Racially Motivated Hate Crime Essay

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To date, hate crime literature has tended to be very broad and nonspecific in its focus. That is, little scholarship devotes attention to specific categories of victims. Extant literature has tended to discuss hate crime in generic terms, as if it was experienced in the same ways by women, by Jews, by gay men, by Latinos/as, or by lesbians. Even racial violence is collapsed into one broad category, as if all racial and ethnic groups experienced it the same way. Consequently, there is not a very clear picture of the specific dynamics and consequences that may be associated with victimization on the basis of different racial identities.

Anti-White Violence

Interestingly, U.S. data sources report high numbers of anti-White violence—although Whites remain underrepresented as victims. For example, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program hate crime data consistently report approximately 1,000 incidents motivated by anti-White bias—or 10% of all victimizations, and 20% of all racially motivated victimizations. However, scholars have made virtually no attempt to understand the dynamics of anti-White victimization, or the dynamics of reporting by White victims. It may be that White victims are more likely to report their victimization, seeing it as an affront to the racial order. Or, in fact, it might be a form of ethnic bias—anti-Italian, or anti-Polish—that does not fit neatly into the limited Hispanic/non-Hispanic ethnic categories in the UCR. Scholars have hardly acknowledged, let alone explored, this apparent anomaly.

Anti-Black Violence

Not surprisingly, in the United States, the limited data available suggest that African Americans are the most frequent victims of racial violence. UCR data, for example, regularly reveal that African Americans make up approximately two thirds of all victims of racially motivated violence. Thus, the history of discrimination and intolerance against Black Americans persists in the form of normative violent practices: verbal taunts, assaults, vandalism, church arsons, police brutality. While certainly not as dramatic as the thousands of lynchings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hate crime continues to be an everyday expectation for African Americans. And many of the same stereotypes—for example, Black male predator, lazy cheaters—continue to inform the hostility that predisposes offenders to assault blacks.

Anti–Native American Violence

Native Americans are also overrepresented as victims of racially motivated violence. History is replete with stories of the genocidal attempts to remove the American Indians from their land. However, scholarly attention to the historical and contemporary victimization of American Indians as nations has unfortunately blinded us to the corresponding victimization of American Indians as individual members of those many nations. The UCR indicates that in 2004, there were 83 incidents in which Native Americans were victims of hate crime, representing less than 1% of all offenses, and just over 1% of all those motivated by race. However, even these data must be taken with a grain of salt, since the UCR is fraught with limitations, especially with respect to underreporting. This may be particularly relevant in the case of Native Americans, thereby explaining the low rates of victimization recorded in UCR statistics. Some recent work has begun to shed light on the specific experiences of American Indians and the ways in which the genocidal history of colonialism continues to inform hate crime perpetrated against them.

Anti-Hispanic Violence

Nearly as little is known about Latino/a victims of racially motivated crime. While this population has a staggeringly high rate of victimization in general, little effort has been made to tease out the effect of racial animus in this context. Moreover, anti-Hispanic victimization is often inseparable from antiimmigrant violence, given the elision between race, ethnicity, and immigration. As is the case with Native Americans, there is no uniform collection of data on violence against Hispanics. A recent National Council of La Raza report offers some insights here, but even that is limited. It is a one-time-only report that does not systematically replicate its inquiry on an annual basis.

Anti-Asian Violence

In contrast to anti-Black and anti-Hispanic hate crime, anti-Asian violence accounts for a relatively small proportion of all racially motivated hate crime. However, it does represent a growing proportion. Many sources suggest that it constitutes the most dramatically and rapidly growing type of racial violence. The 2002 National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium yearly audit seems to confirm what anecdotal evidence and intuitive observations have suggested: riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiments, anti-Asian violence was consistently on the rise throughout the 1990s. Decreases in the early years of the 21st century are attributed more to failures to investigate and fear of reporting than to significant changes in victimization. Moreover, the audit suggests that anti-Asian hate crime remains very violent.

