Is the US a racial democracy?

Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver have a piece up on The Stone–very well worth a full read– arguing that the United States is a racial democracy, i.e., a democracy “that unfairly applies the laws governing the removal of liberty primarily to citizens of one race, thereby singling out its members as especially unworthy of liberty, the coin of human dignity.” Here, I except:

As one of us has helped document in a forthcoming book, punishment and surveillance by itself causes people to withdraw from political participation — acts of engagement like voting or political activism. In fact, the effect on political participation of having been in jail or prison dwarfs other known factors affecting political participation, such as the impact of having a college-educated parent, being in the military or being in poverty . . .

Evidence suggests that minorities experience contact with the police at rates that far outstrip their share of crime. One study found that the probability that a black male 18 or 19 years of age will be stopped by police in New York City at least once during 2006 is 92 percent. The probability for a Latino male of the same age group is 50 percent. For a young white man, it is 20 percent. In 90 percent of the stops of young minorities in 2011, there wasn’t evidence ofwrongdoing, and no arrest or citation occurred. In over half of the stops of minorities, the reason given for the stop was that the person made “furtive movements.” In 60 percent of the stops, an additional reason listed for the stop was that the person was in a “high crime area.”

Blacks are not necessarily having these encounters at greater rates than their white counterparts because they are more criminal. National surveys show that, with the exception of crack cocaine, blacks consistently report using drugs at lower levels than whites. Some studies also suggest that blacks are engaged in drug trafficking at lower levels. Yet once we account for their share of the population, blacks are 10 times as likely to spend time in prison for offenses related to drugs.

The full article is here. 

6 thoughts on “Is the US a racial democracy?

  1. sadly, calling a powerful entity in our world full of power corruption by its true description is strongly discouraged, especially in super-power enclaves such as ours.

    by now we know that such candid transparency can even get one ruthlessly ‘blacklisted’.

    the popular, dishonest myths of glory and ‘righteousness’ still clog up the mainstream media and block out the spaces that could/should be open to such discussion as this one,

    so thanks for speaking up and calling the ‘baby’ by its realistic name.

  2. “punishment and surveillance by itself causes people to withdraw from political participation” makes it sound like this is some voluntary withdrawal. In the case of voting that’s often not the case. Most US states disenfranchise convicted felons, some states even after the prison sentence has been fully served.

    I examined this and the effects on minorities and politics as a whole in my MA dissertation: Especially in close election races in the US, disenfranchisement has probably decided the outcome (such as in the Presidential election in Florida in 2000).

  3. Hey Andreas, thanks for the link! Did you read the full article? They do talk about both aspects–disenfranchisement and the avoidance of interactions with the government that results from surveillance. I highlighted the second because I’ve not seen it noted before in public discourse surrounding race and democracy.

  4. Dr. Tommy Shelby and John Drabinski answered this article with their own essay discussing the irony of excluding all black political and philosophical thought on this issue:

    (Jason Stanley replies in the comments. . . )

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