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JustLeadershipUSA Rejects the Pew Research Center’s Use of the Term “Racial Conspiracy Theories”

June 12, 2024

UPDATE 6/17/2024: Pew Research has now updated its report and removed all references to “racial conspiracy theories.” In a new “Editor’s Note,” Pew explains, “By using these words, our reporting distorted rather than clarified the point of the study.”

On Monday, the Pew Research Center issued a new report entitled “Black Americans and Racial Conspiracy Theories About U.S. Institutions.” In this report, it defines “racial conspiracy theories” as “the suspicions that Black adults might have about the actions of U.S. institutions based on their personal and collective historical experiences with racial discrimination.” According to the new data collected by Pew, most Black Americans say the criminal justice system (i.e., policing, courts, and prisons) was “designed to hold Black people back.”

For Pew Research to label these views as “conspiracy theories” is shockingly offensive …

JustLeadershipUSA President and CEO and JustUS Coordinating Council founder DeAnna Hoskins issued this statement:

“The Dictionary of Populism defines ‘conspiracy theory’ as ‘an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable’ [emphasis added]. We have to ask: Why would the people at the Pew Research Center call the opinion of the vast majority of Black Americans—which is rooted in facts, history, and lived experience—a ‘conspiracy theory,’ when it is actually a reality? Pew itself acknowledges that these views concerning the criminal justice system, politics, etc. are ‘rooted in factual acts of intentional or negligent harm.’ Why then use the minimizing term ‘racial conspiracy theories’ to describe these widely held beliefs at all?

“It is, in fact, deeply harmful and problematic to label these beliefs—based on Black Americans’ direct experience and knowledge of their own history—as ‘conspiracy theories.’ It borders on gaslighting, and, regardless of the intent, the impact is potentially very damaging to the Black community. As one of the nation’s only criminal justice reform organizations that is both founded by and led by formerly incarcerated people, JustLeadershipUSA is particularly concerned about shifting the narrative in this country of how we talk about and understand the criminal legal system. For Pew Research to label these views as ‘conspiracy theories’ is shockingly offensive and greatly undermines the important work we, and other organizations like ours, are doing. We call on Pew Research to reevaluate its use of this term in relation to the beliefs of Black Americans and to rewrite and retitle its report. We would be happy to sit down with the authors of this report and address why it is so important for people with lived experience to be at the table when decisions about language that describes them are being made.”

JustLeadershipUSA is one of the nation’s only not-for-profit, criminal justice reform organizations that is both founded by and led by formerly incarcerated people. For more information, please visit jlusa.org or follow us on Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn.

The JustUS Coordinating Council is a national collective of systems-impacted individuals, allied organizations, and partners across all 50 states, including D.C., that informs decision-making at the federal, state, and local policy levels. Learn more at justuscc.org.

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