Historically, people of colour have often been automatically attributed to certain tendencies and behavioural traits, solely based on their ethnicity. This idea of racialization, clumping alike groups of individuals based on race or culture and branding them with certain stereotypes, started as early as the 19th century with the idea of orientalism. Orientalism is a way of viewing different races, specifically the Arab peoples in the East, as backwards and needing to be saved by white people in the West, orientalism defines women in the East as promiscuous and exotic, and men as untrustworthy and violent (Said, “Orientalism”). This theory and perception of certain races being violent criminals is still present in today’s justice system. Blacks are automatically seen as having criminal behaviours and those of colour are over policed and imprisoned based on racist historical roots that are socially constructed due to biases and single story perspectives which are believed to be true by many, but with education and understanding, minority races may be provided with a safer and less discriminatory space.
Using violence as a lens is the way in which people, often whites, look at blacks and people of colour. Violence has become the way in which these bodies are viewed and in turn results in marginalization and imprisonment. According to Angela Davis, 70% of those locked up in prison in America are of colour, due to the racialized assumptions of criminality. Often individuals, sometimes even myself included, will look at someone of colour and automatically associate them with stereotypes of being violent and making poor life decisions, when in fact that is not always the case. This idea of viewing races with a ‘single sided’ stereotypical story stems from history and is further instilled in us through media and selective news covering, often we are bias to or unaware of the entirety of a story and must realize that all races and ethnicities are diverse, with different sides to their story. As Chimamanda Adichie points out, whites only see a single sided story of people of colour and the same goes for blacks when they think about the West, the media and ways in which we are educated as children enforces certain beliefs and stereotypes that are based on one’s race, and these stereotypes are often not the complete story. This one sided-narrative in turn results in problematic and long-lasting issues for marginalized communities, especially surrounding people of colour and the law.
Blacks are systematically targeted as criminals, society segregates these individuals based on their race and creates structured racism within communities. This pattern of negative connotation and treatment to a group of people based on their race is known as institutional racism and is present not only within jails but also all other social institutions such as schools and banks (Chegg, “Definition of Institutional Racism”). Martese Johnson, a 20 year old black boy who was supposedly not acting in an aggressive matter, was still attacked by white police until he was bloody and abused, and was faced with such a violent conviction because of the preconceived idea of the narrative surrounding people of his ethnicity. For countless black individuals just like Martese, the justice system is composed largely of white people who hold a bias over racist practices which stem from historical beliefs and ideals. There is much debate surrounding the over-policing of blacks and many people argue that blacks are likely to be involved in violent crime, however is this belief factual or is it perhaps a racialized stereotype? According to NAACP, blacks are incarcerated at six times the rate compared to whites and this is a result of biased legislation and racialized criminalization towards not only the black community, but many other races.
Not only do blacks face prejudice within the justice system, but Islamic people also face islamophobia, Islamic men are seen as terrorist and their women need to be saved by the white saviours. Again, all foreigners or those of another race which is historically viewed as threatening to whites, is categorized based on racial stereotypes and interpretations. This automatic criminal attribution of peoples based on their skin colour results in their isolation and marginalization within society, meaning that racism is still a very real thing which is hidden within the societal beliefs of crime and the construct that certain individuals are more likely to be criminals. This oppressive factor in turn further impoverishes those individuals whose impoverishment is seen to be fixed when they are imprisoned, as they are supposedly unable to act out their black criminal tendencies (Davis, “Masked Racism”). Due to the socially constructed racism, the risk of arrest is ultimately higher for black people, which means that even though many of them are hard-working, non-violent, law abiding citizens, they are not given the same chance as the majority to escape such prejudice, discrimination and arrest.
Overall, when we are uneducated and presented with a historically told, one sided story about certain races, it is difficult to escape these stereotypes which ultimately put marginalized communities at a disadvantage. When these boundaries are broken and all sides of the story are told, both the good and the bad, we can then see people as individuals that make up a race, rather than a group of people which are all violent murderers and drug dealers. I believe education is the key to understanding people of different races, removing the ignorance surrounding the supposed violent nature of blacks and other ethnicities because stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, they are just not the complete story (Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story”).
“Masked Racism: Reflection on the Prison Industrial Complex”. Angela, Davis. N.D. Web. <http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/davisprison.html
“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest”. BBC News. 19 March 2015. Web. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31965856
“Fact Check: Do Black Americans Commit More Crime?”. Patrick, Worrall. 27 Nov. 2014. Web. <http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-black-americans-commit-crime/19439
“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet”. NAACP. 2015. Web. <http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
“Definition of Institutional Racism”. Chegg. 2015. Web. < http://www.chegg.com/homework-help/definitions/institutional-racism-49
“The Danger of a Single Story”. Chimamanda Ngozi, Adichie. Oct. 2009. Web. <http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story/transcript?language=en
“Orientalism: a Brief Definition”. Said, Edward. 1979. Web. <http://www.postcolonialweb.org/poldiscourse/pol11.html