Racial Disparities In the Justice System

While Racial Disparities In Court Need Constant Discussion, Let's Talk About How It's A Problem

Implicit bias—and even conscious bias—are a big problem.


Phil Dixon Jr., an indigent defense educator, specializes in evidence, criminal procedure, and constitutionality for juveniles. When I spoke to him for a class assignment, he discussed his advocacy work for people who can't afford regular lawyers and shared anecdotes of his experiences with disproportionate minority contact.

As an indigent defense educator, he teaches lawyers who represent defendants who can't afford a higher quality lawyer; these defendants are often of color. He talked about how he believes these defendants deserve the same rights as someone who doesn't have the money to afford a more prestigious lawyer. "In theory, that person is entitled to the same level of representation," he said, and I agreed.

He trains these lawyers to see working with these defendants as a privilege and to do a great job despite the fact that they're paid less, especially now that the $75 an hour these lawyers were paid has lowered to $55 over time, and therefore typically causes lesser quality work.

Dixon often feels frustrated toward cases in which a judge's implicit bias hurts an individual who comes from a less privileged home. He's seen cases where two children will commit similar crimes, but the one who is dressed nicer, knows the right things to say, and uses manners gets an entirely different disposition — the juvenile word for sentence — than one who comes from an unsupportive, poor home with no way of transportation.

A study in 2013 showed that federal prosecutors are more likely to charge black people than white people, even if they have similar situations and even if the white person committed a crime carrying a higher minimum sentence.

Dixon believes that many judges strive to treat all people fairly, but can make snap decisions or racist assumptions even when they don't realize that their thought comes from bias.

He's also seen cases in which the deck is stacked against someone because a judge will find a child responsible solely because he or she believes the child needs services for being at the courthouse in the first place; the judge may believe that giving children services for being in the courtroom is his or her responsibility.

Dixon also feels frustrated with the arbitrariness of certain factors. For example, he explained that some judges have heard so many sob stories that they become immune. Some lawyers may not research what's best for everyone in the family as well as they should. Luck of the draw with lawyers and judges is also a factor. Some judges have nuanced and narrow ways of seeing the world, depending on where they came from and their previous career work.

In many ways, the justice system needs work and is far from perfect, and it's easy to feel like there's little we can do to change it. However, addressing our own instances of implicit bias — our unconscious attitudes or stereotypes about a person of a certain demographic, that have real-world implications — by taking this quiz, by being intentional in our words and reflective of our opinions, and by educating ourselves through resources such as these — we are making a crucial difference.

Popular Right Now

It's Not 'Just Hair,' It's Our Culture, And Your Appropriation Is Not OK

Why a hairstyle matters as much as a dashiki.


"Why can't I have locs? It's just a hairstyle."

I've heard this time and time again. I've read it online I've seen non-black people get locs or box braids believing the hairstyles have no significance and that it's just hair.

This is incorrect and a prime example of cultural appropriation.

Hair is not only a mode of self-expression but a physical identifier of one's culture. A style like box braids, for example, is traditionally African and African-American. Donning this style as a fashion statement is cultural appropriation, and it's just as bad as buying a cheap "Navajo headdress" from urban outfitters and calling yourself an "Indian Princess." One might argue that, yes, Europeans have traditional braided hairstyles and therefore, getting braids isn't cultural appropriation. If Europeans have traditional braided hairstyles, why don't you do those?

African-American women are often accused of cultural appropriation for wearing long, straight, and often blonde, weaves. This is not cultural appropriation, it is cultural assimilation. Natural coily, kinky and curly hair has been seen as ugly, unprofessional, and even illegal at times. During the Jim Crow era, it was illegal in some places for black women to go into town without straightened hair. Chemical relaxers and long straight weaves are a result of the desire to survive in a culture that is unwelcoming of one's natural features. Black women are treated unfairly because of their hair even today. The US Army only recently lifted its ban on natural hairstyles for black women. Some employers have even recently fired black women for wearing dreadlocks.

Traditional African-American hairstyles are not just hair. They are an expression of culture and individuality. Appropriating this aspect of culture is harmful and racist and should be taken seriously. The phrase "It's a culture, not a costume" rings true. Cultures are not costumes, fashion statements, jokes, or threats. Culture should be celebrated and appreciated, not appropriated.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

I Want My School To Be As Diverse As Their Advertisements Claim They Are

Several campuses pride themselves on a wide range of individuals who attend their institutions, but what is the reality versus the things we see?


When deciding on a college I wanted to know what I was going to be getting myself into for 4 years. I watched so many videos of Boise State Universities campus to find out what I had to look forward to. I was from a smaller town in Southern California so I was very used to the amount of diversity in my school and basically whole life at that point. I am a White Mexican-American female and while growing up in my city, I was a part of the minority of white individuals. I always wanted a campus who would represent me, or I could see myself at. I looked at so many ads before I did a campus tour and looked at stacks of brochures scattered across my room with my sister. I saw people who looked like the friends I had throughout my life, my family, and most importantly myself.

I took two tours of the campus and noticed that there was a lack of the people I saw on the brochures on the actual campus and city. I walked around only really seeing individuals who were white. I drove the 14 hours back home and continued to think about how I didn't see the diversity that was advertised in everything I saw from the university. It wasn't until the big move-in day that I realized the lack of diversity I was experiencing in the staff and the individuals I shared classrooms with. When you check the university's website you can see the numbers and the lack of diversity.

  • American Indian/Alaska Native — <1% (118)
  • Asian — 2% (595)
  • Black/African American — 2% (425)
  • Hispanic/Latino — 13% (3,243)
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — <1% (121)
  • Not Reported — 4% (914)
  • Two or More Races — 4% (1.079)
  • White — 73% (18,612)
  • Nonresident (International) — 2% (433)

The numbers I was seeing wasn't matching the things I was seeing around, and it wasn't until I conducted my own research and interviews with my peers that I noticed that I wasn't the only individual that was craving more diversity on campus. Other students wanted to more people who were like them around campus. Boise State University is not the only campus that will push diversity when its really to only meet their quota. Students who transferred from Arizona State University also mentioned to me that they face similar issues and feelings around diversity from their campus. I want to bring the topic of diversity to many of the student organizations on campus to help our voice be heard for a want for a more diverse campus.

Related Content

Facebook Comments