Why are racial disparities in imprisonment so pronounced? Studies of alternative outcomes in the criminal justice system find positive relationships between minority presence and punitive outcomes. Therefore, it is puzzling that the studies of racial incarceration ratios find negative relationships between this presence and such discrepancies. We use a pooled time-series design to resolve this dilemma. Successful Republican attempts to link crime with public concerns about a dangerous racial underclass also suggest that where these racial appeals are successful, African Americans should face higher incarceration rates than whites. In contrast to prior research, our results are consistent with findings about other criminal justice outcomes. They show that an inverted, U-shaped, nonlinear relationship is present between African-American presence and racial disparities in imprisonments. Additional results indicate that the presence of African Americans in deep southern states and greater support for Republican presidential candidates together with increases in the most menacing crime (which often is blamed on African Americans) also help to explain these discrepant racial prison admission rates.