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Black and BlueHow African Americans Judge the U.S. Legal System$
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James L. Gibson and Michael Nelson

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190865214

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190865214.001.0001

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Symbols of Justice or of Social Control? Legal Authority and the Views of African Americans

Symbols of Justice or of Social Control? Legal Authority and the Views of African Americans

(p.93) 5 Symbols of Justice or of Social Control? Legal Authority and the Views of African Americans
Black and Blue

James L. Gibson

Michael J. Nelson

Oxford University Press

Extant research has established that black and white Americans hold vastly different explicit attitudes about law, justice, and the legal system. What has not been established, however, is whether implicit attitudes—such as the networks of considerations that are activated by the symbols of legal authority—differ between blacks and whites. Earlier research has shown that exposure to the symbols of authority can have legitimacy-enhancing consequences, increasing the likelihood that an unwelcomed court decision will be accepted. Given the negative experiences many African Americans have with legal authorities—and clear evidence that blacks learn vicariously from the experiences of their co-ethnics—it seems unlikely that the finding from earlier research that law is viewed as just and benevolent is widely shared in the black community. Instead, we hypothesize, legal symbols are likely to stimulate associations colored with thoughts of injustice and social control. The American legal system is developing a crisis of legitimacy among its black constituents; understanding how explicit and implicit information processing systems affect black attitudes is therefore of crucial scientific and political relevance.

Keywords:   legitimacy, diffuse support, Positivity Theory, U.S. Supreme Court, symbols, linked fate, Social Identity Theory, group attachment, vicarious experience, information processing

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