Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Vernellia Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

Abstract

Excerpted From: Daniel P. Mears, Patricia Y. Warren, Ashley N. Arnio, Eric A. Stewart and Miltonette O. Craig, A Legacy of Lynchings: Perceived Black Criminal Threat Among Whites, 53 Law and Society Review 487 (June, 2019) (5 Footnotes) (Reference List) (Full Document)

Lynchings 1930Racial tensions in America have persisted since the country's founding. Although many such tensions can be identified, the “lynching era” --which spanned a roughly 50-year period from around 1880 (the end of Reconstruction) to the 1930s--stands out and has been the subject of an emerging body of scholarship that seeks to document and understand the legacy of lynchings in contemporary America.

Research on lynchings has emphasized the salience of lynchings for exemplifying and supporting a culture of racial animus and hostility toward blacks that exerts a persisting influence on race relations in contemporary America . Many studies in this tradition highlight the salience of racial threat for explaining how the racial animus exemplified by lynchings contributes to modern-day whites' views about and reactions to blacks. In so doing, they parallel the research that employs racial threat theory to understand racial disparities in crime policy, law enforcement, punishment, mass incarceration, and Americans' views about blacks and crime.

This paper seeks to contribute to scholarship aimed at understanding the historical legacy of lynchings and contemporary racialized views of crime. To this end, it examines whether lynchings influence modern-day views that whites hold of blacks both as criminals and as criminal threats to whites. The touchstone for this theoretical argument stems from literature on the role of lynchings in expressing and supporting a deep-rooted cultural view of blacks that persists in contemporary society and continues to shape how whites perceive blacks. Drawing on this work and on racial threat theory, we hypothesize that whites who reside in areas where lynchings occurred will be more likely to perceive blacks as criminals and, more specifically, as criminal threats to whites. We draw, too, on scholarship that highlights the salience of social class and political ideology to hypothesize that residency in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage and political conservatism will amplify these effects. In what follows, we discuss prior theory and research that provide the context for these hypotheses. We then discuss the data and methods used to test them, the findings, and their implications for scholarship.

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Finally, greater attention is needed to ways in which other historical conditions may be relevant in understanding the effects of lynchings, racial threat processes, and contemporary views whites hold toward blacks. Acharya et al. (2016), for example, have argued for the potential role that slavery, and competition among whites and blacks, may play in influencing whites' racial resentment, political affiliation, and views about affirmative action. Although they found no evidence that slavery effects arose through racial threat processes, the study aligns with studies of lynchings in pointing to the persistent influence of the past. Future research ideally will investigate the ways in which social, economic, and cultural events of the past combine to influence racial dynamics in contemporary America.

There is no time like the present to do so. In addition to the considerable attention scholars have given to the study of lynchings, there is also national interest in understanding and acknowledging the fact of lynchings and their consequences. Perhaps the most prominent example can be seen in the erection in 2018 of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama. Its impacts remain to be seen, but its presence signals the potential for greater efforts to document, understand, and address violence of all kinds. 

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