“Illiberal”: The White Backlash Word

It did not take more than a day or two for there to emerge a white backlash against the spate of protests by African-American students on predominantly “white” college campuses like the University of Missouri and Yale University; including a rant by an apparent liberal on National Public Radio against what he saw as their “illiberal” behavior.

My google search found the adjective illiberal defined as “opposed to liberal principles, restricting freedom of thought or behavior” and “uncultured or unrefined.” White” conservatives and their allies condemn such protests as being indicative of a victim’s mentality. “White” moderates and those who think like them dismiss them as coming from people who are overly sensitive. And now the latest buzzword that initially appears to come from “white” liberals and those who accept their ways of thinking about racial conflict as a means toward progressive social change is that such actions are “illiberal.” What they all have in common is that they are all essentially “white” racial backlash frame responses to the expression of the pain born of the oppression of African-Americans.

Such white backlash is consistent with the “All Lives Matter” slogan dismissal of the “Black Lives Matter” movement; a movement which is now a driving force behind the campus protests.

In my Conceptualizing Racism book I discuss such racially-charged language battles between what I call linguistic racial accommodation and linguistic racial confrontation as well as what I refer to as the IPA Syndrome of groups that benefit from oppression. The letters IPA refer to the ignorance of not knowing; the privilege of not needing to know, and the arrogance of not wanting to know.

We see all of that in the attempt of some “white”–assumed to be–liberals to now use the word “illiberal” to silence African-American outrage at oppression just as their more conservative cousins have used the term “political correctness;” which more and more “white” moderates and liberals have come to accept. This emotionally-charged and paternalistic finger wagging behind the charge of illiberalism evokes the racist image of “black” savages who have invaded the hallowed “white,” and above all “civilized,” halls of academia; devoid of any real appreciation of and respect for its core values like freedom of speech and academic freedom.

But alas appearances are often deceiving. As it turns out the main driving force behind the concept of liberalism is not liberals, but their occasional racial allies; the extreme right wing. The “illiberal” concept is being pushed by political extremists who abhor the very words liberals and liberalism but now seem to want to seduce those who see themselves as liberals into a liberal/right-wing coalition against militant African-American social protest. At this coalition’s center is the extreme right-wing intellectual Dinesh D’Sousa who in 1998 published a book titled Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. You may recall D’Sousa for his The End of Racism book which in the mid-1990s provided a racist cultural argument to justify white supremacy which complemented the biological argument made a year earlier by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve that was published by the same publisher.

This means that self-identified liberals who might find themselves attracted to the concept of illiberalism should be aware of this part of the concept’s history and how it is being used by the right-wing who ordinarily detest the very word liberal to form an unholy racial alliance against the legitimate aspirations of African Americans and other racially oppressed peoples. But there is still more ignorance, privilege, and arrogance to the use of the word “illiberal” as an ideology to beat back African-American protest than even that.

The term illiberal arrogantly assumes that all progressive African Americans are–indeed all left-leaning African Americans can aspire to be politically–is liberals. It assumes that like “white” liberals we are conflict-aversive and ultimately committed to sustaining the status quo by simply making minor tweaks to the system for it to function more smoothly.

It also arrogantly disallows the possibility that there is an African-American Left politics that dares to venture beyond whiteness and an intellectually, ethically, and politically shallow, multi-cultural/diversity framed liberalism. Now here is the racial bottom line, if you will. For progressive African Americans the best response to being labelled “illiberal” is to reject the label and framing of liberalism altogether by beginning a new conversation with the simple question that shatters the presumptuousness of white racial arrogance by simply asking. “And what makes you believe I am a liberal?”

Noel A. Cazenave is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. His forthcoming book, Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language, is to be released this month. His current book project is tentatively titled, Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism and he plans to teach a course on the same topic at UConn next fall.

U.S. Sex Trafficking: Hidden Ramifications of Systemic Racism

On the way home from teaching while attempting to evade the headache that comes from interaction with the average southern California driver, I thought a little music would help me to relax from a day filled with attempts to connect theory to brain, I hit the power button. Instead of the musicality of calm, the deep chest bumping beats of some rapper I had no idea existed was in the midst of some diatribe falsely immersed in wealth, power, and masculinity. Listening and simultaneously keeping my eyes on the road while blindly reaching to change the channel, I could not help but pick up on the overdone theme.

(Image source)

The lyrical artist was drawing a colorful linguistic picture which depicted him as a “pimp” engulfed in “hos,” and luxury. As the new satellite radio station took over the airway in my car, the serenity that ensued “got me a thinkin.’” How have terms such as pimp and ho become so cavalier within our vernacular? How have popular depictions of these terms become so common on our flat screens and within the digital tracks of our CDs? I ask because one cannot escape the glamorization lapidated lyrics of celebrated musical artists transferred through radio waves. The jokes told, amongst those you feel free to divulge your hidden social irresponsibility—“What do you tell a Hooker with 2 black eyes? Nothing you have already told her twice.” Or how about the television dramas and comedies that find a way to make it OK to laugh, while concurrently publicly scorning and blaming the women for their misfortune. The deep thinking caused my stomach to turn and my black brow to curl.

It is evident to me that behind the romanticized representation of pimps, men (loosely applied term of identification…ok, correction…scum) who control women through fear, violence, manipulation, and intimidation; and the proceeding life of the women they prey upon, deserve no glorification. Within a dark world few are willing to broach through legislative action or socially responsible research within the academy, there exists not only human injustice, but also racial injustice.

