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White Privilege in Crime and Deviance and the Mark Those Crimes Leave on Non-White Lives

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Abstract

White privilege is a topic that has picked up quite a bit of both positive and negative attention in the past few years, many claim that it does not even exist but that is only because it can be hard to recognize. Looking at examples like the controversy around the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Rally and Black Bike Week it is clear that whites have a distinct advantage when it comes to others accepting their devious behavior and that there are clearly positive white stereotypes that many people agree on having, although they do not acknowledge or, likely, even recognize that these are examples of white privilege. In situations like traffic stops and when ex-convicts apply for jobs there are obvious disadvantages for people of color, usually in the form of negative racial profiling, but there are also more subtle advantages for white people in these situations that stem from white privilege. Although white privilege does stem from positive stereotypes of whites and negative stereotypes of non-whites that we have all been taught since youth it is not a form of individual racism, instead it is an example of structural racism because it is something that plagues society as a whole that has seeped its way into US government for generations to the extent that white privilege exists in laws and policies and is, ultimately, a part of how our nation functions.

Keywords: White Privilege, Structural Racism, Racial Profiling, Stereotypes

White Privilege in Crime and Deviance and the Mark Those Crimes Leave on Non-White Lives

White privilege is most harshly visible in the injustices of the United States criminal justice system and in the public opinions toward black crime and deviance versus white crime and deviance. There is much controversy surrounding the topic of white privilege, many people do not even believe that it exists but it does, white privilege is very real and is present in every white person’s life, whether they want it or not. There are many self-proclaimed white allies that think that if they acknowledge white privilege then they no longer have it but that is not the case, white privilege is around whether we like it or not and it will stay around until consistent change towards equality can be made and sustained over future generations. Erasing white privilege is not a case of erasing non-white disadvantages but one of changing people’s entire mindsets because it is people’s predisposed opinions and thoughts about other races and ethnicities which are taught from childhood that create and sustain phenomena like white privilege. There are many non harmful, though that does not mean good or acceptable, aspects of white privilege, but there are also many dangerous aspects and one of the most dangerous is the disparities between how white and black crime and deviance are viewed by the populus because the positive white stereotypes- which are part of white privilege- that are already instilled in people’s minds cause non-white people to be unfairly judged by law enforcement, peers, and society as a whole.

White Privilege, Let’s Talk About That

White privilege is a phenomenon that is present in every white person’s life no matter their circumstances because it is not a tangible object or even an obvious advantage in most cases, instead it is the perception of white people by other people, both white and non-white, that has been formed by positive stereotypes and archetypes that are taught at youth through societal interactions, by parents, and by peers. White privilege is often examined as the disadvantages people of color have that white people do not because that is the easiest, most definitive way to point out the disparities between white and non-white people but white privilege is also characterized by the special advantages that white people have. There are many situations in which people of color have a distinct disadvantage which already creates a disparity between the races but, on top of that, white privilege provides an advantage for whites that widens the disparity further. It is important to examine the concept of white privilege because it gives white people advantages in life that they may never even recognize, it is fairly easy to see the disadvantages that people of color experience and to try to find solutions for them but it is much harder for people to recognize the subtle advantages that white people have and the positive stereotypes that many people unconsciously have towards white people because they have always been around for as long as anyone alive can remember. The biggest reason to open discussions on white privilege is so that we can collectively eliminate it from society, if we never talk about it then the same mindsets of white superiority and positive stereotypes of whites that fuel white privilege will persist and no progress will ever be made, but if we openly discuss it and recognize that it is, in fact, a problem then maybe we can find a way to fix it, even if it takes a long time.

Black Versus White Crime and Deviance

Every year in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina leading up to Memorial Day weekend two separate bike rallies are held, the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Rally, which is a predominantly white event, and Black Bike Week, which is a predominantly black event. Although both rallies happen at the same time, in relatively the same place, and people are doing the same things, the public opinions of them are wildly different and these public opinions, posted online and printed in newspapers, reflect the demonization of black people and the privilege and perceived innocence of whites. Although these comments were posted en masse in 2009 the same sentiments exist every year when the rallies come around. Not only do these comments and opinions affect how each rally is viewed and portrayed but they also affects how each rally is policed.

