Black Demons: The Media's Depiction of the African American Male Criminal Stereotype

By Dennis Rome | Go to book overview
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Theory: UCR, Racial Bias, Public Policy, and the Mass Media

The image of violent white Americans as social bandits was carried well into the post—World War II era. It appealed, of course, primarily to young white males. “Almost every boy in America, wrote one criminologist, “wanted to be Jesse James, the strong, fearless bandit who came to symbolize the individuality of the American West.” This image effectively “white-washed” the seriousness of white violence in the American consciousness through a process of turning attention away from the blood and horror of white predatory crime and refocusing it on fabricated, overly romanticized biographies. Whereas black violence was seen as dark and threatening, there was something quintessentially American about violence when it was rendered by whites. Diminished in its importance, violence then became an accepted and altogether normal rite of passage for millions of American white youths…. The group that defines the law and controls public opinion is the group that will define criminal images and control the punishments for all groups, not the least of which will be their own. Throughout history, white Americans have done precisely that. Through law and culture, they have created a condition whereby white American violence has become imageless. Yet when viewed in the broad scope of history, they do have an image, a very clearly defined image. From the landing of the Vikings to the present day, white American males have used their dominant social status to exercise habitual cruelty against weaker and less powerful people. There is only one word for that. Alas, the predatory white criminal is nothing less than a bully.1

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