Though secrecy, unwillingness of victims to come forward, and the all-around nature of sex trafficking, the U.S. State Department notes that we must be cautious when referring to the exact numbers of incidences. But for the sake of conceptuality, it is important to understand the depth of the issue. For example, those trafficked into the U.S., the U.S. State Department stated that roughly 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually cross international borders worldwide. A majority are girls and women, and about half of these victims are younger than 18 years-of age.

Within the U.S., Polaris, a human trafficking advocacy group, noted that for those reported to their organization, 1 in 6 were endangered runaways that were more likely to have been victims of sex traffickers. The economy surrounding the topic is astounding. In 2014, it was reported that cities such as Denver and Atlanta gained 39.9 and 290 million respectively from sex trafficking. In terms of U.S. victims, the Department of Justice reported in 2011 that known cases of sex trafficking victims whose race was known, 40.4, 25.6, 23.9, 5.8, and 4.3 percent were Black, White, Latino, Other, and Asian respectively. For those victims arrested for sex offenses, 55 percent of were Black children. Some have argued the economic angle to describe this occurrence. The Urban Institute reported that when traffickers were interviewed, they overwhelmingly understood that this business is consumer driven. In fact, the demand regulates heavily toward White women. They again understood the economic gain of utilizing all women, especially White women who could yield the highest economic gain. But if caught by law enforcement, they also agreed that by trafficking only in Black women their sentences would be shorter.

The fact that millions of international and national adult women and children (males and females) are exploited, sold, kidnapped, raped, manipulated, at times brained like cattle, beaten, and emotionally scarred should be enough for us to be pursue vigilant activities toward eradicating the trade. But the silence related to the topic is deafening. The lack of real effort regarding sex trafficking occurring within the U.S. does not baffle me one little bit. First, we have a history of ignoring the plight of children and women. Historically, women treated as property and the rate of physical abuse children is not uncommon to the pages of US history. Neither are the ramifications of systemic racism. In relation, the lack of overwhelming public concern toward Black females is not abnormal.

From the rape and medical experimentation performed on enslaved Black women by white “doctors” such as the father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, who without anesthesia performed ghastly experiments to the recent discovery of forceful eugenic sterilization of Black girls and women in North Carolina are all illustrations that lend explanation to the current lack of light shined upon said the current injustice.

Looking back now, I even wonder why I wrote this piece. I am conscious enough to know I made no major blow to foil this dastardly deed of exploitation. What did I do? Maybe I simply informed those who have no information. All I can really hope for is that maybe, just maybe the next time you hear someone call themselves a “pimp” and someone a “ho” in a passing exaltation, you will awaken from reverie to a state of revulsion and outrage.

~ Terence Fitzgerald, PhD, Ed.M, MSW, is Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California (San Diego Academic Center).

Systemic Racism Video: Infant Mortality

In the last video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains infant mortality in this short (1:01) video:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that even though America’s infant mortality rate has gone way down in the last 50 years, Black babies are still almost 2.5 times more likely to die before reaching their 1st birthday? Did you know that Black mothers are 3 three times as likely to die during childbirth, that Black and Hispanic mothers are more than twice as likely not to receive proper prenatal care and Native American mothers are more than 3 times less likely to receive proper care?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several  sources for this short video. There is also a longer, and very good, video on the connection between systemic racism and infant mortality called, “When the Bough Breaks.”   Compared to the other areas covered in the series, the link between infant mortality and systemic racism is a more recent area of research – the last twenty years or so – but there is a growing literature here. If you’d like to dive deeper on this topic, see the titles listed below.

