Mass Incarceration = Mass Prejudice
Mass Incarceration = Mass Prejudice
Learn how policy shapes our perception of race in this story from the Code Shift Segment of Morning Edition on National Public Radio.-Ed.

We See What We Expect

It is proven that Mass Incarceration unfairly targets and inordinately penalizes minorities and the poor. However, a new study shows that the connection between the policy of Mass Incarceration and public perception of who goes to jail is based upon racial stereotypes. In this way, as a self-fulfilling prophecy – and contrary to evidence – more minorities go to jail (per capita) because more minorities engage in criminal behavior. Furthermore, researchers at Stanford University, looking at the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that racial classifications of people can and do change over time, the changes are not random and do correlate to "changes in the people's life circumstances and common racial stereotypes".

From NPR: Governments, schools and companies keep track of your race. The statistics are used to track the proportion of blacks and whites who graduate from school. They tell us how many people identify themselves as Native American or Asian. They help us measure health disparities. But there's a problem with all those statistics — and the deeper way we think about race.

Aliya Saperstein, Stanford University sociologist comments that, "If someone went from being employed to being unemployed, or being out of prison to being in prison, or being off welfare to being on welfare, the interviewer was more likely to see the person as black - after they experienced that sort of downward mobility - than before."

What this research suggests is that racial stereotypes describing how people of a particular race behave are so powerful they change our perception of the racial identity of an individual whose behavior conforms to the stereotype – irrespective of their actual racial identity.

Further, the research proposes that racial stereotypes are powerful enough to cause an individual to racially self-identify according to the racially stereotypical description of their behavior. Listen to the full report on NPR, here. Learn more about ending Mass Incarceration here.  

About the Author

  • Ted joined the staff of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in February 2010. He brings more than twenty-five years of experience using media to create social change by creating communications strategies and content for progressive non-profits, political campaigns, and cause based...

For more information contact blueboat@uua.org.

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