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Targets: The Existential Crisis of Black and Latino Male Youths

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Abstract

This chapter investigates how the intersections of race, age, and gender create life outcomes that represent an existential challenge for black and Latino male youths in urban areas. The laws that came out of the policies known as the “war on drugs” in the 1980s developed from a moral panic that categorized black and Latino male youths as the new “folk devils.” The continuation of the war on drugs has prolonged the “folk devil” status of black and Latino male youths over the course of the last two decades and contributed to the tendency for dominant forces to construct them as criminals. This status severely circumscribes their life choices and contributes to the racial profiling they experience from individuals and institutions alike.
3
Targets: The Existential Crisis
of Black and Latino
Male Youths
Natalie Byfield
1
Introduction: Finding the Subject and Object
of Intersectional Analysis
Early myths about young black and Latino males offered an a priori basis
for discrimination. A growing number of studies have articulated the
unique positionality of these youngsters in different institutions in the
United States. For example, Ferguson’s (2001) study Bad Boys: Public
Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity found that contemporary US
society functions with a “moral authority”2 that operates as if their rules,
laws, social practices, and policies are “blind” to people’s race, class, and
gender. Under their logic of race/class/gender-neutrality, the rules in
mainstream institutions—such as the school in which Ferguson con-
ducted her ethnography—do not have unequal impact on the people
they govern. These rules, according to Ferguson (2001) do not take into
account structural inequality and the ways in which this inequality
defines the life choices of all racial groups in the society marginalizing
some and privileging others. In particular, in the context of the lives of
the children involved in her study, Ferguson (2001) found that the “moral
authority” engaged in practices that led to black boys being defined as
bad both within the mainstream and within their own communities.
D. Mitra et al. (eds.), Race and the Lifecourse
© Diditi Mitra and Joyce Weil 2014
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N. BYFIELD
This society has moved away from the practice of de jure racial
segregation, whose logic was secured by ideas of traditional racism—
i.e. the fallacy that people classified as non-white were biologically
inferior and, as such, should be segregated from whites. We are now in
a period in which Americans question how much people’s racial clas-
sification will or should continue to matter in this society. Such ques-
tions were raised as the United States sought to enact major pieces
of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Similar questions were
raised again, with vigor, as it became clear in 2008 that Americans
would likely elect a black president. In all of those contexts the idea of
America as a “post-racial” society has shaped and animated the
national discussion.3 But, studies like those of Alexander (2010),
Byfield (2014), Ferguson (2001), and Pager (2007), point out how
young black and Latino males experience negative life outcomes rela-
tive to young white males in the areas of the criminal justice system,
media representations of race, educational institutions, and labor
markets, respectively. Thus, it has become incumbent on social theo-
rists to explain how and why life chances in the United States continue
to mimic the racial patterns exhibited during the period of traditional
racism despite changing laws and social practices.
In 1903, when W. E. B. Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folks,
which tells the story of African Americans in the United States, American
society was in the throes of traditional racism, i.e. throughout the nation,
“separate but equal” laws and social practices based on one’s racial
classification had been institutionalized and were maintained through
the deployment of Jim Crow terror. In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the
first essay in Souls, Du Bois renders identity formation (the soul of
blacks) through a depiction of how the navigation of racial structures or
barriers shapes black lives. He notes that blacks simultaneously carry
the consciousness of two worlds; they are divided, living at once behind
the “veil of oppression” while fully cognizant of the world outside the
veil. Du Bois termed it a “double-consciousness”: self-awareness based
on their understanding of their own humanity and an awareness of
themselves as they are viewed through the eyes of their oppressor.
We can see that the notion ofdouble-consciousness” operates as a
theoretical as well as an analytical construct that forces us to contend
simultaneously with both the intangible and the concrete. Du Bois calls
on us to understand “double-consciousness” as an idea that operates
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
45
within the realm of consciousness, i.e. how we view ourselves and how
we are viewed by others. But, of course, the materiality that gives rise to
this consciousness is borne from the values, laws, and social practices
embedded in our (American) social, economic, and political institutions/
structures that cast us (black people) aside as a despised group. It is
in this duality inherent in the notion of “double-consciousness” that
I take my instructions for this essay. I am concerned with the subject
position of young black and Latino4 males and the choices they face or the
constraints on their lives as they grow into adulthood. Simultaneously,
I am just as concerned with the laws, rules, policies, and social practices
that are used to shape the system of structural inequality embedded in
the society.5
Moving Beyond Du Bois’ Racial Foundation: Du Bois
and the Gender Question
From the outset, in the worlds inside and outside of academia, Du Bois
teachings were typically viewed as being primarily concerned with
issues of racism and racial classification, of the dynamic between
whiteness and blackness. Whiteness embodied the opposite of all the
negativity encompassed in blackness: as such, the whiteness/blackness
dyad represented the very visible foundations in the “unscalable” walls
that limited the lives of African Americans, as Du Bois argued. However,
more contemporary readings of Du Bois also critique and interpret his
work in the context of gender6 and rightly so.
Whiteness, as a social construct, has never operated as a discrete
phenomenon; it developed in American life as a part of the racial ideology
that emerged after constructing “the other” from anti-black laws and
social practices (Fields 1990). As cultural studies theorist Hazel Carby
argues, contemporary interpretations of Du Bois should not ignore the
fact that he wrote from the subject position of a male (Carby 1998).
Thus, in deploying the use of Du Bois’ “double-consciousness,” it is
incumbent on contemporary theorists to acknowledge all the salient
aspects of consciousness operating within and outside the “veil.
Whiteness, i.e. the world outside the “veil,” was created in conjunction
with other social constructs such as gender and class. Race was not the
only social formation creating the “unscalable” walls that encircled the
world behind “the veil.
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N. BYFIELD
One thing made clear by the Europeans who formed the United
States was that the racial categories used to organize people could not
exist without regulating gender, i.e. codifying gender interactions in a
way that would maintain racial boundaries and reproduce a system of
race-based patriarchal capitalism. Thus, ideas about gender served as
another foundation in the insurmountable or “unscalable” walls that,
Du Bois argued, surrounded blacks. The European men who forged
this system created an idealized notion of masculinity that only a few—
even among the group of Europeans—could achieve. Most would
strive for it and, hence, this European-defined masculinity came to be
the standard by which all in America would be measured and under
which all had to abide. Those unable to or unwilling to live their lives
striving to fulfill the criteria of hegemonic masculinity—the ability to
exercise sexual freedom, to exercise power in the public sphere, to be
the breadwinner—fell lower in the gender hierarchy (Connell and
Messerschmidt 2005). Non-hegemonic males comprised other forms
of masculinity and women were the gendered “other.
Such is the lot for those classified as nonwhite males; they represent
a form of masculinity that is marginalized within the group of those
classified as males. This marginalization has inflected their life chances
under the various socio-economic forces that have dominated our
system of race-based patriarchal capitalism. These forces have included
a variety of socio-economic and political systems in the United States—
from slavery (that enmeshed blacks in bondage), manifest destiny
(that re-racialized Mexicans/Latinos into the group of nonwhites),7
industrial capitalism, imperialism, and the contemporary neo-liberal
economy, in which market forces rule and “individual responsibility” is
held as a supreme principle in everyone’s life. Under this system of
neo-liberalism, the marginalization of non-hegemonic masculinities,
like those of black and Latino males, is no excuse for not succeeding in
the society.
