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Looking Criminal and the Presumption of Dangerousness: Afrocentric Facial Features, Skin Tone, and Criminal Justice

51 U.C. Davis L.Rev. (2018, Forthcoming)

UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper

62 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2017  

Mark W. Bennett

U.S. District Court (Northern District of Iowa); Independent

Victoria Plaut

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Department of Psychology

Date Written: November 27, 2017

Abstract

Social psychologists have established that faces of Black males trigger thoughts of violence, crime, and dangerousness and thoughts of crime trigger thoughts and images of Black males. This presumption of dangerousness increases with darker skin tones (colorism) and greater Afrocentric facial features and affects both men and women. We examine the history of the stereotype of Blacks and crime, violence, and dangerousness arising in the United States from the time of slavery. We focus on the historical development of this stereotype through a lens of history, literature, pseudo-science, emerging neuroscience, media distortion of crime reporting, and the development of the Negro-ape metaphor. We then look beyond the Black-White race dichotomy to explore the evolving social science literature examining the influence of skin tone and Afrocentric facial features on the length of criminal sentences. We further explore the social science supporting the presumption of dangerousness and conclude with recommendations to help ameliorate this problem that permeates the American criminal justice system.

Keywords: Afrocentric facial features, skin tone bias, looking criminal

Suggested Citation

Bennett, Mark W. and Plaut, Victoria, Looking Criminal and the Presumption of Dangerousness: Afrocentric Facial Features, Skin Tone, and Criminal Justice (November 27, 2017). 51 U.C. Davis L.Rev. (2018, Forthcoming); UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3078065

Mark Bennett (Contact Author)

U.S. District Court (Northern District of Iowa) ( email )

320 6th St.
Sioux City, IA 51101
United States
712-233-3909 (Phone)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Victoria Plaut

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Psychology

Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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