Armchair Sociology: Broken Windows Theory of Discrimination.

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(x-posted from U.S. of J)

To sort of second Neil’s observation about the power of anti-bullying/anti-prejudice norms to “have a broad and beneficial societal impact,” I’m pretty convinced that you can apply the “broken windows” theory of crime to overt prejudice and the treatment of minority groups.  That is, and as I’m sure you all know, the “broken windows” approach holds that urban crime is facilitated when small problems are left to fester.  When broken windows are left unfixed, streets unswept and minor crimes unpunished, criminality – the theory goes – is encouraged.

It’s easy to see how this applies to the treatment of minorities: when governments give official – or even unofficial – sanction to discrimination against minorities, it creates a very real sense that “those people” are fundamentally other, and as such when dealing with them, overt prejudice or violence is socially acceptable.  By contrast, with governments explicitly protect minorities and enforce anti-discrimination laws, that explicit stance of anti-discrimination on part of the government can, over time, transform into a more general anti-discrimination and pro-tolerancenorm among the population at large (as we’ve seen in real-time beginning with the civil rights legislation of the 1960s).


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.