Thus, the lot for black and Latino males, as a subordinate form of
masculinity, is to have their lives circumscribed by the limited choices
available to them in the various iterations of the US’ socio-economic
and political systems. Starting with the system of slavery and its
exploitation and devaluation of African American labor, black males
had to seek alternative paths for constructing masculinity. Living with
the designation of property under slavery, African Americans were
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
47
fundamentally denied their humanity. Under slavery, reproduction for
blacks meant reproducing the system of slavery, i.e. enriching the
people who held you in bondage.8 Black men could not exercise the
type of masculinity that was understood and accepted within the con-
text of patriarchy, which included protecting the women and children
in their families and their communities (White 1999). They could not
exercise the type of masculinity that included the economic support of
families and communities. They could not create communities that
served their needs or the needs of other African Americans, particularly
those of black women. These aforementioned limitations are made evi-
dent when one considers the historical ontology of the black family.
In the context of the nation, the family serves as a site for the repro-
duction of societal hierarchies (Collins 1998). However, non-white
families experience something different. Limited social, economic, and
political resources have inhibited black families and other families of
color from fulfilling some of the most cherished responsibilities and
duties of traditional families: protecting youngsters and preparing a
place in the nation for their children as they mature into adulthood
(Collins 1998). For black and other non-whites, the family structure
serves a double function. It reproduces the hegemonic system of race/
class/gender. It also produces people whose ideological understanding
of themselves is based on the notion that they must limit their expecta-
tions for full participation in the society. Black families (and other
non-white families) are altered by the intersecting race, class, and
gender limitations experienced by their individual members. These
limitations are manifested in relatively negative outcomes related to
health, education, income, and residential factors among others, e.g. in
2012 the median income for black men was 25 percent less than that of
white men.9 As such, black families and other families of color are
not fully a part of the nation; they are, and have historically been,
marginalized. The status of their children, both male and female
established accordingly.
In the first essay in Souls, Du Bois ([1903] 2003: 8) notes that most
black boys would bitterly wonder “Why did God make me an outcast
and a stranger in mine own house?” The “house” Du Bois speaks of
is the nation. He makes clear that the unique positionality of blacks in
the nation (and the black male in particular) is palpable to those indi-
viduals from the days of their childhood. What could be interpreted
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N. BYFIELD
from Du Bois’ own recollections as a youngster is the way in which his
experiences mirrored what black families experience today. Du Bois’
experiences suggest ways in which race has the ability to drown out
concerns in other areas. Cultural theorist Valerie Smith has noted that
when racial groups are polarized—as they would have been during
Du Bois’ time—race has the ability to “mask” the significance of other
aspects of one’s identity (Smith 1998). As Du Bois ([1903] 2003) noted,
his black race made his experience of childhood different from that of
his white peers.
As they reach adulthood, European males, in their striving for the
idealized hegemonic masculinity, can articulate a manhood all their
own. But this is not the case for young black and Latino males; for
them, from childhood, their gender becomes a determinant factor in
the Du Boisian ([1903] 2003)social “prison” in which they live. Within
the context of race and patriarchy, black and Latino boys have to learn
at an early age that their expectations cannot be the same as those of
their white counterparts. The dreams, goals, and the directions taken
by their white peers are typically out of their reach. Yet, they are judged
by the same criteria with which white boys are judged. In contem-
porary neo-liberal society, where the individual and their efforts are
privileged, black and Latino males have limited options, and their
marginalization defines them as different and less than white males.
Yet, they are expected to succeed on the same terms as white males.
In the context of the hegemonic society that passes judgment, their
failings are all their own, particularly because, in the world outside the
veil, their voices do not exist.10 The only relevant subject in that world is
the one defined as such by the white, patriarchal system of capitalism.
What is clear from Souls ([1903]2003), Du Bois’ seminal work, and
the central position it has been given in any study of black Americans is
that the intersections of race and gender have always mattered, particu-
larly in the ways they have inflected the childhood imaginings of young
blacks.11 In this chapter, I use an intersectional analysis to articulate
the contemporary “unscalable” walls black and Latino male youths
face in their lives. As a researcher, I find the extensive defining of that
“prison,” as Du Bois terms it, necessary because their subject position is
largely unheard in the mainstream. Intersectionality has served as a
methodological tool for revealing the voice of a marginalized subject.12
It allows researchers to reveal the underlying categorical boundaries
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
49
(such as race, class, gender, and age) that are constructed as interlocking
systems of oppression and must be negotiated as people (who are
raced, classed, and gendered) navigate those boundaries as they move
through the lifecourse.
Du Bois began his rendition of the “souls” of black Americans with
his earliest childhood recollections as a young boy. As a young boy, he
voiced the question that he knew lurked within members of the white
community in their interactions with blacks: “How does it feel to be a
problem?” ([1903] 2003: 7). Du Bois goes on to point out that, throughout
his life, it had only been in “babyhood” or “in Europe” that he had not
felt that definition of his personhood defined as a problem. “It is in the
early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon
one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept
across me”
([
1903] 2003: 8). This “shadow,” as Du Bois calls it, is the
awareness of the oppression blacks face. The oppression is defined by
the power of those outside the veil to deny to those on the inside the
right to be considered part of humanity. This, Du Bois ([1903] 2003)
argued, thrust upon even the youngest of black boys a consciousness of
the limits of their lives, “unscalable” limits that are set by the white
world and that shape their decisions and choices in perpetuity.
In the neo-liberal system of contemporary United States, young
black and Latino males, particularly those from the lower income
strata, have been criminalized (Pager 2007). This status is something
black and Latino youths must contend with from childhood as it affects
them in every area of their lives. It circumscribes their lives within and
outside of their communities. They must forever fight to have their
youth specifically recognized in their deeds and misdeeds as is standard
practice with many of their white counterparts. Some of this associa-
tion between black and Latino youth and crime that we find in the
United States today can be traced to the discernible elevation—between
1983 and 1993—in the rates of violent crimes, particularly homicides,
committed by juveniles.13 This phenomenon became a major component
of public discourse. During and after this period, new laws, policies,
and social practices—that were developed to combat this societal
elevation in youth violence—have enabled the construction of a rela-
tionship between these young blacks and Latinos and criminality. Some
of this association also comes from the laws and police practices insti-
tutionalized since the early 1980s under the label the “war on drugs.
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N. BYFIELD
Crimes committed by African American and Latino youth have
been regularly reported in the media.14 Moving into the 1980s, press
coverage of the crack trade highlighted the involvement of young black
and Latino males in violent crime. This coverage, which increased with
the on-going war on drugs, has in turn supported the reification of the
race-crime relationship in the social structure by encouraging the pas-
sage of more laws intent on addressing this and other problems related
to criminality. The continued reification of this association in the social
structure contributes to the further marginalization of black and
Latino male youths from the mainstream. They stand apart, distinct
from other categorical groupings of youths. Like other youths, they are
vulnerable. And, as in the time of Du Bois, they live in “a prison” and
are “despised.
I argue here that the criminalization of black and Latino youth,
particularly males, became a new feature of the “unscalable” walls Du
Bois characterized. This criminalization of black and Latino youths
was made possible, in part, by the reaction of some elements in the
society to the push for civil rights that culminated in the passage of
the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the mid-1960s, whose
supposed intent was to eliminate the barriers to inclusion that Du Bois
decried. In other words, the Civil Rights Movement and its push for
racial justice was interpreted by the more conservative forces in the
society as a threat that needed a solution.
Moral Panics and Folk Devils
Initially the right wing’s solution to the push to end racial injustice
assumed the form of a simple moral panic that began as a whimper,
relatively speaking, during Senator Barry Goldwater’s run for the White
House in 1964, and that started bearing fruit when President Nixon
came to office in 1969 and, soon thereafter, enacted the nation’s first
federal level anti-crime legislation. By the time of the Reagan
Administration from 1980–1988, the war on drugs became the central
focus of anti-crime legislation and has been a part of the administra-
tion of every US president ever since.