  • Collins Jr, James W., Richard J. David, Arden Handler, Stephen Wall, and Steven Andes. “Very low birthweight in African American infants: the role of maternal exposure to interpersonal racial discrimination.” American journal of public health 94, no. 12 (2004): 2132-2138. Abstract: Objectives. We determined whether African American women’s lifetime exposure to interpersonal racial discrimination is associated with pregnancy outcomes. Methods. We performed a case–control study among 104 African American women who delivered very low birthweight (<1500 g) preterm (<37 weeks) infants and 208 African American women who delivered non–low-birthweight (>2500g) term infants in Chicago, Ill. Results. The unadjusted and adjusted odds ratio of very low birthweight infants for maternal lifetime exposure to interpersonal racism in 3 or more domains equaled 3.2 (95% confidence intervals=1.5, 6.6) and 2.6 (1.2, 5.3), respectively. This association tended to persist across maternal sociodemographic, biomedical, and behavioral characteristics. Conclusions. The lifelong accumulated experiences of racial discrimination by African American women constitute an independent risk factor for preterm delivery. (OA)
  • David, Richard J., and James W. Collins Jr. “Bad outcomes in black babies: race or racism?.” Ethnicity & disease 1, no. 3 (1990): 236-244. Abstract: The gap between black and white infant death rates in the United States has grown over the last three decades. Epidemiologic and medical studies by investigators seeking to understand and reverse this adverse trend have been unsuccessful. Researchers have looked in vain for the combination of social and environmental risk factors that are more common among blacks and would therefore explain this group’s poor reproductive outcomes. The implicit alternate hypothesis is genetic differences between blacks and whites. In fact, there is more of a gap between black and white mothers of higher socioeconomic position than between overall black and white rates without socioeconomic stratification. An alternative to the genetic theory explains these results, however, on the basis of social risk factors that, because of the presence of widespread discrimination in the society under study, apply only to blacks. Such factors are the effects of racism, not race per se. Several lines of research are needed to investigate the effects of racism on perinatal outcomes, including studies on psychophysiological reactions to racial discrimination and on ethnic group differences in coping mechanisms, social supports, and physical environment. Analysis of trends over the past 37 years indicates that improvements in white (and total US) infant mortality rates cannot be anticipated until the racial gap is closed. (locked) 
  • Dominguez, Tyan Parker. “Race, racism, and racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes.” Clinical obstetrics and gynecology 51, no. 2 (2008): 360-370. Abstract: While the biologic authenticity of race remains a contentious issue, the social significance of race is indisputable. The chronic stress of racism and the social inequality it engenders may be underlying social determinants of persistent racial disparities in health, including infant mortality, preterm delivery, and low birth weight. This article describes the problem of racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes; outlines the multidimensional nature of racism and the pathways by which it may adversely affect health; and discusses the implications for clinical practice. (OA) 
  • Giscombé, Cheryl L., and Marci Lobel. “Explaining disproportionately high rates of adverse birth outcomes among African Americans: the impact of stress, racism, and related factors in pregnancy.” Psychological bulletin 131, no. 5 (2005): 662. Abstract: Compared with European Americans, African American infants experience disproportionately high rates of low birth weight and preterm delivery and are more than twice as likely to die during their 1st year of life. The authors examine 5 explanations for these differences in rates of adverse birth outcomes: (a) ethnic differences in health behaviors and socioeconomic status; (b) higher levels of stress in African American women; (c) greater susceptibility to stress in African Americans; (d) the impact of racism acting either as a contributor to stress or as a factor that exacerbates stress effects; and (e) ethnic differences in stress-related neuroendocrine, vascular, and immunological processes. The review of literature indicates that each explanation has some merit, although none is sufficient to explain ethnic disparities in adverse birth outcomes. There is a lack of studies examining the impact of such factors jointly and interactively. Recommendations and cautions for future research are offered. (OA)
Roberts, Killing the Black Body -  book cover

Roberts, Killing the Black Body (1997)

  • Roberts, Dorothy E. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Pantheon Book (1997). Abstract:Roberts gives a powerful and authoritative account of the on-going assault – both figurative and literal – waged by the American government and our society on the reproductive rights of Black women. While not entirely focused on infant mortality, it offers invaluable context for this persistent health disparity. (locked)
  • Williams, David R. “Race, socioeconomic status, and health the added effects of racism and discrimination.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences896, no. 1 (1999): 173-188. Abstract: Higher disease rates for blacks (or African Americans) compared to whites are pervasive and persistent over time, with the racial gap in mortality widening in recent years for multiple causes of death. Other racial/ethnic minority populations also have elevated disease risk for some health conditions. This paper considers the complex ways in which race and socioeconomic status (SES) combine to affect health. SES accounts for much of the observed racial disparities in health. Nonetheless, racial differences often persist even at “equivalent” levels of SES. Racism is an added burden for nondominant populations. Individual and institutional discrimination, along with the stigma of inferiority, can adversely affect health by restricting socioeconomic opportunities and mobility. Racism can also directly affect health in multiple ways. Residence in poor neighborhoods, racial bias in medical care, the stress of experiences of discrimination and the acceptance of the societal stigma of inferiority can have deleterious consequences for health. (OA) 

That’s the end of the video series on systemic racism.

Systemic Racism Video: Immigration Policy

In the next installment in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains immigration policy in this short (1:00) video:

The text of the video reads:

Have you ever wondered why, even though undocumented people come to the US  from all over the world, the face of undocumented persons is always assumed to be from Central America or South America? And our heavy-handed enforcement policies, that ruin lives and tear families apart every day, are focused almost entirely on the Southern US border, and the Hispanic people of color who cross that border?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources for the video. There is also an extensive body of research about the way that systemic racism shapes immigration policy.

  • Golash-Boza, Tanya, and Douglas A. Parker. “Human Rights in a Globalizing World: Who Pays the Human Cost of Migration? 1.” The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies 2, no. 4 (2007): 34-46.  Abstract: This paper examines the relationship between globalization and immigration, and makes the case that current foreign policies and immigration regulations in the United States and France result in the violation of the human rights of migrants. In the United States, the House and Senate proposals presented in 2005 and 2006 to stem the tide of immigrants and thereby fix the immigration “problem” either criminalize undocumented workers or transform them into temporary workers. In France, the “selected immigration” bill introduced by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and passed in 2006, makes it easier for skilled workers to enter and remain in France and harder for less skilled workers to do so. These proposals and bills fail to see immigrants as human beings with dignity and fundamental rights to a livelihood, a family, and a community, and fail to take into account the receiving countries. complicity in producing emigration. Designed to maximize profits for corporations, and minimize the prices of consumer goods for customers in the Global North, these policies and regulations have a high human cost. This paper explains how temporary worker programs are designed to extract labor from immigrants while preventing them from becoming full and equal members of the communities in which they work and live, and how the criminalization of undocumented immigrants transforms migrants into second-class citizens. From a human rights perspective, all human beings should have the right to food security, to decent health care, to safe working conditions, to an education, to a family, to their cultural identity, and to fight and organize for their rights. Temporary worker programs that permit workers to come to a country only to work for low wages and no benefits, and do not permit them to bring their families, to send their children to school, and to form communities are a violation of these workers. human rights. (OA)


