Defining Whiteness in Criminology

April 2021

This paper attempts to provide an overview of whiteness in America, why it is important, how it has developed, how it is studied, and the many roles it plays. In a society structured on racial caste, whiteness is used, enjoyed, and valorized as treasured property. White supremacy has shaped society in the United States specifically from slavery, through the Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and the rise of the modern prison system that continues to produce new relations of racial domination. This paper provides a meta-analysis of 50 articles published in the last decade that deal with whiteness and policing on topics including immigration detention, the professional culture within criminal justice, police and community relations, hate crimes, and numerous other topics. While all of the articles contain whiteness in their subject, this paper analyzes if whiteness is explicitly discussed, if it is conceptualized or defined in the article itself, and if the definition is critical. Ideally, until there is a standard definition of whiteness that is accepted and agreed upon, every criminological article that addresses whiteness would do so explicitly and include a critical conceptualization so that readers do not need a background in critical race theory. Unfortunately, that is not the case.