According to Stanley Cohen ([1972] 2002), there is a “moral panic”
when public actors single out individuals, groups, or events for action,
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
51
and convince others that the individuals, groups, or events pose a
momentous threat to the society; through a commingling of interests,
the media, clergy, elected officials, and criminal justice officials, exag-
gerate the threat and use their resources to come up with self-serving
solutions. Cohen’s concept of moral panic was the basis of the work by
Hall et al. (1978) that examined the so-called problem of “muggings” in
England in the 1970s. They found that reports in the British press—
about the crisis related to this “new” phenomenon of muggings—were
really exaggerated claims “factualized” in the media by elected and
criminal justice officials and concluded that the reaction to “muggings”
that set off the “moral panic” in England represented a crisis in hege-
mony in the British state (Hall et al. 1978). They found that this crisis
was, in part, created by changing attitudes among young immigrants,
primarily black Caribbeans, who—unlike their parents—were not
political accommodationists and were growing increasingly disenfran-
chised as an economic recession took hold (Hall et al. 1978).
In the case of the United States in the 1980s, there was a moral panic
around illegal drug use. Meanwhile, the violence that often attends the
drug trade had already been deployed as a means of singling out black
and Latino males for extraordinary punishment by the state. Researchers
have found a relationship between the transition to a service economy
from a manufacturing economy in urban areas, high rates of unem-
ployment for members of racially marginalized urban groups, and
participation in the drug trade by members of these groups (Bourgois
1995; Alexander 2010: 50). In other words, as jobs became scarcer and
rates of unemployed increased, more and more young black and Latino
males turned to the drug trade as a way to survive economically. As the
economy went under this structural transformation, federal, state, and
local governments also changed their criminal justice policies and
policing practices to fight the so-called war on drugs. By targeting
blacks and Latinos, the war on drugs ensnared more and more of these
youngsters in the criminal justice system. But, as some scholars argue,
the war on drugs was born out of a political response forged by conser-
vative ruling elites threatened by African American demands for justice.
The war on drugs became a defining feature in the lives of young
African American and Latino males in general. Their circumscribed life
choices compounded their historic inability to articulate traditional
hegemonic masculinity as breadwinners, protectors and supporters of
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N. BYFIELD
their families. The treatment meted out to adult males affected the
younger males. The increased likelihood of black and Latino male
youth to have criminal records limited the ability of members of that
group to ever participate fully in the larger society. As they matured
into adulthood, the combined effect of their “folk devil” status and
their high likelihood of having a criminal record would reinforce their
marginality as potential workers placing them outside of the tradi-
tional economy.
The construction of young black and Latino males as the new “folk
devils” won tremendous support from the academic/scientific commu-
nity. Some in academic circles returned to (quasi) scientific analysis to
develop these conceptualizations of black and Latino youths as innately
violent and/or predisposed to criminal behavior. In the late 1980s,
political scientist John DiIulio’s research foreshadowed the coming of a
hyper-criminal (DiIulio ). By1995 he constructed his notion of the
“superpredator,” a category of criminals who would supposedly be
more deadly than anything witnessed before in the United States
(DiIulio 1995).15 Looking at birth-cohort studies,” among other
things, DiIulio (1995) based his conclusion on studies of “10,000
Philadelphia boys born in 1945.” He noted that, of the boys between 10
and 18 years old, “more than one-third had at least one recorded arrest
by the time they were 18” (DiIulio 1995). He also noted that “two-
thirds of all the violent crimes committed by the cohort” were commit-
ted by about six percent of the boys. The findings of this earlier study,
coupled with work by other criminologists, led DiIulio to conclude
that given the current birth rates an “additional 500,000 boys who will
be 14 to 17 years old in the year 2000 will mean at least 30,000 more
murderers, rapists and muggers on the streets than we have today”
(DiIulio 1995).
DiIulio predicted that this newly expanded group, which he labeled
“superpredators,” would be that much more dangerous than earlier
groups because they are being raised in a state of moral poverty (DiIulio
1995). He defined moral poverty as follows:
(It) is the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults
who teach you right from wrong. It is the poverty of being without
parents and other authorities who habituate you to feel joy at others’ joy,
pain at others’ pain, happiness when you do right, remorse when you do
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
53
wrong. It is the poverty of growing up in the virtual absence of people
who teach morality by their own everyday example and who insist that
you follow suit. . . . In the extreme, moral poverty is the poverty of
growing up surrounded by deviant, delinquent, and criminal adults in
abusive, violence-ridden, fatherless, Godless and jobless settings. In
sum, whatever their material circumstances, kids of whatever race, creed
or color are most likely to become criminally depraved when they are
morally deprived. The abject moral poverty that creates superpredators
begins very early in life in homes where unconditional love is nowhere
but unmerciful abuse is common (DiIulio 1995).
The message he made was clear—the rising rate of youth violence was
unavoidable and our society had better be prepared for it. The youth
who were primarily targeted in DiIulio’s (1995) research were juvenile
African American and Latino males living in urban areas.16
John DiIulio’s work was quite influential at the nexus of research
and public policy. Along with William Bennett and John P. Walters,
he wrote Body Count: Moral Poverty And How To Win America’s War
Against Crime And Drugs, about the centrality of drug abuse to crime;
it was published in 1996. Given his proximity to high-level policy
makers, it’s no surprise that DiIulio’s work also had a dramatic effect on
policies affecting juveniles (Keenan 2005). This work shaped policy
by way of contributing to state and federal authorities’ reliance on
incarceration as a way of addressing crime (Pager 2007). It was largely
African American and Latino youths who paid the price for his work.
Years later, DiIulio would recant his theory of the coming “super-
predator,” but this came after it buttressed the transformation of
juvenile justice law, supporting the use of more extreme law enforce-
ment methods for juveniles (Hancock 2003; Keenan 2005).
America’s response to the push for racial justice was to create a
moral panic, which identified young black and Latino males as the
main cause of this society’s problems. This approach is not new. It is
indeed reminiscent of the “unasked” question Du Bois ([1903] 2003: 8)
postulated in Souls that those from the white world, outside the veil,
were sometimes too timid to ask: “How does it feel to be a problem?” In
the 1980s and 1990s, black and Latino males, particularly the young
ones, were constructed as the cause of the main problems in the society:
crime and drug abuse. Researchers like DiIulio, in addressing the growing
54
N. BYFIELD
problem of youth violence as a larger societal issue, raised associations
between race, crime, and youth that have come to dominate the public
sphere. These associations became that much more salient because this
research, which drew associations between race, crime, and youth, had
been given a great deal of attention in the media (Byfield 2014). These
associations made it easy for society to ignore the protections typically
afforded to youth in the criminal justice system and instead treat
youngsters as adults. Ferguson (2001) found, in her research on black
boys in the public school system, that it is a common social practice to
“adultify” black male youth. Such social practices would become law as
associations between, race, crime, and youth gained traction in the
public discourse. From 1992 to 1999 most states in the United States
changed their laws to incorporate more juveniles into the adult court
system. Black and Latino youth were disproportionately affected by
this (Ryan and Ziedenberg 2007).
