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“They Say We’re Violent”: The Multidimensionality of Race in Perceptions of Police Brutality and BLM

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2022


A growing literature demonstrates the importance of both race and skin color in one’s lived experiences, including interactions with police. Media discourse and anti-police brutality movements consistently emphasize race while little, if any, attention is given to skin color. This paper seeks to examine how Black Americans navigate the multidimensionality of race with respect to organizing efforts against institutionalized racism. Do Black Americans perceive skin color as informing police interactions or support incorporating skin color into anti-brutality movement messaging? Is self-identified skin color associated with these views? A combination of sixty-seven in-depth interviews and two national surveys of Black Americans reveals widespread recognition that darker-skinned Black people are more likely to be brutalized by police and feelings that Black Lives Matter organizing is implicitly associated with skin color. Yet there is general hesitancy for movement messaging to explicitly engage with subgroup disparities based on characteristics like skin color or gender. Among self-identified darker-skinned individuals, skin color is perceived as even more tightly interwoven with policing and there is more openness to discussing skin color alongside race. Overall, this mixed-methods project highlights how Black Americans perceive the multidimensionality of racialized interactions and, in search of justice, strategize responses through social movement organizing.

Special Issue Articles: Black Lives Matter
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:


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