  • Golash‐Boza, Tanya. “The immigration industrial complex: why we enforce immigration policies destined to fail.” Sociology Compass 3, no. 2 (2009): 295-309. Abstract: This article provides a genealogy of the idea of an immigration industrial complex. The immigration industrial complex is the confluence of public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric. This concept is based on ideas developed with regard to the prison and military industrial complexes. These three complexes share three major features: (a) a rhetoric of fear; (b) the convergence of powerful interests; and (c) a discourse of other-ization. This article explores why Congress has not passed viable legislation to deal with undocumented migration, and instead has passed laws destined to fail, and has appropriated billions of dollars to the Department of Homeland Security to implement these laws. This has been exacerbated in the context of the War on Terror, now that national security has been conflated with immigration law enforcement. This is the first in a two-part series on the immigration industrial complex. (locked)
Immigration Nation - book cover

Immigration Nation (2012)

  • Golash-Boza, Tanya Maria. Immigration nation: Raids, detentions, and deportations in post-9/11 America. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2012. Abstract: This book provides a critical analysis of the impact that U.S. immigration policy has on human rights. In the wake of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security was founded to protect America from the threat of terrorist attacks. However, along with dramatic increases in immigration law enforcement ― raids, detentions, and deportations have increased six-fold in the past decade ― American citizens, families, and communities have ultimately borne the cost. Although family reunification is officially a core component of U.S. immigration policy, these same policies often tear families apart. Pundits and politicians nearly always frame this debate in terms of security and economic needs, but here, Tanya Maria Golash-Boza addresses the debate with the human rights of migrants and their families at the center of her analyses. (locked) 


  • Provine, Doris Marie, and Roxanne Lynn Doty. “The criminalization of immigrants as a racial project.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 27, no. 3 (2011): 261-277. Abstract: Contemporary policy responses to unauthorized immigration, we argue, reinforce racialized anxieties by (a) focusing attention on physically distinctive and economically marginalized minorities who are defined as the nation’s immigration“threat,” (b) creating new spaces of enforcement within which racial anxieties flourish and become institutionalized; and thereby (c) racializing immigrant bodies. We examine three federal enforcement policies: (a) the physical border buildup that began in the 1990s, (b) partnerships with local police, and (c) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiatives to enhance interior enforcement. The result has been the construction of a landscape of institutionalized racial violence embedded in our current immigration regime. (locked)
March to Close the Tacoma Detention Center (2009)

March to Close the Tacoma Detention Center (2009)

  • Provine, Doris Marie. “Institutional Racism in Enforcing Immigration Law.” Norteamérica, Revista Académica del CISAN-UNAM 8 (2013). Abstract: The United States is committed to aggressive efforts to remove unauthorized immigrants while honoring its commitment to race neutrality. Yet immigration enforcement has disproportionately targeted Mexicans and Central Americans. The racial bias can be found at both the federal and local levels, where local police are becoming increasingly involved in locating unauthorized immigrants. The local example featured here is Arizona because of its historical relationship with Mexico and its enthusiasm for immigration enforcement. I find that the current mix of federal and local enforcement discriminates racially through profiling, hyper-surveillance, abusive stops, problematic searches, and unwarranted detention. (OA)


  • Silverstein, Paul A. “Immigrant racialization and the new savage slot: race, migration, and immigration in the new Europe.” Annual. Review of Anthropology 34 (2005): 363-384. Abstract: This review explores contemporary processes through which immigrants are categorized into shifting racial landscapes in the new Europe. Tracing the racial genealogy of the immigrant through European and Europeanist migration studies, the successive construction of overlapping tropes of the nomad, the laborer, the uprooted victim, the hybrid cosmopolite, and the (Muslim) transmigrant are examined. This history points to the perduring problematization of the immigrant as the object of national integration. If migration studies have effectively tended to racialize migrants into a new savage slot, recent ethnographies of the immigrant experience in Europe point to ways in which immigrant and diasporic groups cross racial frontiers and enact solidarity across class and cultural lines. (OA)


Next, and last, in this series: infant mortality.

Systemic Racism Video: Drug Arrests

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains drug arrests in this short (:52) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that over 40% of drug arrests are not for selling any drugs but just for possession of marijuana? And that White and Black Americans are about equally likely to use marijuana, but Blacks are 3.7 more likely to be arrested for it? And that even if they don’t get convicted of a crime that arrest can stay on their record and affect their chances at good jobs, housing and bank loans for the rest of their lives?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources (a New York Times story and this website). In addition, there’s a vast array of resources at The New York Times on this subject, particularly around racial disparity in marijuana arrests, all driving home the point that although white and black people use marijuana at comparable rates, it’s black folks who end up arrested for simple possession, as illustrated in this graphic:

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests, map and bar graph

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests, Image source: NYTimes Data source: ACLU

There’s also a huge amount of academic research behind this, if you want to dig a little deeper.