The Targeting of Racial Groups within the Context
of Race Neutrality
Some would argue, and have argued, that if blacks and Latinos male
teens had not committed so many crimes, conservative forces would
not have been able to construct associations between race, youth, and
criminality. But the issue is not whether or not black and Latino teens
commit crimes or the frequency with which these youngsters violate
laws relative to other racial groups. We will never know the answer to
those questions because we do not know the frequency with which any-
one violates any law. People from all racial groupings participate in
criminal behavior. We do know that the data we have represents people
who are caught. The more salient question in contemporary America—a
period in which science has clearly established that there is no relationship
between behaviors and the racial category to which one belongs—is
what accounts for the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos
ensnared in the criminal justice system?
The anti-drug laws and policies of the 1980s and 1990s included
significantly increased federal spending for anti-drug measures, man-
datory sentencing laws with longer-term sentencing, and a disparity
in penalties for those who abused powdered versus crack cocaine.
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
55
The administration of Bush, Sr. created a federal level anti-drug office,
which issued an annual plan to address the drug problem titled The
National Drug Control Strategy.17 The first plan, which would increase
federal anti-drug spending, cited crack as the cause of “the intensifying
drug-related chaos” in the society. President George H. W. Bush
appointed William Bennett, who had formerly held a cabinet post from
1985–1988 as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education, to
head the anti-drug office, making him the nation’s first “drug czar.
These new drug spending practices transformed the priorities of
federal, state, and local law enforcement and drug treatment agencies.
The lion’s share of the money went to law enforcement and criminal
prosecution and funds were cut from agencies that focused on
education, prevention, and treatment (Alexander 2010: 49). The
funds were spent in areas populated primarily by African Americans
and Latinos, the people most likely to abuse crack cocaine. Moreover,
the new laws and practices hyper-criminalized non-violent and
low-level drug offenses.
For blacks and Latinos living in the United States during the 1980s
and 1990s, particularly in urban areas, life would change as these
drug policies were being implemented. A Human Rights Watch report
released in 2000 noted the following:
Although they comprised about 12 percent of the national adult popula-
tion, they comprised 49.4 percent of the prison population. . . . The
extraordinary disparity between black and white incarceration rates
reflected in part the fact that black men constituted a disproportionate
share-44 percent-of all felons convicted of the violent crimes that receive
long sentences. But it also reflected the impact of the country’s war on
drugs. Although drug use and selling cut across all racial, socio-economic,
and geographic lines, law enforcement strategies targeted street-level
drug dealers and users from low-income, predominantly minority, urban
areas. As a result, the arrest rates for drug offenses were six times higher
for blacks than for whites. Although blacks constituted an estimated fifteen
percent of all drug users, they constituted 36 percent of arrests for drug
possession and 49 percent of state felony convictions for possession.
Fifty-six percent of all drug offenders in state prison were black.
One of the best-known racial biases in the prosecution of the drug wars
is the disparity in punishment for those who abused powdered cocaine
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as opposed to crack cocaine. Abuse of crack cocaine laws came with
harsher penalties. Law enforcement methods targeted street-level
dealers and the users of crack cocaine as opposed to powdered cocaine
users (Reinarman and Levine [1997] 2006; Alexander 2010). After
the introduction of crack cocaine into the illegal drug markets in the
United States, the media became an important site for the govern-
ment’s advance campaigns in the war on drugs (Reinarman and Levine
[1997] 2006; Alexander 2010: 50–51). Alexander (2010) notes:
The Reagan administration leaped at the opportunity to publicize
crack cocaine in inner-city communities in order to build support for
its new war.
In October 1985, the DEA sent Robert Stutman to serve as director of its
New York City office and charged him with the responsibility of shoring
up public support for the administration’s new war. Stutman developed a
strategy for improving relations with the news media and sought to draw
journalists’ attention to the spread of crack cocaine (p. 51).
The administration of Bush, Sr. launched the first campaign in its drug
war in the press. In selling this plan to the public, the Bush administra-
tion deliberately misrepresented the drug problem in the Washington,
DC area. Reinarman and Levine ([1997] 2006) note that:
On September 5, 1989, President Bush, speaking from the presidential
desk in the Oval Office, announced his plan for achieving “victory over
drugs” in his first major primetime address to the nation, broadcast on all
three national television networks. . . . During the address, Bush held up
to the cameras a clear plastic bag of crack labeled “EVIDENCE.” (p. 48)
Bush announced that the evidence came from Lafayette Park across the
street from the White House; it was an attempt to illustrate how over-
run the whole society had become by drugs, crack in particular. But the
drug bust had been set up by Bush officials. The press would later
expose the lengths the Bush administration officials went through to
construct this scenario. Citing Michael Isikoff’s September 22, 1989
Washington Post story, Reinarman and Levine ([1997] 2006) wrote:
White House Communications Director David Demar[e]st asked
Cabinet Affairs Secretary David Bates to instruct the Justice Department
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
57
“to find some crack that fit the description in the speech.” Bates called
Richard Weatherbee, special assistant to Attorney General Dick
Thornburgh, who then called James Mil[l]ford, executive assistant to
the DEA chief. Finally, Mil[l]ford phoned William McMull[a]n, special
agent in charge of the DEA’s Washington office, and told him to arrange
an undercover crack buy near the White House because “evidently, the
President wants to show it could be bought anywhere” (Isikoff 1989).
Despite their best efforts, the top federal drug agents were not able
to find anyone selling crack (or any other drug) in Lafayette Park, or
anywhere else in the vicinity of the White House. Therefore, in order to
carry out their assignment, DEA agents had to entice someone to come
to the park to make the sale. Apparently, the only person the DEA could
convince was Keith Jackson, an eighteen-year-old African-American
high school senior . . . (Isikoff 1989: 49).
Revelations about these obvious attempts at public deception did not
deter the Bush administration from its course in the drug war.
According to a 2007 report analyzing 25 years of the war on drugs
produced by the Sentencing Project, a non-profit advocacy group
focused on criminal justice policy issues, “Drug arrests have more
than tripled in the last 25 years, totaling a record 1.8 million arrests in
2005 . . . . Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1100%
since 1980. Nearly a half-million (493,800) persons are in state or federal
prison or local jail for a drug offense, compared to an estimated 41,100
in 1980” (Mauer and King 2007: 2). This strategy effectively incar-
cerated a disproportionately large number of blacks and Latinos who
filled the ranks of street-level dealers and who were predominantly
users of crack cocaine as compared to whites who typically abused
powdered cocaine (Reinarman and Levine [1997] 2006).18 Media
coverage of these law enforcement practices often ignored the racial
disparities in the treatment of black and white offenders within the
criminal justice system reinforcing, in the public discourse, the associa-
tion between crime and young people of color (Reinarman and Levine
[1997] 2006), particularly violent crime, and further advancing this
association as some type of biological or cultural imperative.
The racialized deployment of the war on drugs and the resultant
disproportionate prosecution of black and Latino male youths created
the impression that blacks and Latino are predisposed to committing
58
N. BYFIELD
crimes. The laws that allowed this to happen were viewed as race/class/
gender/age neutral, akin to the “moral authority” Ferguson (2001)
described as being blind to people’s race, class, and gender identities.
It is clear that there can be a racial bias in the ways in which laws are
enforced. Left unanswered are questions about: (1) the likelihood of
the existence of race/class/gender/age-neutral laws, and (2) how race
operates so as to mask other aspects of an individual’s identity such as,
gender, class, and age. The problematic in the context of this work is
sorting out how race (and gender) matters, particularly when it/they
intersect with age.
Contemporary Articulations of Race, (Class, and Gender)
Toward the end of the civil rights movement, legislators and the rest of
the country debated remedies for hundreds of years of racial injustice.
