The numbers of minorities incarcerated compared to whites allows many to concede to stereotypical views that minorities are inherently more violent than whites. The Center for Health & Justice finds that the incarceration rates for African American males is seven times higher, and Hispanics are 2.5 times higher than white males. With such definitive statistics detailing the prevalence of minorities’ incarceration numbers, a natural first assumption too many is that minorities are more violent than whites.
Deeper analysis of crime and violence displays an entirely different perspective for the higher numbers of minority incarcerations. From the justice system to prevalent views displayed on television and news broadcasts along with our preconceived ideas of other races, racial biases encourage myths and perpetuate an unfair justice system.
A study, Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime, conducted by Lincoln Quillian and Devah Pager uncovers that whites prefer to live in neighborhoods with less than 30 percent of minorities in the population — specifically blacks. Many believe crime is higher in minority neighborhoods, therefore, whites chose to live in neighborhoods less saturated with minorities. Quillian and Pager state that this perception perpetuates the lingering segregation of white and black neighborhoods. Acknowledging the correlation of higher incidents of crime where more minorities reside, the researchers offer that whites, as well as Hispanics, overestimate the amount of crime in neighborhoods with higher populations of African Americans.
When segregation between groups persists, stereotypes endure and racism thrives as whites and minorities remain at a distance from one another. The segregated neighborhoods lead to destructive ideas that are deeply entrenched in our society. Quillian and Pager explain, “To speculate beyond our results, we suspect that the distorted perceptions induced by stereotypes may be an important source of racial discrimination in many areas of life other than neighborhood selection.” Examples provided by the researchers include prejudgments of minority job qualifications, blacks being inferior to whites and need to be separate — also known as, taste discrimination — and the concept that blacks are more susceptible of committing a crime.
When the perception that minorities commit more crimes, this knowledge imbeds and pervades all aspects of American society, including our entertainment. Television is a staple in American homes, disguised as entertainment it persuades and upholds our societal views and beliefs. Alexis Tan, Yuki Fujioka, and Gerdean Tan, in the article Television Use, Stereotypes of African Americans and Opinions on Affirmative Action: An Effective Model of Policy Reasoning, analyzes how African Americans and whites are portrayed on television with African Americans viewed as poorer, less educated, unpatriotic, violent, more likely to abuse alcohol, and more likely to commit a crime.
Alexis Tan, Fujioka, and Gerdean Tan cite that the negative portrayals of African Americans on television news and entertainment programs are remembered more than positive actions associated with whites. With negative connotations already prevalent in society, television acts as a reward to those beliefs, reinvigorating minorities with crime.
The justice system is an imprint of the rest of our culture. When whites believe minorities commit more crimes and minorities are told they are more prone to violent behavior, the act of more crimes being generated by minorities becomes a correlation that Quillian and Pager discovered and is one explanation as to why more minorities are incarcerated than whites. However, actual crimes performed by minorities are not as prevalent as whites believe.
Unfortunately, society through policies and sentencing create racial disparities when incarcerating minorities. The Center for Health & Justice indicates that drug policies along with state and federal sentencing all help to put more minorities behind bars. With the overwhelming perception that minorities commit more crimes, the proof of receiving a fair trial for an African American or Hispanic is evidenced by the disparities of their incarcerations when compared to whites committing the same crime. With opinions ubiquitous, stereotypes continue to engulf our thoughts and our society.
Neighborhoods may help correct some of these false dominate beliefs. When races remain isolated and segregated, communication is stymied, and beliefs replace facts. Interaction between races is a first and crucial step to begin dispelling the myths so that we can finally recognize that we are all just one race.
Minority Populations Incarcerated at Disproportionately High Rates; Disparities Influenced by Sentencing and Drug Policies. Center for Health and Justice. November 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.centerforhealthandjustice.org/FOJ%2011-10.pdf
Tan, Alexis, Yuki Fujioka & Gerdean Tan. Television Use, Stereotypes of African Americans and Opinions on Affirmative Action: An Affective Model of Policy Reasoning. Communication Monograms 67:4. December 2000. Retrieved from: http://www.inghamchange.org/uploads/Tan_et_al.__2000.pdf
Quillian, Lincoln & Devah Pager. Black Neighbors, High Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime. AJS 107:3 University of Wisconsin-Madison. November 2001. Retrieved from: http://www.stanford.edu/group/scspi/_media/pdf/Reference%20Media/Quillian%20and%20Pager_2001_Crime%20and%20the%20Legal%20System.pdf