  • Beckett, Katherine, Kris Nyrop, and Lori Pfingst. “Race, Drugs, And Policing: Understanding Disparities In Drug Delivery Arrests*.” Criminology 44, no. 1 (2006): 105-137. Abstract:This article draws on several unique data sources to assess and explain racial disparity in Seattle’s drug delivery arrests. Evidence regarding the racial and ethnic composition of those who deliver any of five serious drugs in that city is compared with the racial and ethnic composition of those arrested for this offense. Our findings indicate that blacks are significantly overrepresented among Seattle’s drug delivery arrestees. Several organizational practices explain racial disparity in these arrests: law enforcement’s focus on crack offenders, the priority placed on outdoor drug venues, and the geographic concentration of police resources in racially heterogeneous areas. The available evidence further indicates that these practices are not determined by race-neutral factors such as crime rates or community complaints. Our findings thus indicate that race shapes perceptions of who and what constitutes Seattle’s drug problem, as well as the organizational response to that problem.  (locked)
  • Donohue III, John J., and Steven D. Levitt. “The Impact of Race on Policing and Arrests*Journal of Law and Economics 44, no. 2 (2001): 367-394. Abstract: Race has long been recognized as playing a critical role in policing. In spite of this awareness, there has been little previous research that attempt to quantitatively analyze the impact of officer race on tangible outcomes. In this paper, we examine the relationship between the racial composition of a city’s police force and the racial patterns of arrests. Increases in the number of minority police are associated with significant increases in arrests of whites but have little impact on arrests of nonwhites. Similarly, more white police increase the number of arrests of nonwhites but do not systematically affect the number of white arrests. These patterns are particularly striking for minor offenses. Understanding the reasons for this empirical regularity and the consequent impact on crime is an important subject for future research.  (locked)
  • Levine, Harry G., and Deborah Peterson Small. Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007. New York Civil Liberties Union, 2008. Abstract: From 1997 to 2006, the New York City Police Department arrested and jailed more than 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This was eleven times more marijuana arrests than in the previous decade, and ten times more than in the decade before that. (OA)

  • Levine, Harry Gene, Jon B. Gettman, and Loren Siegel. Targeting Blacks for Marijuana: Possession Arrests of African Americans in California, 2004-08. Drug Policy Alliance, 2010. Abstract: The study found that in every one of the 25 largest California counties, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at double, triple, or even quadruple the rate of Whites; however, U.S. Government studies have consistently found that young Blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young Whites. These racially biased arrests are system-wide, occurring in every county and nearly every police jurisdiction in California. This suggests that the pattern of over-representation of Blacks in arrests for marijuana possession is not due to the bias of individual officers, but rather to a general policy of resource allocation among law enforcement agencies. These marijuana possession arrests have serious consequences. They create permanent “drug arrest” records that can be easily found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards, and banks. The stigma of a criminal record for marijuana possession can create barriers to employment and education for anyone; however, criminal records for marijuana possession severely limit the chances for employment and related economic advancement among the poor and the young, particularly young Blacks and Latinos. (locked)


  • Levine, Harry G., Jon B. Gettman, Craig Reinarman, and Deborah Peterson Small. “Drug Arrests and DNA: building Jim Crow’s Database.” GeneWatch (2008). Abstract: DNA databases are increasingly including samples from people with misdemeanor offenses. Expanding the use of DNA databases to include more drug offenses, particularly the large number of drug possession misdemeanors, will add ever greater numbers of Blacks and Latinos to these databases. (OA)


  • Parker, Karen F., and Scott R. Maggard. “Structural theories and race-specific drug arrests: What structural factors account for the rise in race-specific drug arrests over time?.” Crime & Delinquency 51, no. 4 (2005): 521-547. Abstract: Studies examining the structural correlates of urban crime have generated a large body of research; however, few studies have linked the structural conditions to race-specific drug arrests. In this study, the authors examine the impact of urban disadvantage, social disorganization, and racial threat indicators on the rise in race-specific drug arrests from 1980 to 1990. They find these theoretical perspectives contribute to an understanding of the change in race-specific drug arrests. Findings indicate that shifts in the urban economy significantly affected Black drug arrests, while having no effect on the change in White drug arrests. In addition, the shift away from manufacturing jobs significantly affected Black arrests for drug possession. Consistent with the theory, social disorganization measures proved equally significant for Whites and Blacks, whereas mixed support was found for racial threat arguments. The importance of a theoretically grounded exploration into the rise in racial disparities in drug arrests is highlighted.(OA)

Next up, immigration policy.

Systemic Racism Video: Incarceration

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains incarceration in this short (1:01) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that back in the 80s there were less than half a million people in the US prison system, but now, thanks to the war on drugs, there are more than 2 million? That out of every 100,000 Americans about 700 are incarcerated, but out of every 100,000 Black men over 4,000 are incarcerated? And one of the many effects of that trend is that combined with felony disenfranchisement laws, it means 13% of Black American men are denied their right to vote?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources including one from The Atlantic, which features this graph:

Incarceration rate, bar graph

Incarceration Rate, per 100,000 Data source: International Center for Prison Studies (2010). Image source: The Atlantic (2014).