Part of this debate involved the sorting out of the significance of race as
a type of categorical identity. Racial classification had, for hundreds of
years, been lived as an element of lines” (Fields and Fields 2012).19
Now, the society had to determine how its racial blood lines would
continue to matter. The blood lines they referred to, however, had
nothing to do with the actual physical blood that all human beings
share (Fields and Fields 2012: 51). They were more concerned with
“metaphorical blood,” argued Fields and Fields (2012: 51). It is this
“metaphorical blood,” socially constructed by human beings, that
pollutes when only one drop of “impure” African blood is released into
the pool of whiteness (Fields and Fields 2012: 51). It is this “one drop”
that could distinguish someone as black, the “other,” and differentiate
one racial group from another.
With the advent of “racial equality” that the civil rights movement
supposedly brought, elements of the mainstream had to re-conceptualize
the significance of this “metaphorical blood” line. In this era it seemed
that rights and privileges based on the inheritance of these “metaphorical
blood” lines would no longer matter to whites, who dominated and
defined the mainstream. This is akin to the way in which blood lines
mattered less as a factor of class for Europeans after the feudal period.
The reduced significance of “metaphorical blood” after the civil rights
movement implied that blacks and other nonwhites would finally be
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
59
granted the rights and privileges lower-income Europeans gained access
to when they were incorporated into the group called “white.”20 In other
words, “white” and “black” were supposed to be the same; there would
be no need to acknowledge historical distinctions created by the old
“metaphorical blood” line. We would/should all become color-blind.
In the transition to a more “inclusive” society, some fundamental
questions were not addressed. In the context of one of the central com-
ponents of American ideology, i.e. the American Dream, this change
assumed that rights and privileges would be accessible to all Americans
through a social structure that would presumably incorporate social
mobility. But, historian Theodore Allen argues that the rights enjoyed
early on by low-income European-Americans did not guarantee social
mobility; but merely “the presumption of liberty” (Allen 1997: 248)—
this later opened the prospect of drastic limits on the upward mobility
of white Americans that are increasingly visible today as the predica-
ment of the so-called 99-percent (Blow 2013). But, this “presumption”
did help fuel the assumption that, after the civil rights movement, the
road to upward mobility would automatically open to blacks and other
nonwhites. Unfortunately, the only logical expectation blacks and
other nonwhites could hold in a more inclusive US is that they could
consider themselves “free” to exercise options or choices in their lives
regardless of the increasingly well-known limitations of those choices
for most citizens.
This sort of freedom, however, did not address the structural inequal-
ity inherent to the racial groupings created by the “metaphorical blood”
lines. The people marginalized by the US system of racialized capitalism
recognized that the “metaphorical blood” that Europeans constructed to
rationalize the segregation and separation of people into racial groups
had a relationship to the actual blood flowing through their veins. The
“metaphorical blood” had been constructed to support an economic
system based on exploited, enslaved, and colonized people, spilling their
actual blood to build the new territory. It was in this way that race, class,
and gender were figuratively and literally built into the socio-economic
and political structures of the United States. Social, economic, and polit-
ical relationships had been constructed to sustain a system based on
exploited and bonded labor, i.e. keeping bonded and colonized laborers
in their place to do the work necessary to build this new society.
60
N. BYFIELD
One of the palpable things in the debate in the mid-1960s over civil
rights legislation is the unresolved significance of and the relationship
between the “metaphorical blood” lines of race and the actual blood
spilled by the exploited, enslaved, and colonized. Moving forward into
a more inclusive society, should “race” created by these “metaphorical
blood” lines matter? Or, should it not matter? Or, how should it matter?
How should the nation deal with the people whose actual blood lines
built or formerly owned this nation? This unresolved issue of blood
lines was evident as the nation faced one of its earliest court challenges
to civil rights legislation in the case of Allan Bakke. The US Supreme
Court’s 1978 decision to support Allan Bakke’s21 claim that he was
discriminated against due to his white race when the medical school of
University of California at Davis denied him admission because it had
set aside seats for black candidates revealed the legislative history of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the debate about these blood lines. The
Supreme Court’s decision laid bare some of the Congressional debates
that occurred before passage of the Act.22 Elected officials had argued
over the continued significance of the “metaphorical blood” lines.
In Justice Blackmun’s dissenting opinion on the Bakke case, Blackmun
noted comments made by US Representative Thomas Abernethy, a
Mississippi Democrat, who opposed Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,
which is intended to prevent federal dollars from being used to dis-
criminate on the basis of race, i.e. uphold segregation. Abernethy’s
opposition presumably came from a fear of racial quotas or set asides.23
Justice Blackmun cited the following comment made by Abernethy
during the debate: “The effect of this title if enacted into law, will
interject race as a factor in every decision involving the selection of an
individual . . . . The concept of ‘racial imbalance’ would hover like a
black cloud over every transaction . . . .24 As the “metaphorical blood”
used to construct race slavery was an integral component of the US
Constitution, it seems to me that race should “hover like a black cloud
over every transaction” if we are to eradicate structural inequality based
on race or, stated another way, if we are to dismantle white supremacy.
Abernethy argued that “metaphorical blood” lines should now be con-
sidered irrelevant. But, if that is the case, how would one address the
role of the colonized and the enslaved in building the United States?
Appearances may lead one to believe that only opponents of the
Civil Rights Act tried not to upset the existing racial hierarchy, i.e. white
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
61
supremacy. But, many people more conservative than Abernethy
(and more importantly) much more liberal than the former Mississippi
Congressman worried then and continue to worry now that race will
“hover like a black cloud over every transaction.” Establishing the
appropriate degrees of racial consciousness or concern over blood
lines, both real and imagined, have been problematic for many people
of all political ilk and racial backgrounds. Abernethy’s approach—
ignoring the blood lines—pointed to the epistemic approach of color-
blind racism.
Critical race scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva theorizes that contem-
porary US society operates under the ideology of color-blind racism, in
which ideas of biological racism, on which Jim Crow segregation was
based, have been discredited (Bonilla-Silva 2006). Traditional racism
has been replaced with color-blind racism in which racist ideas are
articulated more subtly by a system of racial meanings that claim that
racial group distinctions/disparities are created by cultural preference
and the individual choices and preferences made by racial group
members (Bonilla-Silva 2006). As a consequence, members of the
dominant group, under the sway of this ideology, diminish the signifi-
cance of racial discrimination (Bonilla-Silva 2006). The limited choices
experienced by black and Latino youths that circumscribe their life
outcomes are deemed to be their fault.
Unfortunately, the legacy of the civil rights movement did not
include a sorting out of the significance of the “metaphorical blood”
line. We now supposedly operate under the guise of race-neutrality or
post-raciality in which the “metaphorical blood” lines no longer matter
and in which there is little discussion of the actual blood spilled by the
colonized and enslaved to build America. This society has hobbled
along since the civil rights movement, shaping a discourse around
color-blindness while also: (1) reproducing racially disparate outcomes
that in some ways mirror the era of Jim Crow, and (2) simultaneously
claiming that race-based discrimination has been eradicated.
Like Bonilla-Silva (2006), other critical race theorists have made the
application of the color-blindness principle (or race-neutrality) a central
concern in their work. Many argue that the possibility of race-neutrality/
color-blindness is highly unlikely. The reason for this position may
have been articulated best by legal scholar Derek Bell when he noted
the symbiotic relationship between racism and liberal democracy.25
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N. BYFIELD
In fact, Bell prophesied that racism would be a permanent feature in
the American experiment. The symbiosis between racism and liberal
democracy makes it unlikely that the application of the color-blindness
principle could ever eliminate racial discrimination or create racial
equality. For, in the American experiment, the freedom of some has
been based on the oppression of “others.” In other words, they have not
found a way to eliminate metaphorical blood and redress the wrongs
experienced by those whose actual blood had been spilled.