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The Harley Davidson Motorcycle Rally is characterized almost exclusively by white bikers who already have positive stereotypes of whiteness in their favor but being compared to a rally of black bikers seemed to make everyone who commented on the rallies more willing to accept the actions and behaviors of the white bikers despite the fact that both the black and white bikers participate in nearly identical activities. Comments on the white rally often focus on how wealthy all of the participants must be because of how expensive it is to buy motorcycles and how it is a status symbol to own an SUV to tow motorcycles with; alternatively, the black bikers are portrayed as lower-class individuals despite having the same kinds of motorcycles as the white bikers and people at the black rally who were driving SUVs were seen as too poor to afford a bike and as hooligans who had only come to party and make trouble because they couldn’t even bother to bring a motorcycle. This comparison centered around white people with SUVs and black people with SUVs at their respective rallies shows that the comments made towards these bikers are not just about the bike rallies or their actions, they represent the public’s opinion of black people, and the stereotypes they hold against them, as a whole. The same action that sparked comments on affluence and prestige for white bikers sparked comments of poverty and deviance for black bikers which is a reflection of how the commenters view black people versus white people, they have positive stereotypes of the middle to upper class white person that can do no wrong and then they have negative stereotypes of the poor, streetrat, thug that they ascribed to the black bikers. Comments also rushed to the defense of white bikers, making the point of how all of the bikers they know are doctors or lawyers which worked to create a model of the “doctor-lawyer biker”(Eastman, 2014) type. This doctor-lawyer-biker archetype is then applied to all of the white bikers of the rally and those who do not conform are labelled as the bad apples who are few and far between, whereas comments and public opinion portrayed all of the black bikers at the black rally as thugs, gangsters, and hoodlums, basically, as the scum of society. Again these comments have little to do with the actual actions of the bikers, instead they are the product of the stereotypes people hold for black and white people. The loose morals and deviance of the white rally are characterized as good ways for people to be a bit rebellious and to feel young again because people see that most of the white bikers are older and decide that they couldn’t do any harm even if they were trying to and that they are just adults who never truly grew up, they portray the white deviance as endearing. In contrast, the same people view the black deviance, which is displayed in the same ways as the white deviance, as criminal and dangerous and there were multiple comments about people recounting how they had feared for their lives when encountering the black rally. The white bikers are predisposed to receive the people’s good graces since positive white stereotypes and archetypes, as well as the negative black stereotypes, have been ingrained in people’s minds since youth and that is the white privilege of this situation.

The stereotypes that have been fed to us by society, by our parents, and our peers are what create white privilege and it is perfectly exemplified by the public opinions of the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Rally versus those of Black Bike Week. One might say that these opinions do not mean anything or that people should just brush them off but all of these negative opinions stated en masse in such a short period of time caused action to be taken against the black rally. With so many people calling for heavier policing of Black Bike Week the Myrtle Beach Police Department had no choice but to increase their presence in the rally but with the opposite going for the white rally, as people trusted the white bikers to police themselves and even reported feeling safer with them around, the NAACP had to step in to call out the discrimination of the situation. After multiple successful discrimination suits the public opinion of the black rally only worsened and came to include the NAACP as a subject of their angry rants. The white privilege here is that no matter what the white bikers do they are always portrayed as innocent and trustworthy while the opposite goes for the black bikers doing the same things.

Structural Privilege for Whites in the USA

White privilege and structural racism go hand in hand in many situations, namely in racial profiling by police and in the mark that having a criminal record leaves on one’s life forever. Although there are many examples of inequality and injustice in the U.S. justice system, the issue of racial profiling best portrays how stereotypes and predisposed attidudes toward white and non-white people can affect how police officers choose who to stop, search, and arrest. In a study that looked into traffic stops at the New Jersey turnpike it was found that, although only 15% of drivers were racial minorities, 42% of all of the people stopped and 73% of all of the people arrested from these stops were black and that 77% of the people searched after being stopped were racial minorities(Alexander, 2010). These are disproportionately high to how many drivers passing through were actually racial minorities and these wildly high numbers are likely due to white privilege. Given the predisposition to view whites in accordance with their positive stereotypes and to give whites the benefit of the doubt because of these positive stereotypes and other beneficial archetypes, it is likely that police officers let minor traffic infractions slip for whites who were driving but they were not willing to do the same for people of color. Multiple studies reporting the same kinds of disparities in traffic stops, searches, and arrests between white and black drivers all across the country have been published and they all display the same racial inequalities, in Oakland, California, a study was published that claimed that African Americans were 2 times more likely to be stopped and 3 times more likely to be searched than whites(Alexander, 2010) and a study that analyzed traffic stops in Nebraska found that the search rate for black people after a traffic stop was almost double the search rate for whites(Kamalu, 2016). These disparities are not mere coincidences, people of color are stopped more often because police officers are legally allowed to use racial profiling in deciding who to stop, as long as race is not the sole reason for the stop(Alexander, 2010), but the distparity is widened even further by the privilege that the white drivers have, the officers are allowed to profile a white person as more trustworthy, due to white privilege, and let them off the hook just as they are allowed to profile a person of color as less trustworthy and decide to search them on top of pulling them over.

