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A racial hoax is a hoax that occurs "when someone fabricates a crime and blames it on another person because of [their] race or when an actual crime has been committed and the perpetrator falsely blames someone because of [their] race".[1] The term was popularised by Katheryn Russell-Brown in her book The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment and Other Macroaggressions (1998). A racial hoax can be performed by a person of any race, against a person of any race.[1] It has been routinely performed against African Americans.[2]

Many have argued that the common stereotype of criminal black men has enabled the use of racial hoaxes against this group. Patricia L. Brougham writes that these stereotypes cause law enforcement agencies to believe that a black perpetrator exists when in reality the allegation is false.[3] Russell-Brown argues that racial hoaxes are devised, perpetrated, and successful because they take advantage of fears and stereotypes.[4] According to her, white-on-black hoaxes are the most likely to receive media attention and to cause social and economics problems.[1] She argues that anyone performing a racial hoax should face criminal charges, particular if a black person is targeted,[5] and that hoaxes targeting black people create more severe problems than those against other racial groups.[4] Letha A. See in Violence as Seen Through a Prism of Color (2001) sees the hoax as a unique method used against specific racial groups, rather than against individuals.[6] Sally S. Simpson and Robert Agnew suggests that the unusual nature of some racial hoaxes can cause them to be dismissed.[7]

Between 1987 and 1996 in the United States, Russell-Brown documents 67 racial hoax cases, and notes the following: 70 percent were white-on-black hoaxes; more than half were exposed within a week; hoaxes are most frequently used to allege assault, rape, or murder; hoax perpetrators were charged with filing a false report in about 45 percent of cases.[8] These cases represent only a fraction of the total number of cases because racial hoaxes are not reported as such and most crimes are not covered in the media.[4] According to her, a high proportion of the white-on-black cases were performed by police and judicial officers; she documents seven such cases.[9] Historically the most common type of hoax performed against black males was rape. Because of fears over the 'black rapist', Russell-Brown suggests "it is not surprising that so many White women have created Black male rapists as their fictional criminals".[10]

In the United States there has been little legal response to racial hoaxes.[11]


Charles Stuart

The case of Charles Stuart is often cited as an example of a racial hoax.[1][12] On 23 October 1989, in Boston, Stuart and his pregnant wife Carol were driving when, according to Stuart, a black gunman forced his way into the car and shot them both, hitting Carol in the head and Stuart in the body. Carol died later that night; the baby, delivered by caesarean section, died 17 days later. Still alive, Stuart drove away and called the police, who conducted a search of Mission Hill, Boston, a mostly black area. Stuart picked out Willie Bennett, a black man, from a photo lineup. The police shifted their attention onto Stuart when Stuart's brother Matthew told them that Stuart had committed the murder, and when they noted inconsistencies in Stuart's account. On 4 January 1990, Stuart committed suicide. The police later learnt that Stuart had committed the murder to cash in on his wife's insurance policy.[1][13]

Susan Smith

Another racial hoax was that of Susan Smith.[14] In October 1994, in South Carolina, Smith drowned her sons by putting them in her car and letting it roll into John D. Long Lake. She called the police and stated that a armed black man had hijacked her car with her two sons inside. After an extensive manhunt, Smith confessed that she had killed her sons, and, in July 1995, was sentenced to life imprisonment.[15][14][16]

Tawana Brawley

One of the most famous examples of a black-on-white hoax is that of Tawana Brawley.

Rosewood massacre

A historic example of a racial hoax sparked the Rosewood massacre in January 1923.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Russell-Brown, p. 70.
  2. See, p. 13.
  3. Greene, Helen Taylor; Gabbidon, Shaun L. (2009). Encyclopedia of Race and Crime (volume 1). SAGE Publications. p. 166. ISBN 9781412950855
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Russell-Brown, p. 71.
  5. Russell-Brown, pp. 70–71.
  6. See, p. 13.
  7. Simpson and Agnew, p. 56.
  8. Russell-Brown, pp. 71–76.
  9. Russell-Brown, pp. 77–78.
  10. Russell-Brown, p. 79.
  11. Simpson and Agnew, p. 5.
  12. Henry and Lanier, p. 158.
  13. Willis, Jim (2010). 100 Media Moments That Changed America. ABC-CLIO. pp. 146–147. ISBN 9780313355172
  14. 14.0 14.1 Russell-Brown, p. 69.
  15. Markovitz, p. 85.
  16. Dance, Lory Janelle (2002). Tough Fronts: The Impact of Street Culture on Schooling. Routledge. p. 132. ISBN 0415933005


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