Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

Offsetting Race Privilege

Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

Offsetting Race Privilege

Article excerpt

ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot--six times--and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri (see e.g., Buchanan et al. (2014)). Since that date, Ferguson has been the center of a movement in the United States against what amounts to modern racial separation. Brown was the fourth unarmed black (1) man to be killed by police in that month (Harkinson (2014)), and one of many more in the years prior and the year and a half since. The exact number is hard to pin down, but all sources agree that police kill disproportionately many unarmed black people compared to unarmed white people (Lee (2014)). (2)

"Stop and search" numbers are also disproportionate. The number of stops has increased dramatically, for example from 115,000 in 2002 to 685,000 in 2011 by the New York Police Department (NYPD). More than half of those stopped were also frisked, and around 90 percent of those stopped were black or Latinx men, despite the fact that black people make up only 25 percent of New York City's population, and Latinx people make up only 28 percent (The Economist (2013)). Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin found the NYPD's stop-and-search policy unconstitutional and recommended widespread reform (Usborne (2013)).

Incarceration rates in the United States are the highest per capita of any country in the world, and this impacts African-Americans and Latinx people disproportionately. (3) To take a specific crime, in 1988, black people were arrested on drug charges five times as often as white people, and by 1996 this had increased to black people being arrested on drug charges 13 times as often as white people, despite the fact that black people and white people use drugs to roughly the same extent (Schoenfeld (2013)).

Troubling differences are also found in the areas of employment, education, healthcare and other basic goods. Many will have heard of the 2001-2002 experiments using fictitious resumes to test racial bias in employers, which found that applicants with white-sounding names were called for interviews about 50 percent more often than applicants with African-American-sounding names (Bertrand and Mullainathan (2003); see also Neckerman and Kirschenman (1991)). The educational performance of children has been found to correlate strongly with their being educated in smaller schools, with smaller class sizes, a more challenging curriculum and more qualified teachers, all of which children from racial minorities are less likely to have access to (Darling-Hammond (1998)). African-Americans spend more of their lives without health insurance than whites. One report of numbers of people with health insurance in 2009 found 88 percent of whites to have insurance, compared to 79 percent of African-Americans and 68 percent of Hispanics (Russell (2010)).

The United States provides a clear example of a society in which morally problematic differences between people track racial (4) lines. African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinx people are more likely than white Americans to be killed by police while unarmed; more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested and incarcerated; less likely to be hired by employers; less likely to be educated by prestigious institutions; and less likely to be protected by adequate healthcare. African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinx people are disadvantaged by these differences, relative to white Americans, and white Americans are advantaged by these differences, relative to African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinx people. The fact of being advantaged in virtue of the color of one's skin is referred to colloquially as "race privilege."

A discussion of the normative implications of these differences could focus on either side of the differences, or on both. For example, it could ask what those experiencing racial disadvantage are owed, without saying much at all about by whom. This is a less challenging question than asking what those experiencing racial advantage owe. …

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