The Epistemic and Psychological Mechanisms Perpetuating Racism Within the Criminal Justice System
Master of Arts
Date of Defense
Eric Wiland, Ph.D.
Jill Delston, Ph.D.
William Dunaway, Ph.D.
Many attempts have been made by philosophers, political activists, psychologists, historians, social advocates, and others to explain the mechanisms at play in the perpetuation and resulting manifestations of systemic and institutional racism. On one side of the debate there lies a theory that there is an epistemic failure at the root of racial bias towards Blacks, white ignorance, a collective amnesia regarding what has and does take place in society, as it pertains to their oppression and isolation, like the view of philosopher Charles W. Mills. According to Mills, this type of ignorance, or non-knowing, is a cognitive phenomenon in which race plays a causal role. The other side consists of a refutation of the "myth" white ignorance, like the perspective of philosopher Tommy Curry. Under this stance, racist acts and ideologies are part of a deliberate and malicious strategy to keep Blacks in subordinate societal positions, where whites can comfortably maintain their social, political, and economic supremacy. In Curry’s opinion, the assignment of whites as ignorant conveniently salvages their virtue, so they are then unaccountable for the suffering Blacks endure. This discussion provides an in depth philosophical, epistemological and psychological analysis of white ignorance, by incorporating cognitive dissonance; an internal conflict occurring when what we hold true is challenged, and the phenomenon psychologist Robert Jay Lifton calls doubling. In my analysis, I take the stance that even if white ignorance is not a sufficient explanation for certain instances of racism against Blacks, it can certainly prove helpful in explaining disparities within the criminal justice system. This includes not only the use of excessive force by white police officers, but also the arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing of Blacks.
Walker, Danielle, "The Epistemic and Psychological Mechanisms Perpetuating Racism Within the Criminal Justice System" (2019). Theses. 351.
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