In “Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century,” Lawrence Bobo discusses the concept of laissez-faire racism. Laissez-faire racism describes how racial attitudes in America have shifted from the overtly racist policies of Jim Crowe racism to more subtle forms. As opposed to during the Jim Crowe era when African-Americans faced blatant racism like segregation, they now face underlying racism educationally, socially, and politically.
The four main characteristics of laissez-faire racism, as described by Bobo, are “a continued acceptance of negative racial stereotypes; a belief in a level playing field; the belief that due to this level playing field, anyone can succeed by working hard and playing by the rules; and our country’s belief in justice, so our country’s people behave consistently according to just principles.
” Although there are many instances of this within the institutional policies and practices in our country, the two main examples that best illustrate the concept of laissez-faire racism are education and the criminal justice system.
The most prominent example of laissez-faire racism is our country’s education system. Although clearly our country does not still have overtly racist policies such as the separate but equal doctrine, there is still a clear disparity between the education received by white Americans and African-Americans and other minorities. The fact of the matter is, African-Americans and other minorities are still living in poorer neighborhoods, in which the quality of schools simply does not compare to those in richer neighborhoods.
Students are held to lower expectations at these schools. The textbooks and curriculum are outdated, and job resources are not available to these students. The drop out rates are much higher for African-Americans and minorities, SAT scores are much lower, and overall success rates simply cannot compare to those of white Americans living in richer neighborhoods with better schools. A second example of laissez-faire racism lies within our criminal justice system. There is a huge disparity in the death penalty between African-Americans and minorities as compared to whites.
The chances of receiving the death penalty are much higher if an individual is African-American and convicted of murder than if that same individual was white. The facts are even more repulsive when analyzing victimology. If a white person kills a black person, the odds of them getting the death penalty are slim. If a black person kills a white person, the odds are significantly higher. The disparity lies in how we value a life, depending on the color of an individual’s skin. Bobo came to two conclusions based on data collected throughout his research.
For one, the United States “has experienced a genuine and tremendous positive transformation in racial attitudes” . However, he also concluded that “racial discrimination remains a barrier to the full economic, political, and social participation of African-Americans in institutions” . The fact that discrimination continues to remain a barrier to the participation of African-Americans in society can be clearly seen by the two examples mentioned. So, the question remains: how do we fix this situation?
How can these problems be addressed to achieve greater racial equality? In order to address the issue of education, our country must create a way to fund all schools equally. Although the federal government does give money to public schools across the country, schools in each district are mostly funded by the taxpayers living in that district through property taxes. This leads to a small amount of money that is dedicated to schools in poorer districts, and a larger amount of money dedicated to schools in richer districts.
The results of this policy are very obvious when comparing the quality of schools in richer districts to that in poorer. There are a few ways that this policy can be crafted. The policy created by our government could direct more aid to schools in poorer districts in order to improve their infrastructure and curriculum, thereby improving quality of their students’ performance. The policy could also redirect education money from richer districts to poorer districts, which would have the same effect.
Either way, a policy needs to be put into place in order to get more money to the schools in these poorer districts, which need the money the most. In order to address the issue of the death penalty, our criminal justice practices must be analyzed. There must be a solid standard for what type of crime receives the death penalty, so that minorities do not face the death penalty at higher rates than white Americans. There should be strict guidelines for who receives the death penalty, with no subjectivity.
For example, if Congress passed a law that required the death penalty for all premeditated first-degree murders, the law could not be applied broadly based on the biased judgments of a jury. A white man who commits first-degree murder would be subject to the death penalty, just like an African-American man, or any other minority individual for that matter. And this is just an example. Laws must be concrete and inflexible, that is, unable to be bent by a jury in order to hold minorities to stricter standards than that of white Americans.
Essentially, to white people, race is something that has been dealt with as seen by the “level playing field” that supposedly exists today. To African-Americans, race is a constant reality that they must face every day. This idea continues to be reemphasized through our laissez-faire racist policies in education and our criminal justice system. By eliminating this subtle discrimination and other policies like it, our country will be able to fully move on from our discriminatory past and achieve greater racial equity.