This topic, like the others covered in the series, is a well-researched aspect of systemic racism in the U.S. The conversation-changer recently has been Alexander’s book, but the analysis of the prison-industrial complex predates her work, there is some critique of her work (e.g., Forman). If you’d like to read some of the scholarship about this topic, you should see these:

  • Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press (2011). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.” (locked)
The New Jim Crow, book cover

The New Jim Crow

  • Davis, Angela. The Prison-Industrial Complex. New York: The New Press (2000). Abstract: Over the last generation, the U.S. prison systems have grown at a rate unparalleled in history, creating what many call a Prison Industrial Complex. Angela Davis explains what happens to our legal system when we lock up more people for longer sentences, which industries are a part of the Prison Industrial Complex, and how to stop or slow prison growth.  (locked)
  • Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.  (2003). Abstract: In this book, Davis puts forward the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable. In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (OA)
  • Forman Jr, James. “Racial critiques of mass incarceration: Beyond the new Jim Crow.” NYUL Rev. 87 (2012): 21. (OA)
  • Glasser, Ira. “American Drug Laws: The New Jim Crow.” Alb. L. Rev. 63 (1999): 703. No abstract available. (locked)
  • López, Ian F. Haney. “Post-racial racism: Racial stratification and mass incarceration in the age of Obama.” California Law Review (2010): 1023-1074. No abstract available.  (OA)

Next up, drug arrests.


Systemic Racism Video: Government Surveillance

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains government surveillance in this short (1:12) clip:

The text of the video reads:

You probably know that today’s technology lets the government watch what we do and track where we go more than ever before, so much that privacy’s almost a thing of the past. But did you know the government watches some of us a lot more than others depending on where we come from? That as recently as 2011 the NYPD was exposed for targeting their surveillance specifically at what they called “ancestries of  interest” (Indian, Banglasdesh, Pakistani, Guyanese, Egyptian, Lebanese). Using our tax dollars to spy on these people’s everyday lives just going to the barbershop and the bookstore, and singling them out for this constant invasion of privacy based on nothing but where their ancestors were born?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list two journalism sources (this and this) for government surveillance as a domain of systemic racism, but it’s a vast subject that goes back decades and centuries in the history of systemic racism in the U.S. If you’d like to read some of the scholarship about this topic, you should see these:

  • Browne, Simone. “Digital epidermalization: race, identity and biometrics.” Critical Sociology 36, no. 1 (2010): 131-150. Abstract: This article considers the ways in which what Paul Gilroy terms ‘epidermal thinking’ operates in the discourses surrounding certain surveillance practices and their applications, with a focus on identification documents and biometric technologies in particular. My aim is not to re-ontologize race, but instead to outline the notion of digital epidermalization, stemming from Frantz Fanon’s concept of epidermalization, as it allows for thinking through race, ontological insecurity and the ways in which the body materializes with and against biometric technologies. I examine key research in surveillance studies, governmental policy documents concerning biometric enabled identification documents and the 2003 ‘deportation’ to India of a Canadian citizen through the issuance of an expedited removal order by the US Immigration and Naturalization Services. By interrogating how digital epidermalization gains meaning and is put into practice, this article seeks to posit a space for refusals of such epidermal thinking through a critical biometric consciousness. (locked)
  • Ellis, Mark. Race, war, and surveillance: African Americans and the United States government during World War I. Indiana University Press, 2001. Abstract:  In April 1917, black Americans reacted in various ways to the entry of the United States into World War I in the name of “Democracy.” Some expressed loud support, many were indifferent, and others voiced outright opposition. All were agreed, however, that the best place to start guaranteeing freedom was at home. Almost immediately, rumors spread across the nation that German agents were engaged in “Negro Subversion” and that African Americans were potentially disloyal. Despite mounting a constant watch on black civilians, their newspapers, and their organizations, the domestic intelligence agents of the federal government failed to detect any black traitors or saboteurs. They did, however, find vigorous demands for equal rights to be granted and for the 30-year epidemic of lynching in the South to be eradicated. In Race, War, and Surveillance, Mark Ellis examines the interaction between the deep-seated fears of many white Americans about a possible race war and their profound ignorance about the black population. The result was a “black scare” that lasted well beyond the war years.

  • Nelkin, Dorothy, and Lori Andrews. “DNA identification and surveillance creep.” Sociology of Health & Illness 21, no. 5 (1999): 689-706. Abstract: The use of DNA fingerprinting as a means of identification is expanding. The technology appeals to military, law enforcement, and other government authorities: those seeking evidence to establish the identity of a dead body, a missing person, a relative, or the perpetrator of a crime. The increased use of DNA identification and the development of DNA banking systems have intensified concerns about surveillance and privacy. More than just a source of identification, DNA databanks are also subject to abuse for political or economic ends. This article describes the expansion of mandatory genetic testing focusing on disputes that have occured when those required to provide DNA samples raise concerns about psychological harm and discrimination based on the information revealed by their DNA. We use these disputes to analyse the problems of ‘surveillance creep’ as growing numbers of people have their DNA on file. (OA)
  • Parenti, Christian. The soft cage: Surveillance in America from slavery to the war on terror. Basic Books, 2004. Abstract: On a typical day, you might make a call on a cell phone, withdraw money at an ATM, visit the mall, and make a purchase with a credit card. Each of these routine transactions leaves a digital trail for government agencies and businesses to access. As cutting-edge historian and journalist Christian Parenti points out, these everyday intrusions on privacy, while harmless in themselves, are part of a relentless (and clandestine) expansion of routine surveillance in American life over the last two centuries-from controlling slaves in the old South to implementing early criminal justice and tracking immigrants. Parenti explores the role computers are playing in creating a whole new world of seemingly benign technologies-such as credit cards, website ‘cookies,’ and electronic toll collection-that have expanded this trend in the twenty-first century. ‘The Soft Cage’ offers a compelling, vitally important history lesson for every American concerned about the expansion of surveillance into our public and private lives.  (locked)

