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The meaning and origin of the expression: Driving while black

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Driving while black

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Meaning

An ironic name for the imagined crime of being a black driver.

Origin

This relates to the alleged harassment of American police of non-white citizens which is often reported by members of the African-American community.

The term came to public view in the 1990s, although the reports of the police tactic date from long before that. In May 1990 The New York Times included a piece with this line:

"We get arrested for D.W.B... You know, driving while black."

The American Civil Liberties Union, June 1999 Special Report included an article 'Driving While Black; Racial Profiling On Our Nations Highways', by David A. Harris, University of Toledo College of Law. Harris is a prominent public figure in the USA. The report supports the view that the proportion of stop and search incidents of non-whites exceeded what could be expected if the searches were made at random. It encouraged considerable public debate and brought the phrase to wider attention.

The term is also shortened to DWB. This increases the irony by its associating the non-existent crime DWB with another acronym - DWI (driving while intoxicated), which is used routinely by the police for a real crime.

There is an alternative form - 'driving while brown', which widens the alleged prejudice to all non-whites.