It is interesting to note that a substantial number of suspected offenders involved in violence against Asian Americans are African American or Hispanic. In 1995, these two groups accounted for nearly 45% of offenders. However, neither the dynamics of White-on-Asian violence nor Asian conflicts with other groups have been systematically examined. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, it is more important than ever to study and understand the animus that underlies anti-Asian violence.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, anti-Asian violence has taken a dramatically different form, and racial and ethnic minorities associated with Islam in most Western countries have experienced increased negative attention from the media, police, and security forces, and indeed from agitated citizenry. There has been a concomitant increase in all such countries in the extent of anti-Muslim or “Islamophobic” hate crime, racial vilification, and discrimination. This has been exacerbated by subsequent terrorist events, notably in Bali in October 2002 and October 2005, Madrid in March 2004, and London in July 2005.

Evidence of retaliatory anti-Muslim violence abounds. Within the first week after the September 11 attacks, there were at least seven homicides that appeared to have been racially motivated, reactionary violence. Most major U.S. cities experienced a rash of hate crime, ranging in seriousness from verbal abuse to graffiti and vandalism to arson and murder. By September 18, 2001, the FBI was investigating more than 40 possible hate crimes thought to be related to the terrorist attacks; by October 3, they were investigating more than 90. The number had risen to 145 by October 11. The Muslim Public Affairs Council of Southern California reported 800 cases nationwide by mid-October, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee had recorded over 1,100 such offenses by mid-November. The slogans that accompanied the violence reveal a strong sense of the illegitimacy of Arab residence in the United States along with a similarly strong desire for revenge.

While the recent wave of anti-Muslim violence clearly was motivated by anger and outrage at the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is also informed by a broader history and culture that supports anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti–Middle East sentiments. Many Americans have long been hostile to what they perceive as Islamic fundamentalism, which in turn is increasingly associated with terrorism in the American psyche. Especially in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Americans have come to associate the fundamentalism of Islam with fundamentalist violence, believing Muslims will do anything they deem to be the “will of Allah.” Consequently, Muslims are suspected of being foreign and domestic terrorists, and thus “worthy” victims of hate crime.

Anti-Immigrant Violence

“Immigrant bashing” has also become a part of the daily reality of those who have reached new shores in search of promised freedom and opportunity. In this context, racially motivated violence may be a response to the violation of concrete, geographical boundaries. Hostility toward those perceived as “foreign” is apparent in acts ranging from vandalism and graffiti to brutal assaults worldwide. Inspired by political and media constructions of immigrants as the root of all problems, native-born Americans and native-born Europeans express their opinions in hateful words and deeds.

In the United States, unfortunately, there are no concrete data on anti-immigrant violence. Violence against a Korean shop owner, for example, is classified and recorded as anti-Asian violence. However, the connection between the perpetrator’s tendency to equate ethnicity with immigrant status is apparent in the verbal assaults that often accompany physical assaults. When East Indians or Haitians are told to “go back where you belong,” the assumption is clear: regardless of whether they are first-, secondor third-generation, those who are “different” are perpetual foreigners who do not belong. It is likely, therefore, that a significant proportion of the more than 500 anti-Asian and nearly 1,000 anti-Hispanic hate crimes recorded by the FBI in 2000 were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments. Perhaps even some of the more than 3,000 anti-Black hate crimes were motivated by the perception that the victims were Nigerian, or Haitian, or South African, for example. The data sources are simply too limited to allow researchers to tease out the complicated relationship between race and immigration status.


  1. Bowling, B. (1998). Violent racism: Victimization, policing and social context. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  2. Gerstenfeld, P. (2004). Hate crimes: Causes, control and controversies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  3. Perry, B. (2001). In the name of hate: Understanding hate crime. New York: Routledge.
  4. Perry, B. (Ed.). (2004). Hate and bias crime: A reader. New York: Routledge.

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