In the vacuum created by the failure to untangle the puzzle repre-
sented as the relationship between the “metaphorical blood” lines and
race-based oppression and exploitation, a political link was created
between the push by “others” for civil rights and a societal threat to
law and order (Pager 2007; Alexander 2010). Civil rights era demands
for social, economic, and political equality for African Americans
translated for some into a loss of “moral order” that needed to be
re-established (Pager 2007; Alexander 2010). With this link, conserva-
tive politicians redefined the purview of the governmental response to
crime moving it from state and local arenas to the federal arena. From
this came President Nixon’s Omni-bus Crime Control Act of 1970,
which led to the war on drugs. Although presented as race-neutral—i.e.
color-blind—the laws, policies, practices, and customs enacted under
the so-called war on drugs affected blacks and Latinos in a dispropor-
tionately negative way.
Critical race theory applied in Alexander (2010) has detailed for us
the consequences of the long-fought war on drugs, which she alternately
describes as the public face of the US system of mass incarceration.
Alexander (2010: 13) further defines mass incarceration as “a tightly
networked system of laws, policies, and customs” enacted through a
variety of institutions, particularly the criminal justice system; she says,
“The current system of social control permanently locks a huge per-
centage of the African American community out of the mainstream
society and economy. . . . (I)t functions more like a caste system than a
system of crime control.” In effect it has taken the place of Jim Crow
and slavery in limiting the life outcomes of African Americans and
Latinos (Alexander 2010).26
Alexander (2010) argues that the war on drugs serves as a front man
for the system of mass incarceration, which advances a new form of
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
63
social control. The drug wars have been taken up by every presidential
administration since Reagan. Despite the fact that blacks and Latinos
use illegal drugs at about the same rate as whites (Alexander 2010: 17),
they experience much higher rates of arrests and prosecution for
drugs. Pager’s (2007) research shows how the mark of a criminal
record locks black and Latino youths out of the “legitimate” job market
and makes it extraordinarily difficult for them to join the mainstream.
The drug wars’ success with keeping blacks and Latinos outside the
mainstream can be credited, in part, to the difficulty the general popu-
lation in the United States has (including in communities of color)
with believing that the laws and policies related to illegal drugs use are
not race-neutral. People fundamentally believe the ideas advanced in
the 1960s—by the conservative political elements of the nation in
reaction to the civil rights movement—that “moral poverty” or some
other “problem” exclusive to African Americans and Latinos best
explains the high rates of illegal drug arrests and prosecutions in those
communities.
Critical race theory has always challenged the legal system’s deci-
sion to forego the “ideological ‘settlement’ struck during the civil
rights era” (Crenshaw et al. 1995: xxviii) that permitted members of
historically oppressed racial groups to have their race—read that as
“metaphorical blood” lines—taken into consideration in response to
matters of racial inequality in both public and private institutions.
This “settlement” is what brought about affirmative action policies in
employment, housing, higher education, and in government institu-
tions in the first place. The quick and early rebuff of race-conscious
policies aimed at remedying the void occupied by nonwhites in the
United States for nearly 350 years was constructed in a cultural
cauldron where color-blindness has been discussed as a principle
that: (1) is necessary to stop segregation and discrimination, and
(2) could impede racial equality. The failure to resolve the problem-
atic relationship of real and imagined blood lines to race/class/gender
inequality in the United States has led to the construction of new sets
of laws and practices in the criminal justice system that have made it
easier to target young black and Latino males.27 Like all youngsters,
they inherit the status of the adults in their world. But, in this particular
case, they have become socially “marked.28
64
N. BYFIELD
The Vulnerability of Young Black and Latino Males:
Inside/Outside their Communities
The history inscribed on the bodies of young African American and
Latino males makes them one of the most feared and vilified groups in
the society. Many aspects of their multiple intersecting identities of
youth, age, race, and gender have contributed to their marginalization.
Two situations that point to the vulnerability of the members of this
group come to mind. On a national level, there is the case of Trayvon
Martin. On a local level there is the continuing struggle in New York
City to end the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk”
program, executed under the state’s 48-year-old stop and search law.
Both of these situations are byproducts of the moral panic that began
in the 1960s, which spawned the drug war and the continuing associa-
tion of minority youth of color and violent crime.
The Trayvon Martin case is the story of the fatal shooting of the
17-year-old in a gated community in Florida. He walked unarmed in a
public space within the community where his father’s fiancé lives.
His presence in this social location was considered questionable by
27-year-old George Zimmerman, who has been described in the press
as an overzealous member of the community watch group. Zimmerman,
described in the media as being white and Latino, believed he had the
power to determine Martin’s right to enter mainstream spaces—a
space that was predominantly white.
Calling the police to complain of Martin’s presence, Zimmerman,
who has a history of complaining about the presence of African
Americans in his community and associating their presence with crime,
decided to chase Martin through the complex while armed. In the
pursuit and confrontation that ensued, Zimmerman fatally shot
Martin. Police arrived at the scene, decided not to arrest Zimmerman,
and cited Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law as the basis of his self-
defense. A national public outcry ensued, with people across the nation
protesting the police’s failure to arrest Zimmerman and conduct a full
investigation. This protest period of about a month culminated with
Zimmerman’s arrest and preparation for his trial. The Florida stand-
your-ground law was widely debated in the press, primarily in the
context of the appropriateness of Zimmerman and the police using the
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
65
“stand-your-ground” law as justification for what appeared. What has
rarely come up, if ever, in the context of the “stand-your-ground law”
are the rights of Trayvon Martin. We will never know whether or not he
would have been allowed to exercise his right to use the “stand-your-
ground” law to defend himself against the pursuing Zimmerman.
To get justice for the dead teenager, Martin’s family members/
supporters gave the press a variety of images of him that constructed
him as “a sweet innocent.” These were the desexualized pictures of
Martin taken at a slightly younger age than his 17 years. The press
also presented Martin as the all-American student-jock in a football
uniform; a possible attempt to associate him with the mainstream and
distance him from the image of a young, black male that would auto-
matically be perceived as criminal and dangerous. These constructions
of Martin possibly point to the representations of acceptable black
masculinity. A mainstreamed, desexualized, “safe” young black man
would be able to garner support within the mainstream.
Managing the image of Trayvon Martin presented in the main-
stream media is not an unnecessary strategy for securing justice in the
case. Some in the mainstream, including journalist Geraldo Rivera,
opined that maybe Martin had looked threatening due to his hoodie
sweatshirt. Rivera cautioned black families to prevent their teen boys
from wearing hoodies in order to save their lives.
The NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” program, in which police officers can
stop and search people they deem suspicious, has been contentious
from the outset. But, the level of controversy about this program has
grown significantly within the last decade. In 2011, the NYPD made
about 700,000 “stop and frisks;” of those, 85 percent were males of
African American and Latino descent. In addition, critics argue that the
stop and frisks have led to numerous unlawful arrests. Opponents of
this policy have framed it as a type of Jim Crow practice. A broad-based
multicultural coalition of organizations that represents a variety of
interests has been organizing support to end this practice.
