Institutional Racism: Is Law Used as a Tool to Perpetuate Racial Inequality?

Cheryl Chambers, North Carolina State University

Law is a mechanism we use to instigate social change and bring about equality. It is also the tool that has been used to institutionalize, legitimize and perpetuate inequality. Is the law still being used to institutionalize racism? In this paper, conflict perspectives are applied to the role of the economy, politics and the state to foster understanding of drug laws and their racial consequences. The institutional racism perspective is utilized to analyze drug laws as potential mechanisms of discrimination. The institutional racism perspective also guides analysis of the differential and negative effects of federal drug laws, specifically side-effect discrimination, both economic and political: economic in terms of employment in that disproportionate incarceration rates may lead to more differential hiring practices, and politically, the disproportionate incarceration rates may lead to differential political power due to disenfranchisement.

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Updated 05/20/2006