  • Wu, Frank H. “Profiling in the Wake of September 11: The Precedent of the Japanese American Internment.” Crim. Just. 17 (2002): 52. Abstract: The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is the obvious precedent for the treatment of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (locked)

  • Zaal, Mayida, Tahani Salah, and Michelle Fine. “The weight of the hyphen: Freedom, fusion and responsibility embodied by young Muslim-American women during a time of surveillance.” Applied Development Science 11, no. 3 (2007): 164-177. Abstract: This article reports on a qualitative investigation of 15 young Muslim-American women living in New York City, after 9/11 and in the midst of the Patriot Act. Participants completed surveys about identity, discrimination, and coping; drew “identity maps” to represent their multiple identities and alliances; and participated in focus groups on several college campuses in the New York metropolitan area. Focus groups were conducted to investigate collectively their sense of hyphenated identities, their experiences of surveillance and their responses to scrutiny in families, communities, on the streets and in the political public sphere. Implications for the theoretical and empirical study of immigrant youth “under siege” are developed, with a particular focus on the burdens and responsibilities embodied by daughters of the second generation of Muslim-Americans. (locked)

Next up, incarceration.

Systemic Racism Video: Housing Discrimination

In the next video in the systemic racism series, Jay Smooth explains housing discrimination in this short (:56) clip:

The text of the video reads:

What would you call it if lifetimes of legal segregation followed by decades of pervasive racist housing policies still, to this day, disadvantage Black people in almost every aspect of life, because where you live can decide everything from how safe you are, to what food you eat, to the quality of your health care to the quality of your job, to the quality of your children’s education?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list two sources for this aspect of systemic racism: the powerful Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “The House We Live In” (Episode 3) of the documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, both are excellent.

If you’d like to read and learn more about housing discrimination and systemic racism in the scholarly literature, see:

  • Bullard, Robert Doyle. Dumping in Dixie: Race, class, and environmental quality. Vol. 3. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000. Abstract: To be poor, working-class, or a person of color in the United States often means bearing a disproportionate share of the country’s environmental problems. Starting with the premise that all Americans have a basic right to live in a healthy environment, Dumping in Dixie chronicles the efforts of five African American communities, empowered by the civil rights movement, to link environmentalism with issues of social justice. In the third edition, Bullard speaks to us from the front lines of the environmental justice movement about new developments in environmental racism, different organizing strategies, and success stories in the struggle for environmental equity.(parts OA)

  • Howell, Benjamin. “Exploiting race and space: Concentrated subprime lending as housing discrimination.” California Law Review (2006): 101-147. Abstract:  At an inner-city intersection, where globalized capital and free-market finance meet America’s shameful history of racial segregation and subordination, a new and insidious form of racial discrimination lurks. Where lending discrimination once took a binary form – bigoted loan officers rejecting loan applicants because of their skin color – the new model of discrimination is exploitation. Unscrupulous lenders now prey on a history of racial redlining by aggressively marketing overpriced loan products with onerous terms in the same neighborhoods where mainstream lenders once refused to lend. Subprime lending, the extension of loans to those with less-than-perfect credit at higher rates, has developed almost overnight into a multibillion dollar industry. (OA)
  • Massey, Douglas S. and Denton, Nancy.  American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard University Press, 1998. Abstract: This powerful and disturbing book clearly links persistent poverty among blacks in the United States to the unparalleled degree of deliberate segregation they experience in American cities. American Apartheid shows how the black ghetto was created by whites during the first half of the twentieth century in order to isolate growing urban black populations. It goes on to show that, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation is perpetuated today through an interlocking set of individual actions, institutional practices, and governmental policies. In some urban areas the degree of black segregation is so intense and occurs in so many dimensions simultaneously that it amounts to “hypersegregation.” (locked)

  • Sharkey, Patrick. Stuck in place: Urban neighborhoods and the end of progress toward racial equality. University of Chicago Press, 2013. Abstract: In the 1960s, many believed that the civil rights movement’s successes would foster a new era of racial equality in America. Four decades later, the degree of racial inequality has barely changed. To understand what went wrong, Patrick Sharkey argues that we have to understand what has happened to African American communities over the last several decades. In Stuck in Place, Sharkey describes how political decisions and social policies have led to severe disinvestment from black neighborhoods, persistent segregation, declining economic opportunities, and a growing link between African American communities and the criminal justice system. As a result, neighborhood inequality that existed in the 1970s has been passed down to the current generation of African Americans. Some of the most persistent forms of racial inequality, such as gaps in income and test scores, can only be explained by considering the neighborhoods in which black and white families have lived over multiple generations. This multigenerational nature of neighborhood inequality also means that a new kind of urban policy is necessary for our nation’s cities. Sharkey argues for urban policies that have the potential to create transformative and sustained changes in urban communities and the families that live within them, and he outlines a durable urban policy agenda to move in that direction. (locked) 



  • Williams, David R., and Chiquita Collins. “Racial residential segregation: a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health.” Public Health Reports 116, no. 5 (2001): 404-16. Abstract: Racial residential segregation is a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health. The physical separation of the races by enforced residence in certain areas is an institutional mechanism of racism that was designed to protect whites from social interaction with blacks. Despite the absence of supportive legal statutes, the degree of residential segregation remains extremely high for most African Americans in the United States. The authors review evidence that suggests that segregation is a primary cause of racial differences in socioeconomic status (SES) by determining access to education and employment opportunities. SES in turn remains a fundamental cause of racial differences in health. Segregation also creates conditions inimical to health in the social and physical environment. The authors conclude that effective efforts to eliminate racial disparities in health must seriously confront segregation and its pervasive consequences. (OA)

Next up in the series, government surveillance.