Police contend that the law is an important tool to reduce crime and
violence. The stop and frisk practices have dramatically increased the
numbers of marijuana arrests. At the state level, Governor Andrew
Cuomo made attempts at compromise legislation that New York
City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed with. Police would reduce the
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N. BYFIELD
penalty for holding 25 grams or less of marijuana, reducing it from a
misdemeanor to a violation. That the governor would offer a softening
of drug laws as a solution—as opposed to addressing the human rights
violations—points to how dramatically narratives from the war on
drugs have changed our society. It also points to how willing people are
to treat laws, rules, and practices as if they are blind to people’s race,
class, and gender. Ferguson (2001), in her ethnographic study of the
punishment system in a Los Angeles school district, found that society’s
“moral authority” creates laws, rules, and practices that are in fact not
blind to people’s race, class, and gender.
It is clear that the stop and frisk practices are not so blinded given
the disproportionate amount of black and Latino males affected.
A 2012 New York Times short documentary film “The Scars of Stop-
and-Frisk” noted the impact of these practices on the lives of young
men of color. In their article accompanying the film, Dressner and
Martinez (2012) noted the following:
The practice of stop-and-frisk has become increasingly controversial,
but what is often absent from the debate are the voices of young people
affected by such aggressive policing on a daily basis. To better under-
stand the human impact of this practice, we made this film about
Tyquan Brehon, a young man who lives in one of the most heavily
policed neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
By his count, before his 18th birthday, he had been unjustifiably
stopped by the police more than 60 times. On several occasions,
merely because he asked why he had been stopped, he was hand-
cuffed, placed in a cell and detained for hours before being released
without charges. These experiences were scarring; Mr. Brehon did
whatever he could to avoid the police, often feeling as if he were a
prisoner in his home.
These practices suggest that mainstream boundary enforcers identify
significant aspects of young black Latino masculinity as “suspicious,
that is, possibly criminal. This would make black and Latino males, in
general, unfit for mainstream participation, i.e. distilled as “others”
while the residium would be defined as whiteness. A New York Civil
Liberties Union (2012) report about the city’s stop and frisk program
noted the following facts about the practice: “more young black men
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
67
were stopped by the NYPD in 2011 than there are young black men in
New York City; . . . nine out of 10 of those stopped in 2011 were neither
arrested nor given summonses; . . . (while) whites are almost twice as
likely to be found with a weapon.29
Notes
1. The author thanks Karen E. Fields for her close reading of the manuscript
and her insightful comments.
2. The moral authority are the people who make the rules and create mean-
ing in society.
3. The term “post-racial” suggests that race or people’s racial classification
no longer matter in America. This notion began to be applied in the
mid-1960s as major civil rights legislation was being debated. But the
actual term itself which was likely coined by critical race theorist scholar
Derrick Bell, was also used a great deal in the period leading up to and
after the election of President Barack Obama. See, Fields and Fields
2012, Chapter 1.
4. Du Bois wrote in the context of the black-white construct on which
the system of racial categorization developed in the United States. This
system of racial categorization also infers a white-nonwhite dyad, par-
ticularly, for important laws that established citizenship—the right to
fully participate in the society—like the Naturalization Act of 1790 that
institutionalizes white privilege by legally establishing the rights
accorded to whites (Haney-Lopez 1996). Everyone else, i.e. nonwhites,
were left out or had to prove they belonged in the category of people
defined as white to earn the rights of citizens. Mexicans have historically
been important in defining the category of people known as Latino.
Mexicans have been the most populous group of Latinos in the United
States since the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-
American War and ceded large portions of the Republic of Mexico to the
United States (Gans 2005; Massey 2009). Although Mexicans brought
within the US border with this treaty were initially classified as part of
the “white” racial grouping and given “the political-legal status of ‘free
white persons’” (Omi and Winant 1994:82), as their land was seized and
their labor devalued, they lost their status as “free white persons” and
were re-racialized into a nonwhite category (Massey 2009), which they
continue to have today (Gans 2005; Massey 2009) and which, I argue,
68
N. BYFIELD
contributes to Latinos being also incorporated into the category of people
who are “nonwhite.
5. Lifecourse theorists recognize that there is a dialectical relationship
between the structural inequalities that constrain life chances and the
agency exercised by those subjected to these constraints as they chart a
course through life given the structural limitations imposed on them. See
Schafer et al. 2011. “Children of Misfortune: Early Adversity and
Cumulative Inequality in Perceived Life Trajectories.” American Journal of
Sociology. Vol. 116: 1053–1091.
6. In Race Men (1998), Hazel Carby makes the case that Du Bois’ analysis is a
gendered analysis. Carby critiques The Souls of Black Folks, arguing that
Du Bois’ main subject position in Souls is that of a black male and, as such,
Du Bois takes a gendered position that upholds patriarchy by negating the
contribution of black women to the advancement of the race.
7. See note 4 above.
8. Reproduction meant the same thing for black women with at least one
important exception: Black women could be used doubly to enrich the
slave society, doubly reinforcing the walls of their own prison.
9. See US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2013. Highlights of Women’s Earnings in
2012: Report 10145. p. 3. http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswom2012.pdf
10. I define black and Latino youths from the mid- to late 1980s onward as
voiceless. I’m arguing here that a unique social location was being created
for African American and Latino boys in part as a result of the war on
drugs. At the time that this began, hip hop was yet to be embraced by the
mainstream. But the advance guard of this youth culture had developed
coherent oppositional voices, which initially controlled the art form used
to articulate their voices. As hip hop began to grow more mainstream, the
challenge became developing a voice that articulated a subject position
free from the bonds of racist, capitalist, and patriarchal oppression.
11. This piece does not engage the debate about Du Bois’ own gendered posi-
tion in Souls ([1903] 2003).
12. Intersectionality was developed by black feminists and other feminists of
color and arose from the theoretical and political need to render the black
female subject visible. It allows researchers to interrogate the areas where
we remain silent about the life experiences of black women and other
women of color. It’s a response to theories of racial and gender oppression
that proved to be inadequate because they couldn’t imagine the position of
the black woman as someone that experiences both racial and gender
subordination simultaneously. It is also a response to marginalization. See
Byfield (2014).
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS OF BLACK AND LATINO MALE YOUTHS
69
13. See Satcher 2001. The Surgeon General’s report refutes this association
between race, youth, and violence. He makes clear that violence among all
youth was on the rise during this period. He also notes that the availability
of guns explains the rise in the number of violent crimes committed by
black and Latino urban youth.
14. See Dorfman and Schiraldi (2001)
15. See also Krajicek, David. 1999. “‘Super-Predators’: the Making of a Myth.
Youth Today, Vol. 8 (April): 4. Satcher argues that the results of this study
indicate that the notion of a “super-predator” is one of the myths about
young people and violence.
16. The super-predator theory was refuted in the academic, government,
and legal arenas. See Satcher 2001, Howell 2009, and US Supreme Court
Brief 2012.
17. The office is still in operation continues to issue its annual plan.
18. Reinarman and Levine. [1997] 2006.
19. See Fields and Fields (2012). In Chapter 1, the authors make a distinction
between real blood and metaphorical blood, the ones constructed by
human beings to supposedly explain why people are “naturally” divided
into different races.
20. Historian Allen (1997) argued that in early America, Europeans who
belonged to lower-income groups or those who were indentured and
working for the opportunity of freedom were promised the presumption
of liberty, not social mobility. Allen (1997: 248) contends that: “Instead of
social mobility, European-Americans who did not own bond-laborers
were to be asked to be satisfied simply with the presumption of liberty, the
birthright of the poorest person in England; and with the right of adult
males who owned sufficient property to vote for candidates for office
who were almost invariably owners of bond-laborers. The prospects for
stability of a system of capitalist agriculture based on lifetime hereditary
bond servitude depended on the ability of the ruling elite to induce the
non-“yeoman” European-Americans to settle for this counterfeit of social
mobility. The solution was to establish a new birthright not only for
Anglos but for every Euro-American, the “white” identity that “set them at
a distance,” to use Sir Francis’ phrase, from the laboring-class African
Americans, and enlisted them as active, or at least passive, supporters of
lifetime bondage of African Americans”.
