University of Iowa College of Law
This Article takes what many view as an extraordinary case about racial hatred from 1955, the Emmett Till murder and trial, and analyzes it against the Trayvon Martin killing and trial outcome in 2012 and 2013. Specifically, this Article exposes one important, but not yet explored similarity between the two cases: their shared role in policing the boundaries of whiteness as a means of preserving the material and the psychological benefits of whiteness. This policing occurred in a variety of forms, including: (1) maintaining white racial separation; (2) facilitating cross-class, white racial solidarity; (3) articulating blackness, and specifically black maleness, as a threat; and (4) regulating the presence and movement of Blacks in what sociologist Elijah Anderson has defined as “the white space.” This Article also delineates how the strategies, practices, and tactics for protecting whiteness and its attendant advantages and benefits have shifted from explicit actions in thwarting, punishing, and even violently resisting challenges to black racial subordination and white authority to ostensibly “race-neutral” actions that promote a type of thinking that legal scholar Ian Haney López calls “commonsense racism,” and that sustain a form of rationalizing racial inequities and injustices that sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva refers to as “colorblind racism.” Ultimately, this Article demonstrates how the same race-based forces and the same racist tropes that undergirded the Till case in 1955 are still operating today, even as meaningful changes have occurred in the practice of racism in the country.
Policing the Boundaries of Whiteness: The Tragedy of Being “Out of Place” from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin
Iowa Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/292