country as their cheap labor was no longer necessary. Making one of this group’s pastimes illegal was a way to stigmatize Hispanics and rally public support for a population transfer. With a populace stirred into a moral panic by racism, nativism and propaganda movies like Reefer Madness, there was little resistance to the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which effectively made cannibas illegal.
In the 1960s marijuana experienced a cultural comeback when it became the drug of choice for baby-boomers who saw the drug as a safer alternative to the alcohol and methamphetamine that plagued their parents’ generation. Marijuana was even legal for a brief period after the Supreme Court found the 1937 marijuana act unconstitutional. However, because of widespread concern that drugs were corrupting the moral fabric of America’s youth, in 1970 marijuana was one of many drugs outlawed by President Nixon’s Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. Interestingly, marijuana was the only drug targeted by this act that did not include a medical exception. In the 1980s, President Reagan increased penalties for breaking drug laws, and subsequently the prison population in the United States swelled to a size seemingly unimaginable in a wealthy democracy.
The graph below from PEW’s report captures how federal action came during times of heightened public support to make marijuana illegal.
Yet, the graph also captures how in the early 1990s, support for the legalization of marijuana started to increase. According to the PEW report, around this time California pioneered using the drug for medicinal purposes; seventeen other states (including D.C.) have since followed California’s lead while six other states decriminalized possession of small amounts. In 2012, citizens in Colorado and Oregon voted to completely legalize marijuana despite federal law. This relaxing and even elimination of marijuana laws mirrors favorable opinions of marijuana and growing support for its legalization.
It is difficult to tell if legalization, medical or otherwise, drives public opinion or vice-versa. Regardless, an especially noteworthy finding of the PEW report is that right now, more than half of the United States’ citizens think marijuana should be legal. Sociologists always take interest when trend lines cross in public opinion polls because the threshold is especially important in a majority-rule democracy; and the PEW report finds for the first time in the history of the poll, a majority of U.S. citizens support marijuana legalization.
This historical research data on opinions about marijuana reveals how definitions of deviance, and in many cases the ways those definitions are incorporated into the legal system, grow out of shared social perceptions. Although there have been some notable genetic and cultivation advances, marijuana has changed relatively little in the last forty years; yet our perceptions of this drug (and therefore its definitions of use as deviant) regularly evolve and we can expect opinions, and therefore our laws, to further change in the future.
Jason Eastman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Coastal Carolina University who researches how culture and identity influence social inequalities.