What is Driving While Black?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2019
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Driving while black (DWB) is an American slang term which references allegations of racism in American policing. According to people who believe that racism and racial bias are common problems in American police forces, black drivers are far more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and they may be subjected to policing techniques of marginal legality such as vehicle searches without due cause. Some people prefer the more expansive “driving while brown” which encompasses all drivers of color, rather than just black drivers.

This slang term is a play on words which references an actual offense, driving while intoxicated (DWI). People who suggest that black drivers are profiled by police officers point out that much as drivers who weave or behave erratically are pulled over on suspicion of intoxication, drivers with dark skin are pulled over by law enforcement officers who suspect that they have done something illegal.

The profiling of Americans with darker skin by law enforcement and the general community has been a problem in the United States for centuries. The nation's history of slavery, segregation, and racism has left a complicated legacy. Black Americans have historically been regarded as a criminal element, and blacks of all social classes have reported incidents in which they have been accused or suspected of criminal activity because of their skin color.


Law enforcement officers can pull people over for any number of reasons, ranging from alerting a driver to a broken indicator light to apprehending someone on a criminal warrant. People who complain of being pulled over for driving while black have argued that they were not behaving suspiciously or violating laws, and that they were pulled over solely because they were black, rather than because the law enforcement officer had a public safety concern. Driving while black can be dangerous for people in predominantly white and highly racist communities, especially in former so-called “sundown towns,” and it continues to be a problem. In 2008, for example, a major scandal in Texas involved the profiling of black drivers by white police officers.

Noted black personalities in the United States have reported being pulled over for driving while black, including celebrities who report such incidents which occurred both before and after they became famous. Law enforcement agencies usually refute claims that they profile black drivers or drivers of color, arguing that their primary concern is public safety and that they pull over drivers of all races to address safety concerns. Statistics on racial profiling and driving while black are somewhat challenging to gather and analyze, making it difficult to determine how much of a problem racial profiling is in the United States.

A related concept is “flying while Muslim,” a slang term which references biases experienced by some Muslim and Middle Eastern airline passengers in the United States in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks perpetrated by radical Muslims.


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