Race and Inequality Series | The Color of Punishment: African Americans, Skin Tone, and the Criminal Justice System

PSTC Seminar Room 205, Mencoff Hall

Special Seminar Series on Race and Inequality

Ellis Monk, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Princeton University

Public debate and scholarly research has largely concentrated on the vast array of disparities between blacks and whites in their treatment by and experiences with the criminal justice system. This research has shown how race, class, and gender are significantly associated with policing and punishment in the United States. On the other hand, a growing body of research shows that African Americans' life chances are internally stratified by gradational differences in their skin tone. Some studies even suggest that the magnitude of intraracial disparities in life chances rival or even exceed what obtains between blacks and whites as a whole. Moreover, research already suggests that darker-skinned African American men are often stereotyped as dangerous and/or “criminal”; and studies also indicate that lighter-skinned African Americans receive more lenient criminal sentences than darker-skinned African Americans for equivalent crimes. Monk brings together research on race, color, and the criminal justice system by using nationally representative data to examine whether (and to what extent) skin tone is associated with policing and punishment among African Americans (e.g. arrest, incarceration, and familial connectedness to incarcerated individuals).

Ellis P. Monk, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Associate of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. His research primarily focuses on the examination of social inequality, especially with respect to race and ethnicity, in comparative perspective. This research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods, while drawing heavily upon contemporary theories of social cognition and categories to deeply engage with issues of measurement and methodology in a wide array of topics such as social stratification, health, aging, social psychology, sociology of the body, and political sociology. In addition to a series of theoretical and empirical articles on bodily capital and the various dimensions and political consequences of skin color inequality in the Americas, he is currently completing a book manuscript, tentatively titled Coloring Race: Ancestry, Appearance, and Inequality in the U.S. and Brazil (under contract at the University of Chicago Press), which is the first comparative, mixed-methods examination of the social and economic significance of skin tone and hair as markers of ethnoracial division in the U.S. and Brazil.