21. Race scholars often refer to the Allan Bakke case as one of the first chal-
lenges to the affirmative action programs and policies that developed
after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights
Act of 1965 to redress hundreds of years of oppression experienced by
70
N. BYFIELD
disadvantaged groups in the United States, including African Americans
and Latinos. In 1978 the US Supreme Court supported the claim of Bakke,
a 33-year-old applicant to the medical school at the University of California
at Davis, that the university’s decision to deny him admission was due to
discrimination against him because he is white. See US Supreme Court
majority decision authored by Justice Lewis Powell. In the decision, color-
blindness is discussed in the context of the importance of ensuring that all
US citizens receive equal access to programs and opportunities that receive
federal support (p. 18). It is also clear in the decision that, in US culture,
color-blindness had already taken on the meaning that race is “no longer
relevant to public policy” (p. 38). It is important to point out that the
justices did not agree with this meaning. My point here is that color-
blindness as a concept had already taken on contradictory meanings when
used in the context of racial inequality.
22. See note above.
23. See Justice Blackmun’s Opinion on Bakke case. See Regents of the University
of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, (1978) (US Supreme Court).
24. See Justice Blackmun’s Opinion on Bakke case.
25. Bell (1992) builds on the work of Hochschild (1984). Hochschild, Jennifer.
1984. The New American Dilemma: Liberal Democracy and School
Desegregation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
26. This process distills “the other” from the mainstream; it creates meanings
for whiteness and blackness.
27. And new sets of privilege for those labeled white.
28. I borrow here from the term used by Pager (2007).
29. Leland, John and Colin Moynihan. 2012. “Thousands March Silently to
Protest Stop-and-Frisk Policies.The New York Times. June 17. P. A15.
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Article
This article explores Rod Bush’s intellectual and activist legacy in real terms by a former colleague of his at St. John’s University. Through historical notation, anecdote and substantive documentation and in relation to social movements and scholarship, the article articulates many lessons that Rod Bush provided about what is important and how to uphold that in practice. In particular the piece notes the critical role of radical Black scholars in providing an understanding of the dynamics of a social world designed to negate the humanity of African peoples.
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Winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1995)From its beginnings in hip hop culture, the dense rhythms and aggressive lyrics of rap music have made it a provocative fixture on the American cultural landscape. In Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Tricia Rose, described by the New York Times as a "hip hop theorist," takes a comprehensive look at the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and styles of this highly rhythmic, rhymed storytelling and grapples with the most salient issues and debates that surround it.Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History at New York University, Tricia Rose sorts through rap's multiple voices by exploring its underlying urban cultural politics, particularly the influential New York City rap scene, and discusses rap as a unique musical form in which traditional African-based oral traditions fuse with cutting-edge music technologies. Next she takes up rap's racial politics, its sharp criticisms of the police and the government, and the responses of those institutions. Finally, she explores the complex sexual politics of rap, including questions of misogyny, sexual domination, and female rappers' critiques of men.But these debates do not overshadow rappers' own words and thoughts. Rose also closely examines the lyrics and videos for songs by artists such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, Salt N' Pepa, MC Lyte, and L. L. Cool J. and draws on candid interviews with Queen Latifah, music producer Eric "Vietnam" Sadler, dancer Crazy Legs, and others to paint the full range of rap's political and aesthetic spectrum. In the end, Rose observes, rap music remains a vibrant force with its own aesthetic, "a noisy and powerful element of contemporary American popular culture which continues to draw a great deal of attention to itself."
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Omi and Winant examine the creation and negotiation of race's role in identify construction, contestation, and deconstruction. Since no biological basis exists for the signification of racial differences, the authors discuss racial hierarchies in terms of a "racial formation," which is a process by which racial categories are created, accepted, altered, or destroyed. This theory assumes that society contains various racial projects to which all people are subjected. The role that race plays in social stratification secures its place as a political phenomenon in the United States. This stratification is tantamount to what Omi and Winant call "racial dictatorship," which has three effects. First, the identity "American" is conflated with the racial identity "white." Second, the "color line" becomes a fundamental division in American society. Finally, oppositional racial consciousness became consolidated in opposition to racial dictatorship.
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Exploring the social, and specifically legal origins, of white racial identity, Ian Haney-Lopez here examines cases in America's past that have been instrumental in forming contemporary conceptions of race, law, and whiteness. In 1790, Congress limited naturalization to white persons. This racial prerequisite for citizenship remained in force for over a century and a half, enduring until 1952. In a series of important cases, including two heard by the United States Supreme Court, judges around the country decided and defined who was white enough to become American. White by Law traces the reasoning employed by the courts intheir efforts to justify the whiteness of some and the non-whiteness of others. Haney-Lopez reveals the criteria that were used, often arbitrarily, to determine whiteness, and thus citizenship: skin color, facial features, national origin, language, culture, ancestry, scientific opinion, and, most importantly, popular opinion. Having defined the social and legal origins of whiteness, the book turns its attention to white identity today and concludes by calling upon whites to acknowledge and renounce their privileged racial identity. Lopez notes that race is a highly contingent social construction that manifests itself in specific times, places, and situations and is informed by other markers of identity. Being White is not a monolithic or homogenous experience; it is changeable, partial, inconstant, and social. Whether one is White, and indeed what is means to be White, can change based on when and where one is and what one is doing.
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The Second Edition of Preventing and Reducing Juvenile Delinquency: A Comprehensive Framework aims to inform students about the latest research and the most promising and effective programs and provides a wealth of information for understanding, preventing and controlling juvenile delinquency. Key Features: Examines the history of current juvenile justice system policies and practices, including the juvenile violence “epidemic” Discusses key myths about juvenile violence and the ability of the juvenile justice system to handle modern-day juvenile delinquents Applies developmental theories of juvenile delinquency to understanding how juvenile offender careers evolve Reviews effective prevention and rehabilitation programs and what does not work Presents a comprehensive framework for building a continuum of effective programs. Intended Audience: This is an ideal supplementary text for undergraduate and graduate courses in juvenile delinquency, juvenile justice, and violent offender intervention courses. It is also essential reading for juvenile justice and social services research and development specialists.
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Victor Rios grew up in the ghetto of Oakland, California in the 1980s and 90s. A former gang member and juvenile delinquent, Rios managed to escape the bleak outcome of many of his friends and earned a PhD at Berkeley and returned to his hometown to study how inner city young Latino and African American boys develop their sense of self in the midst of crime and intense policing. Punished examines the difficult lives of these young men, who now face punitive policies in their schools, communities, and a world where they are constantly policed and stigmatized. Rios followed a group of forty delinquent Black and Latino boys for three years. These boys found themselves in a vicious cycle, caught in a spiral of punishment and incarceration as they were harassed, profiled, watched, and disciplined at young ages, even before they had committed any crimes, eventually leading many of them to fulfill the destiny expected of them. But beyond a fatalistic account of these marginalized young men, Rios finds that the very system that criminalizes them and limits their opportunities, sparks resistance and a raised consciousness that motivates some to transform their lives and become productive citizens. Ultimately, he argues that by understanding the lives of the young men who are criminalized and pipelined through the criminal justice system, we can begin to develop empathic solutions which support these young men in their development and to eliminate the culture of punishment that has become an overbearing part of their everyday lives.