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Racial stereotype or ageism?

By: dmc-admin//January 26, 2009//

Racial stereotype or ageism?

By: dmc-admin//January 26, 2009//

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A divided panel of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently vacated a sentence based on comments by the white sentencing judge that the court found could be construed as exhibiting racial bias against the black defendant.

I will admit that the statements could be construed in this way. But I was struck by how similar the sentencing court’s comments are to those my friends and I frequently make in regards to young white men in the suburbs.

We’ll meet an attractive, ambitious and hardworking young woman, busy as a bee, working long hours for low wages, while going to college, too. Yet, she’ll have a boyfriend who is unemployed, or underemployed at best.

They’ll walk into a tavern, and the young woman will pay the tab. Or they’ll pull into a gas station, and the young woman will pump the gas and pay for it.

We marvel at why these women date these men, and how some young men these days can accept a status in life that we consider akin to a house pet.

We ask, as did the judge in this case, “Where do you guys find these women? Is there a club?”

Race doesn’t come into play; the objects of our derision are most often caucasian. At worst, we would admit ourselves to be old fogies out of touch with the gender relations in the younger generation.

Obviously, context is important. A white judge sentencing a black defendant to prison is a different situation than a couple of middle-aged men in a tavern mocking a young woman’s choice of boyfriend.

Still, the court’s opinion is problematic. There is nothing in the transcript that has any overt racial tinge. On the contrary, the trial court’s statements would be spot-on for a great many white defendants in our criminal justice system.

When an identical transcript shows reversible error in one case, but an appropriate exercise of discretion in another, depending solely on the race of the defendant, the law is standing on shaky footing.


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