Not only do white people have unfair advantages in situations like traffic stops but they are also better off than non-white people after being convicted of a crime. A criminal record can make it extremely hard, if not impossible in some cases, for an ex-convict to get a job but research shows that even if a white and non-white person share all of the same qualifications and have the same crime on their record, the white person is still more likely to be hired than the non-white one; specifically, white people with a criminal record are are over 3 times more likely to get a callback for a job than a black person with a criminal record- given that their resumes are exactly the same- and a white person with a criminal record has a 3% higher chance of getting a callback for a job than a black person with no criminal record- 17% chance for whites with a criminal record and 14% chance for black people without a criminal record(Pager, 2004). These disparities are not the doing of individual people’s racist ideals or superiority complexes nor are they coincidental, they are the product of hundreds of years of racism and white superiority that has ingrained itself into our society. Individuals are not to blame because they rarely even know that they are being discriminatory or unfair because that is how they have been taught to think their whole lives, that is how we are all taught to think and that is what makes white privilege structural. Not just our parents and peers but laws, policies, and public statements made by government officials perpetuate white privilege everyday, it is not just something that gives white people advantages against getting pulled over or arrested and advantages towards getting hired, it is the mindset that our politicians use everytime they vote on a new piece of legislation or discuss an issue having to do with race or ethnicity, white privilege is always there.

Conclusion

White privilege is an ever-present phenomenon that reproduces itself in people’s minds, it manifests itself in a myriad of ways but, in relation to crime, deviance, and life after conviction, it is most obvious and unfair in the cases of traffic stops, parallel events like the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Rally and Black Bike Week, and the search for employment by ex-convicts. Each of these examples shows time and time again that people are more likely to forgive or ignore white crimes over non-white crimes, which not only means that white people live easier, more carefree lives doing the same things that would cause strife in a person of color’s life but that white people can get away with so much more, they can do so many bad things without ever facing the consequences, or at least without ever facing proportional and fair consequences. White privilege is not only present in the minds of individuals, it is present in our society as a whole as well as in the policies and laws that our government creates, the way of thinking that allows white privilege to thrive is just as present in the minds of politicians as it is the minds of everyone else, if it is present in the mind of a police officer when deciding who to pull over, who to search, or who to arrest then it must also be present in the mind of a senator or representative when deciding how to vote or which stance to take on matters concerning racial disparities. The only way to actually get rid of white privilege is to change the way we collectively think as a society, as a nation, otherwise no change against white privilege can truly occur.

References

  1. Eastman, J. T. (2015). The wild (white) ones: comparing frames of white and black deviance. Contemporary Justice Review, 18(2), 231-247.
  2. Pager, D. (2004). The mark of a criminal record. Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity, 6, 276-279.
  3. Alexander, M. (2010). The new jim crow. Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity, 6, 259-268
  4. Kamalu, N. C. (2016). African Americans and racial profiling by U.S. law enforcement: An analysis of police traffic stops and searches of motorists in Nebraska, 2002-2007. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, 9(1), 187-206.

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White Privilege in Crime and Deviance and the Mark Those Crimes Leave on Non-White Lives. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-privilege-in-crime-and-deviance-and-the-mark-those-crimes-leave-on-non-white-lives/
“White Privilege in Crime and Deviance and the Mark Those Crimes Leave on Non-White Lives.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/white-privilege-in-crime-and-deviance-and-the-mark-those-crimes-leave-on-non-white-lives/
White Privilege in Crime and Deviance and the Mark Those Crimes Leave on Non-White Lives. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-privilege-in-crime-and-deviance-and-the-mark-those-crimes-leave-on-non-white-lives/> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2022].
White Privilege in Crime and Deviance and the Mark Those Crimes Leave on Non-White Lives [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-privilege-in-crime-and-deviance-and-the-mark-those-crimes-leave-on-non-white-lives/
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