driving while intoxicated

Driving While Black

Driving While Black, abbreviated as DWB, is a phrase in the contemporary American vernacular referring to the alleged criminalization of black drivers. An alternate phrase, Driving While Brown, is more encompassing, referring to the supposed crime of being a non-European American driver.


"Driving While Black" is word play on the name of a real U.S. crime, driving while intoxicated. The phrase implies that a motorist may be pulled over by a police officer simply because he or she is black, and then questioned, searched, and/or charged with a trivial offense. This concept stems from a long history of racism in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries. The term refers to racial profiling, which is said to be used by police and other law enforcement officials.


The related concept of "shopping while black/brown" refers to the notion that non-whites are subject to increased surveillance while shopping. Other plays on the phrase include "walking while black" for pedestrian offenses, "learning while black" for students in schools, and "eating while black" for restaurants. Actor Danny Glover held a press conference in 1999 because cabdrivers weren't stopping for him in New York City; this was called "hailing while black". The phenomenon was investigated further on Michael Moore's television series TV Nation.

In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union convinced the United States Drug Enforcement Administration to repay $7,000 that it had seized from a black businessman in the Omaha, Nebraska airport on the false theory that it was drug money; the ACLU called it "flying while black". A pain specialist who treats sickle-cell disease patients at Manhattan's Beth Israel Medical Center reported that for many years doctors forced African American sickle-cell sufferers to endure pain because they assumed blacks would become addicted to medication; Time magazine labeled this "ailing while black.

Criticism of the term

On October 31, 2007, black conservative Thomas Sowell devoted an editorial column to rebutting the common claim that police officers stop black drivers because of their race.

In popular culture

Several popular culture mediums typify Driving While Black, generally either in a humorous light or through a critical perspective.

In the book Stupid White Men, director Michael Moore suggests techniques that a black man could use to evade detection for DWB. In the film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a Rutgers college professor is arrested "for being black." It is explained that the character was arrested because the police were looking for a robbery suspected described as a "Black guy from Newark." Later the same police force arrests an African American attorney who then assists the Rutgers professor in a racial discrimination lawsuit that sends those police officers to prison. In the 2003 film National Security, Martin Lawrence's character states, "This isn't the first time I was arrested for DWB." The 2004 film Crash contains a scene in which a black couple is pulled over and mishandled by a racist cop.

A 1979 sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News depicted an overzealous policeman arresting a man for "possession of curly black hair and thick lips". In a 2001 episode of Angel, African American character Charles Gunn and his friends monitored police officers suspected of brutality to see if they could draw their unprovoked ire. When asked why he thought they would succeed, Gunn responded, "'Cause we'll be the ones walking while black." In an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled "Mistaken Identity", African American characters Will and Carlton get pulled over and put in jail for delivering the car of their uncle's friend. The issue of whether the cop that pulled them over did so just because they were black is discussed. In the 1996 Spike Lee film Get On The Bus, a bus full of black passengers is pulled over by white Tennessee state troopers and searched on suspicion of drug trafficking in a racially motivated manner, despite the protests of one of the passengers, an LAPD officer. In a 1997 episode of NYPD Blue entitled "Taillight's Last Gleaming", black NYPD lieutenant Arthur Fancy is pulled over while off-duty at gunpoint by two white NYPD officers for driving in a mostly white neighborhood. Feeling that he is the victim of racial profiling, Fancy then calls in a favor to have the senior of the two uniformed officers transferred from his predominantly white low crime precinct in Bayside, Queens to a predominantly black high crime precinct of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn as punishment. A 1998 episode of Law & Order entitled "DWB" featured a storyline about a police traffic stop that got out of hand and resulted in a black motorist being beaten to death. A 2000 episode of City of Angels featured a black surgeon pulled over and searched by a white police officer in a racially motivated manner. In the 2002 film Men In Black II, a scene involving a Caucasian driver-shaped airbag in a new car leads Agent K (played by Tommy Lee Jones) to ask "Does that come standard?", to which Agent J (played by Will Smith) replies "Actually it came with a black dude, but he kept getting pulled over".

See also


Further reading

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