Stereotyping is Inevitable; Racism is Optional
What helped evolving humans survive, a sense of intergroup connectedness, group identity and a need to protect others in our tribe, has in modern times lead us to hate members of our species and commit atrocities against outsiders. Like the Nazi, the slave trader, Crusaders and jihadists, lack of contact with those outside our group leads to the development of a negative, unrealistic impressions if them. These outsiders become dangerous, savage, immoral objects in our imaginations. Our stereotypes become malignant and lead us to justify committing crimes against outsiders such as taking away their rights and livelihoods and killing them if they get in the way. And the more these outsiders differ from us in appearance and manner, the more we feel justified in subjugating them.
Some white people don’t perceive racism in the United States, for they aren’t affected by it. Many don’t interact with African Americans or other minorities on a daily basis. And often, when whites do interact with outsiders, these minorities are in service roles and/or perceived to be subservient and of lower status to whites. Whites often dismiss minority perceptions of racism as an overreaction to social interactions. They might state that minorities are over-sensitive, for many whites have little understanding of racism. Either they don’t recognize racism when it happens around them, or they exist in homogeneous (white) neighborhoods and workplaces without racial interactions.
What whites see is either criminal blacks and Latinos on COPS and other crime shows or the news or the successful minorities like Barack Obama, Oprah, Cosby, Jay-Z, Julio Iglesias, and Carlos Santana. This proves to them that racism doesn’t exist, that all races are given equal opportunity and success is a matter of character and not race. Some whites even say that the existence of films like “12 Years a Slave” proves that racism is non-existent. How else would have film have been made if racism still part of America?
There are people who look at the Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown and don’t see a racial component just as there are people that think mentioning race in the Treyvon Martin shooting is "reverse racism." An article ironically titled “Hear no Racism, Speak no Racism” is a prime example of this. The author uses a standard deniers argument that the existence of black racism negates white racism, “…arguably the least discussed type of racism is that which comes from blacks themselves.”
Most blacks clearly understand that if Treyvon Martin had been white, Zimmerman would have been less likely to chase him down, shoot him, and kill him. This is part of their daily challenge navigating race in the United States.
Even the Mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles, is ignorant of the racial divide in his city, saying that “ “none of the city’s residents believe there is a racial divide in the community.” ” Clearly, blacks see the divide, but non-blacks may have more trouble seeing the race problems. And the mayor, whose job it is to care for all the citizens of Ferguson, has political reasons to downplay the racial problems.
In the late 1950s, sociologist Herbert Blumer formulated the group-position thesis to explain an individuals perceptions of society based on their ethnic group membership. He wrote that the differing perceptions people have of institutions such as the police depend on the group they belong to. The thesis explains why, “Blacks and whites often perceive American social institutions in starkly different terms, and views of criminal justice are no exception.” Race is an accurate predictor of perceptions of the police; blacks express discontent with policing at much higher rates than whites. In fact, “Dominant group attitudes toward other racial groups are therefore positional: shaped by a sense of supremacy over minority groups and a need to defend the group against threats to its interests.” (ibid)
Many whites, being relatively dominant economically and politically in much of the United States, see the police as protecting their interests; blacks see the police treating them unjustly. Whites fear losing their resources and privileges and blacks perceive a loss of their freedom and rights at the hands of the police. Whites perceive police acting to protect the citizens equally because “To accept that minorities are mistreated would lend credence to reforms that might dilute crime control, thereby threatening whites.” (ibid) Minorities are more likely to see police misconduct, more than crime itself, as the problem.
The Ferguson police has had other incidents of abuse against blacks. One notable case is the arrest and beating of Henry Davis. In September of 2009, police arrested Mr. Davis even though his middle name and Social Security number didn’t match the information on the warrant. After four Ferguson police officers unjustifiably beat him in his cell, they charged Davis with destruction of property for bleeding on their uniforms. That sent a warning to all future detainees, especially blacks, not to bleed when the Ferguson police beat you.
Wouldn't it be a good public policing to investigate all cases of reported abuse?
Ferguson has a history of racially profiling blacks. Over 86% of the police stops in Ferguson were of African Americans. In a city of 15,865, a city that is two-thirds black (over 10,000 people), nearly 5000 blacks have been stopped, or about 50%. Stopping 50% of the black population as opposed to about 14% of the white population is clearly racial profiling. (ibid) Is there any wonder blacks distrust the police at a much higher rate than whites?
“…the increased risk of events like the shooting of Michael Brown is one of the costs of over-criminalization.” Michael Dorf
The racial problems and abuse of blacks by the police are not only issues in Ferguson. “ “The truth is that the issues that are coming up in Ferguson are perhaps much more dramatic than in other places, but they're not peculiar to there,” says Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.”
