Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 46, Issue 1–2, pp 65–85 | Cite as

Profiles of punishment and privilege: secret and disputed deviance during the racialized transition to American adulthood



This paper combines Glenn Loury’s (The anatomy of racial inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002) thought experiments about racial inequality with Howard Becker’s (Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York, NY: Free, 1963) typology of deviance to guide the analysis of three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results reveal the racial anatomy of punishment and privilege during the transition to American adulthood. Our analysis points to a substantial pool of white American youth and emerging adults whose partying behavior is a prevalent form of unsanctioned secret deviance. These disproportionately white and economically advantaged secret deviants contrast with a smaller but significant number of African-American youth and emerging adults who dispute their designations by the juvenile and criminal courts as official deviants. While the privileged position of a party subculture may in social–psychological terms be enabling and even empowering for youthful and affluent white Americans, the selective punishment of other forms of drug activity and delinquency is disabling for African-Americans in profound and less recognized ways. The importance of the data presented in this paper is to expose the comparative probabilities of black and white punishment and privilege. The results reveal concealed racial conventions involved in the construction of the American collective conscience, which Loury identifies as a source of our cognitive imprisonment.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.American Bar FoundationNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyTexas A & M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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