Tag Archives: What Would You Do?

Race, Clothes, and Perceptions of Criminality

By Anonymous, originally posted at Sociological Images

Note from Lisa, editor of Sociological Images: We are pleased to featured a Guest Post from a blogger at Sociological Confessions. Our anonymous blogger is a Sociology professor who teaches courses on race relations and does public sociology work on racial disparities in criminal justice. In this post, she poses a question based on an interaction with students who questioned her interpretation of an incident as racial.

After presenting lots of statistics about racial disparities in criminal justice, I showed my class the videos from ABC News What Would You Do? in which first White and than Black youths vandalize a car in a public parking lot. [See the videos at ABC: Part I and Part II.]

There is only one 911 call on the White boys, but ten on the Black boys. Plus, while the White boys are vandalizing, someone calls 911 to report people who are suspected of planning a robbery — Black kids asleep in a nearby car! Well, most of the class, as expected, saw this the way I did, as evidence of a racial problem. I was trying to emphasize that not arresting Whites when they commit crimes is just as important in racial disparities as arresting Blacks. Some students pointed out (correctly) that it was a demonstration, not a controlled experiment and wondered (fairly) whether the producers selected cases for their strong differences. But a few very vocally insisted that the difference was not about race at all, but that the Black kids were wearing “gang clothing.” They got somewhat offended when I said, “yeah, Black styles” and then cut off that line of argument, saying “OK we disagree on that, but I don’t want to spend the rest of the class arguing about clothing.”

Today I went back to the video and took screen shots of the kids. They are all wearing hooded sweatshirts and jeans, as I said. (One student had insisted that the White kids wore tucked in shirts! Not so.)

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