In Wyoming, a license plate can be a license to kill, or to steal, and it can also be a symbol of identity.
A Wyoming license plate is a way to express that identity, a way of belonging, and to show one’s worth, said Matt Tait, an associate professor of political science at the University of Wyoming.
In recent years, Wyoming has taken an increasingly aggressive approach to identity politics, using license plates to draw attention to the state’s controversial and ongoing civil rights investigations.
Wyoming plates have been used by white supremacists and other extremists to identify their political leanings, and have been spotted on the backs of cars of white supremacists who have gone to prison.
Tait said the idea of using a license as a vehicle to show identity “wasn’t necessarily an uncommon concept”.
“It was a tool for people to show who they are,” he said.
“It’s a way for people who don’t identify as white to show their political identity.”
“In many ways, it’s a badge of honor” Tait’s study on Wyoming license plates, titled Wyoming Plate: Politics, Identity and Power in the Western US, examined license plate design and usage from 2006 to 2017.
It also included data on a variety of other factors, including how often license plates were used by non-whites, how many people were registered on the plates and their use by nonwhites.
The results are published online in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.
Tiers of white supremacy In the study, Tait analyzed license plates used by individuals with a white supremacist affiliation in the state of Wyoming between 2006 and 2017.
“The majority of these plates are for the purposes of political activism,” Tait told Al Jazeera.
“For some people, it might be to make an argument for their cause, for example, ‘I support white supremacy,’ or ‘I’m a white nationalist’.” His analysis showed that the most commonly used license plate was the “Wyomper” plate, which was most commonly worn by a white male, around four times as often as a black male.
The “Wymper” also appeared on the front of cars belonging to white supremacists.
“Wytomper was the most frequently used license on the state license plate, followed by ‘Boomer’ and ‘Mountain’,” Tait wrote.
“While the ‘Bumper’ was most often used by a person of color, the ‘Mile’ was used by far more people of color than ‘Bump.'”
“The most commonly identified political ideology was ‘white nationalism,’ followed by racism,” Tach said.
He also identified a third of the license plates in the study as political, with the exception of the “Eagle” plate which appeared to be reserved for “Eugene Dix”.
“The Eagle plate is the one that is most often associated with white supremacists, so the Eagle is associated with the white supremacist movement,” he added.
Tapping into the plate A license plate that is commonly associated with racism has some important implications, Tatch wrote.
In particular, the study found that white supremacists “have a greater propensity to use plates bearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Bland’ design,” he wrote.
However, the majority of the plate used by whites was used to express political support for a white person or political ideology, he wrote, with “Black Lives Matters” and “Black Panther” plates more commonly used by blacks.
Tatch’s study also showed that “WYOMPERS” was the only “Wypipro” plate used in Wyoming, but that a license plates with a political message such as “Wyno” or “White Privilege” was also commonly used.
“We know that many white supremacists have the privilege of wearing Wypipros,” Tatch said.
This is a particular problem in Wyoming.
The state has one of the highest incarceration rates in the US, with nearly half of the population behind bars.
Many of those incarcerated are poor people who lack access to healthcare and food, and are often targeted by racist slurs, said Tait.
“In Wyoming, the number of people in prison for a felony conviction is over three times the number in Wyoming,” Tilt wrote.
Many people of colour also face the threat of incarceration and the stigma of being seen as “criminal” in a society where racial profiling and racism are rampant, he said, adding that “widespread racism” against people of other races can have “devastating consequences for people of African descent”.
A lack of education on the topic of race, Titch wrote, is a factor that contributes to a lack of awareness about the importance of race in American society, as well as the lack of opportunities to explore the nuances of race and identity.
Tach is working on a project on the racial identity of license plate designs and has compiled a list of all the plates in Wyoming that have been associated with a particular political ideology.