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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A race riot or racial riot is an outbreak of violent civil disorder (i.e. a riot) in which race is a key factor. A phenomenon frequently confused with the concept of 'race riot' is sectarian violence, which involves public mass violence or conflict over non-racial factors.


United States

The term had entered the English language in the United States by the 1890s. Until 1968 the use of the term in the United States referred to race riots which were often a mob action by members of the majority racial group against people of other races. In the late 1960s the term Race Riots came to describe riots involving large numbers of members of racial minority groups. Physical aggression was often aimed at neighborhood business, government representatives and law enforcement agencies perceived as unfairly targeting racial groups.

According to the 1968 Kerner Commission report, the race riots in the United States in the 1960s usually took place in the context of underlying grievances of a minority racial group (in this case, African-Americans). Often there was an inciting incident in which a member of the minority racial group was injured or killed, and that incident was widely perceived in the community to be unjust.

Race riots were caused by a vast number of social, political and economic factors. Joseph Boskin, author of Urban Racial Violence observed that there were certain general patterns in the major twentieth century race riots:

1. In each of the race riots, with few exceptions, it was white people that sparked the incident by attacking Black people.

2. In the majority of the riots, some extraordinary social condition prevailed at the time of the riot: prewar social changes, wartime mobility, post-war adjustment, or economic depression.

3. The majority of the riots occurred during the hot summer months.

4. Rumor played an extremely important role in causing many riots. Rumors of some criminal activity by Blacks against whites perpetuated the actions of white mobs.

5. The police force, more than any other institution, was invariably involved as a precipitating cause or perpetuating factor in the riots. In almost every one of the riots, the police sided with the attackers, either by actually participating in, or by failing to quell the attack.

6. In almost every instance, the fighting occurred within the Black community.[1]

The 1967 Newark riots, explored in depth in the documentary film Revolution '67, were sparked by one such event: the beating and rumored death of cab driver John Smith by police. Rumors and gossip played a large role in these riots, because there was a lack of reliable information available to community members. The riots were sensationalized by the mass media. Matters became more complicated when armed government forces were used to quell disturbances.

Mob rule, religious intolerance, vigilantism, Jim Crow, lynching, racial profiling, economics, police brutality, institutional racism, urban renewal, and racial identity politics are often cited as causes of these riots.

See also



  1. ^ Boskin, Joseph. "Major Race Riots." Urban Racial Violence. Beverly Hills: 1976. 14-15

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