In many cities, majority white police forces are the norm, no matter the make up of the community. Larger cities fair better in diversity than smaller cities. Ferguson happens to be the most segregated city in the nation. And their police force is 94% white in a city that is 66% black.
However, diversification of police force doesn’t always solve the problem, “ “It’s an important part of the solution but it’s not the only part of the solution,” says Niaz Kasravi, the director of the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Program. Often racial profiling persists as a result of inadequate training as well as biased protocols coming from up top, she says.” For example, even though the New York police force has been majority-minority for the past nine years, there have still been issues with abuse and profiling.
Texas has a high incident of police shootings of African Americans. Moreover, there is no law that requires police departments in Texas to report police shootings. “Since 2002, more than 60 unarmed civilians have been killed by Dallas police, but not one indictment has been filed against an officer, according to Mothers Against Police Brutality.” (ibid)
One of the reasons there is an uptick in police abuses and profiling since the 1980s is the increase in “broken windows” policing and the war on drugs. Broken windows is a hypothesis promoted by Professors James Q. Wilson and George Kelling and argues that if police aggressively address low level crime such as graffiti, litter, and broken windows, more serious crimes will be reduced. The hypothesis states that this type of combative policing would lead to a more law-abiding citizenry. The result has been more abusive policing.
Aggressive policing has lead to programs such as the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policies in New York City, where “There were 4.4 million stops by the NYPD between 2004 and 2012. Ten percent of those stops were of whites, 84 percent were of blacks and Latinos. Of those 4.4 million stops, only 6 percent led to an arrest, 6 percent to a summons. The remaining 88 percent resulted in no other action…they involved…innocent people.” (link) Racial profiling for possible minor infractions only leads to more distrust of the police and racial tension. As the statistics suggest, these stops produced few arrests, few convictions, and mainly succeeded in harassing the populous.
The war on drugs has not curtailed drug use or dealing and cost us hundreds of billions of dollars. And there is little need for this harsh policing of drug use; according to the U.N., 90% of all drug users are ‘not problematic’. Furthermore, “…this ostensibly race-neutral effort has been waged primarily against black Americans. Relative to their numbers in the general population and among drug offenders, black Americans are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated on drug charges.” With the war on drugs and broken windows aggressive style policing, is it any wonder that some African Americans feel targeted? It is because they are targeted.
The racial difference in the perception of police misconduct is akin to the racial differences in how people perceive the shooting of Treyvon Martin and others.
Over all, perceptions of the police remain negative. “Nearly 30 percent of Blacks hold these views, as compared to 11–15 percent of Whites...and it was defined as a neighborhood problem by more Blacks (27 percent) than Whites (19 percent).”
There has always been a strained relationship between the police and minority communities. In the 50s and 60s, Southern police forces ignored and often covered up the brutality against blacks by whites in the South and used violent tactics against the black civil rights movement. In terms of modern targeting of African American communities, aggressive tactics became the norm after the race riots of 1967.
The United States race riots of 1967 were a tipping point in modern police relations for the African American community. One report from during 1967 states that, “ “The police are faced with demands for increased protection and service in the ghetto. Yet the aggressive patrol practices thought necessary to meet these demands themselves create tension and hostility...” The report also indicated that lack of employment, poor housing and education and other factors led to the rioting. Instead of addressing the concerns of the community and rebuilding the neighborhoods, their main response was to send in police to harshly deal with the unrest.
Stereotypes limit and dismiss people’s individuality, putting people into simple categories, and we judge people by the categories we put them in. “They also lend themselves to negative and derogatory assumptions. When that happens the stereotype blends into prejudice.”
Putting people into simple categories doesn’t work well with humans, “Furthermore, people tend to evaluate out-groups more negatively than in-groups.” (ibid) Stereotyping is an easy shorthand for looking at the world when it doesn’t make sense to us.
To reduce prejudice that occurs through tribalism, psychologist Gordon Allport hypothesized that intergroup contact could reduce racism. By creating cooperation and shared goals between groups, prejudice can be reduced. He concluded that, “Positive emotional experiences with members of different groups can also reduce negative stereotypes.” (ibid) However, instead of creating social contact between races, the policies of the last thirty years have increased the distance between us. These policies include redlining by race, the end of busing and a return of segregated schools, the electoral Southern strategy to increase animus whites have of blacks and other minorities, incarceration of blacks at record levels, among other policies.
Not all stereotypes are negative or harmful. “What matters is the character of the stereotypes, and the gullibility with which we employ them. And these in the end depend upon those inclusive patterns which constitute our philosophy of life.” If we are aware of our stereotyping and how it leads to prejudice and racism, we can reduce their impact. Stereotyping is an inevitable part life; racism is optional.