Systemic Racism Video: Employment

In the next video in the series, Jay Smooth explains the part of systemic racism known as ‘the wealth gap’ in this short (1:00) video:

The text for the video is:

Did you know that no matter what else is going on in America, year in and year out for the last 60 years, Black unemployment is always about twice as high as white unemployment? And even if you just look at Black college graduates, they’re still almost twice as likely to be unemployed as white college graduates? And if you just apply for a job with a white sounding name, you’re 50% more likely to get a callback than with a Black sounding name?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list several sources for the facts in the video, including a Pew Research Center report from 2013 that charts the consistent pattern of high unemployment rates for African Americans.

Unemployment Rates by Race, 1953-2013

Unemployment Rates by Race, 1953-2013 Source: Pew Research Center

If you’d like to read and learn more about employment discrimination and systemic racism in the scholarly literature see:

  • Bertrand, Marianne, and Sendhil Mullainathan. Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. No. w9873. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003. Abstract: We perform a field experiment to measure racial discrimination in the labor market. We respond with fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. To manipulate perception of race, each resume is assigned either a very African American sounding name or a very White sounding name. The results show significant discrimination against African-American names: White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. We also find that race affects the benefits of a better resume. For White names, a higher quality resume elicits 30 percent more callbacks whereas for African Americans, it elicits a far smaller increase. Applicants living in better neighborhoods receive more callbacks but, interestingly, this effect does not differ by race. The amount of discrimination is uniform across occupations and industries. Federal contractors and employers who list Equal Opportunity Employer’ in their ad discriminate as much as other employers. We find little evidence that our results are driven by employers inferring something other than race, such as social class, from the names. These results suggest that racial discrimination is still a prominent feature of the labor market. (OA)
  • Deitch, Elizabeth A., Adam Barsky, Rebecca M. Butz, Suzanne Chan, Arthur P. Brief, and Jill C. Bradley. “Subtle yet significant: The existence and impact of everyday racial discrimination in the workplace.” Human Relations 56, no. 11 (2003): 1299-1324. Abstract:In this article, we argue that research concerning workplace discrimination could be advanced by considering ‘everyday discrimination,’ that is, the subtle, pervasive discriminatory acts experienced by members of stigmatized groups on a daily basis. Three studies are reported which use secondary data analysis techniques to provide evidence for the existence of everyday workplace discrimination against Blacks. In addition to demonstrating the occurrence of such discrimination, evidence is presented which indicates that the experience of everyday discrimination is negatively associated with various indicators of well-being. The implications of these findings for organizations and for discrimination researchers are discussed. (locked)
  • Pager, Devah. Marked: Race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. University of Chicago Press, 2008. Abstract: The product of an innovative field experiment, Marked gives us our first real glimpse into the tremendous difficulties facing ex-offenders in the job market. Devah Pager matched up pairs of young men, randomly assigned them criminal records, then sent them on hundreds of real job searches throughout the city of Milwaukee. Her applicants were attractive, articulate, and capable—yet ex-offenders received less than half the callbacks of the equally qualified applicants without criminal backgrounds. Young black men, meanwhile, paid a particularly high price: those with clean records fared no better in their job searches than white men just out of prison. Such shocking barriers to legitimate work, Pager contends, are an important reason that many ex-prisoners soon find themselves back in the realm of poverty, underground employment, and crime that led them to prison in the first place. (OA)

  • Pager, Devah, and Lincoln Quillian. “Walking the talk? What employers say versus what they do.American Sociological Review 70, no. 3 (2005): 355-380. Abstract:This article considers the relationship between employers’ attitudes toward hiring exoffenders and their actual hiring behavior. Using data from an experimental audit study of entry-level jobs matched with a telephone survey of the same employers, the authors compare employers’ willingness to hire black and white ex-offenders, as represented both by their self-reports and by their decisions in actual hiring situations. Employers who indicated a greater likelihood of hiring ex-offenders in the survey were no more likely to hire an ex-offender in practice. Furthermore, although the survey results indicated no difference in the likelihood of hiring black versus white ex-offenders, audit results show large differences by race. These comparisons suggest that employer surveys-even those using an experimental design to control for social desirability bias-may be insufficient for drawing conclusions about the actual level of hiring discrimination against stigmatized groups. (OA)
  • Pager, Devah, Bruce Western, and Bart Bonikowski. “Discrimination in a low-wage labor market a field experiment.” American Sociological Review 74, no. 5 (2009): 777-799. Abstract: Decades of racial progress have led some researchers and policymakers to doubt that discrimination remains an important cause of economic inequality. To study contemporary discrimination, we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City, recruiting white, black, and Latino job applicants who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. These applicants were given equivalent résumés and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison. Additional qualitative evidence from our applicants’ experiences further illustrates the multiple points at which employment trajectories can be deflected by various forms of racial bias. These results point to the subtle yet systematic forms of discrimination that continue to shape employment opportunities for low-wage workers. (OA)

Next up, housing discrimination.