Criminal black man stereotype

Criminal black man stereotype

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As of 2001, the chances of going to prison in percentages for various demographic groups in the United States.

The criminal black man is an ethnic stereotype in the United States, theUnited Kingdom, and other countries according to which black males are expected to be criminal and dangerous.[1][2] The figure of the black man as criminal has appeared frequently in popular culture and media.[3][4][5] It has been associated with racial profiling by law enforcement.[6]




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 peoples 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 than with peoples in other countries, 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 features, etc. He classified humans as the white and the colored races, claiming that the whites were more civilized.[7]

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 black men as “ominous criminal predator”, rather than “petty thief”, according to Marc Mauer.[6]


Research on perceptions in the US shows that many people believe that African-American men engage in violent crimes at the highest rates of all racial categories, a belief which is supported by crime statistics.[8] Per capita, African Americans are much more likely to 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.[9][10][11][12] 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.[13][14] Some academic sources state that this is partially due to prosecutors over charging African American defendants in contrast to white defendants.[15]

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.[16]

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”.[17] Russell-Brown refers to the criminalblackman as a myth[18][19] 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”.[20] 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”.[21]

Linda G. Tucker in Lockstep and Dance: Images of Black Men in Popular Culture (2007) argues that the representations in popular culture of criminal black men help perpetuate the image.[22] 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.[23] 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 black male criminality.[24]

The criminal black man appears often in the context of athletics and sports. Arthur A. Raney and Jennings Bryant discuss this inHandbook 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,[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

The stereotype of young black males and crime also exists in the United Kingdom. Robbery, drug use, and gang violence, for example, have been associated with black people since the 1960s.[28] In the 1980s and 1990s, the police associated robbery with black people. In 1995, the Metropolitan Police commissioner Paul Condon said that the majority of robberies in London were committed by black people.[29]

According to studies, Brazilians show themselves to be multidirectionally more essentialist when interpreting race than their Europeans peers, such as one from 2011 analyzing arguments of 138 Spaniard and 150 Brazilian university students of what would happen in a case where black and white men called Eduardo and Lucas respectively successfully had their brains (and consequently personality and life experience) exchanged in a surgery.[30] The social perception on the social disadvantages of Afro-Brazilians has included in most discourses the disproportional number of young black males that die by homicides,[31] numbering 72% of those between 18 and 25 years old according to a UFRJ research, in part credited to police brutality,[32] and overrepresentation in prisons.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gabbidon, Shaun L. (ed.); Greene, Helen Taylor (ed.); Young, Vernetta D. (ed.). (2001). African American Classics in Criminology and Criminal JusticeSAGE Publications. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-7619-2433-3.
  2. ^ Edles, Laura Desfor (2002). Cultural Sociology in PracticeWiley-Blackwell. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-631-21090-0.
  3. ^ Tucker, p. 4.
  4. ^ Vera, Harnan; Feagin, Joe R. (2007). Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic RelationsSpringer. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-387-70844-7.
  5. ^ Russell-Brown, p. 77.
  6. a b Welch, p. 276.
  7. ^ Lombroso, Cesare. Gibson, Mary; Hahn Rafter, Nicole. (eds) (2007). Criminal ManDuke University Press, pp. 17–18.
  8. ^ Welch, p. 278.
  9. ^
  10. ^ “Race Gap: Crime vs. Punishment”New York Times. October 7, 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^$file/NSPI201213.pdf
  16. ^ Study: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks
  17. ^ Russell-Brown, p. 84.
  18. ^ Russell-Brown, p. 114.
  19. ^ See, Letha A. Lee (2001). Violence as Seen Through a Prism of ColorHaworth Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-7890-1393-2
  20. ^ Russell-Brown, pp. 70–71.
  21. ^ Henry, Stuart; Lanier, Mark. (2001). What Is Crime?: Controversies Over the Nature of Crime and What to Do about ItRowman & Littlefield. p. 159. ISBN 0-8476-9807-6.
  22. ^ Tucker, p. 5.
  23. ^ Tucker, p. 8.
  24. ^ Tucker, pp. 8–9.
  25. ^ See: King, C. Richard; Springwood, Charles Fruehling. (2001). Beyond the Cheers: Race as Spectacle in College SportState University of New York PressISBN 0-7914-5005-8.
  26. ^ Raney, Arthur A.; Bryant, Jennings. (2006). Handbook of Sports and MediaLawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 531. ISBN 0-8058-5189-5.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Marsh and Melville, p. 84.
  29. ^ Marsh and Melville, p. 85.
  30. ^ (Portuguese) Stereotype and the essentialization of black and white people: a comparative study
  31. ^ (Portuguese) Government-backed plan for prevention of violence against black youth will come for more five states – Agência Brasil
  32. ^ Police violence in Rio de Janeiro (2006) – Tom Phillips for the Upside Down World A cached version is disponible here
  33. ^ (Portuguese) On the stereotypes of black people and immigrants – by Douglas da Mata – Luis Nassif Online



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