Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?

Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver in the New York Times:

PrisonGiven the centrality of liberty to democracy, one way to assess the democratic health of a state is by the fairness of the laws governing its removal. The fairness of a system of justice is measured by the degree to which its laws are fairly and consistently applied across all citizens. In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for unjustified violations of the laws demands. What we call a racial democracy is one that unfairly applies the laws governing the removal of liberty primarily to citizens of one race, thereby singling out its members as especially unworthy of liberty, the coin of human dignity.

There is a vast chasm between democratic political ideals and a state that is a racial democracy. The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that when political ideals diverge so widely from reality, the ideals themselves may prevent us from seeing the gap. Officially, the laws in the United States that govern when citizens can be sent to prison or questioned by the police are colorblind. But when the official story differs greatly from the reality of practice, the official story becomes a kind of mask that prevents us from perceiving it. And it seems clear that the practical reality of the criminal justice system in the United States is far from colorblind. The evidence suggests that the criminal justice system applies in a radically unbalanced way, placing disproportionate attention on our fellow black citizens. The United States has a legacy of enslavement followed by forced servitude of its black population. The threat that the political ideals of our country veil an underlying reality of racial democracy is therefore particularly disturbing.

More here.