EXPLAINING ETHNIC DIFFERENCES IN OFFENDING
On pages 2-7 below are six competing explanations for the different ethnic patterns
in offending. Remember the patterns are disputed but official statistics and victim
surveys at least seem to suggest that blacks commit far more crime than whites and
Asians, and that Asian crime is on the increase in recent years.
The FOUR EXPLANATIONS are:
1 RIGHT REALISM: Murray, underclass, faulty role models in the media
2 LEFT REASLISM: Relative Deprivation, Subcultures, Marginalisation
3 NEO MARXISM: Gilroy, The Myth of Black Criminality.
4 NEO MARXISM: Hall et al Policing the Crisis.
EXTENSION MATERIAL: CLOWARD & OHLIN SUBCULTURAL THEORY Bourgois El Bario
For each theory you need to sort out 3 things
1 State whether the theory is saying
Blacks and to lesser extent Asians actually are more criminal
Blacks and to lesser extent Asians are more criminal but for good reason
Blacks and Asians are no more criminal than any other group.
2 Are you dealing with
a)A structural theory (accounts for crime in the structure of society – capitalism,
b)A cultural theory (accounts for crime in the culture of a subcultural group or a
c) Both a structural and a cultural theory
3 EVALUATION (A02)
1 EXPLANATION ONE
Young blacks in inner cities form a significant part of a criminogenic subcultural underclass.. The
dominant norms and values in this underclass are criminal. Faulty socialisation in this underclass
means that young blacks grow up to be criminals (Murray calls them the „new rabble‟)..
This explains the higher rates of street crime by Afro-Caribbeans.
50 - 60% of young black children live are raised by just one parent, mainly the mother (matrifocal
one-parent families). The equivalent figure for white children is 20%. Without a positive role model
father who goes to work and acts out the instrumental (breadwinner) role young black males look
elsewhere for role models, perhaps to gangsters in their own neighbourhood, or to figures in the
Drug and Gun Culture in the Media
The media over-emphasise the criminality of
black culture as dominated by a drug and gun
culture This seems to be celebrated for
example by „Gangsta rap‟ ( a cultural music
form popular with young people).
The emphasis on bling, violence, guns, sex,
drugs sexist attitude to women („smack my
bitch up‟) has influenced a generation of
Chris Arnot(2004) called this role model the „ultra-tough ghetto superstar‟ and agued that this
was far from a positive role models for young blacks
EVALUATION POINTS (A02)
1 Murray‟s point is really about social class, not ethnicity. It is just that if you an ethnic minority
youngster in Britain you are far more likely to be poor.
2 Marxists would argue that the ruling class have created the „underclass‟ as a diversionary tactic,
to divide the working class and to give them someone to loathe and look down on rather. This
nurtures false class consciousness and takes working class eyes off the real criminals – the ruling
class who have stolen the wealth of the world from the proletariat. When there is full employment
the „underclass‟ seems to disappear.
3 Young Asians, who have a growing reputation for greater criminality since 9/11 and the rioting in
British towns and cities in the last 10 years, grow up in mainly nuclear and extended families.
4 It has to be questioned how far people copy things they see in the media, human beings are
after all not sheep. It is likely to be far more complex a process. In any case some rap music
recommends respect, equality, harmony e.g. Black Eyed Peas „where is the love‟
2 EXPLANATION TWO
Lea & Young point out that most crimes are brought to the attention of the police by the public
rather than the police themselves so it cannot just be police racism that leads to there being
higher levels of black crime in the official statistics and victim surveys..
According to Lea & Young (1993) ethnic differences in the statistics represent real differences in
levels of offending, that is black people do commit more crime but there are very strong
sociological reasons for this.
Remember Left Realists argue crime is caused by a combination of 3 factors – RESUMA
Relative Deprivation, Subcultural formation and Marginalisation..
This can be encapsulated in the idea of a bulimic society where the most deprived are the most
desperate to grab their share of the cultural spoils of materialistic society (mobiles, flat screen TVs,
IPods, designer clothes, flash cars…..)
Left Realists argue that racism has led to the marginalisation and economic exclusion of ethnic
minorities, who face higher levels of unemployment, poverty and poor housing. At the same time
the media‟s emphasis on consumerism promotes a sense of relative deprivation by setting
materialistic goals that many members of minority groups are unable to achieve by legitimate
Young Blacks are more likely to experience relative deprivation, institutional racism and
marginalisation. A response to these problems is to form delinquent subcultures which can lead to
crime and deviance. This produces higher levels of utilitarian crime like theft and robbery as a
means of coping with relative deprivation.
Furthermore, because these groups are marginalised and have no organisations to represent their
interests their frustration is liable to produce non-utilitarian crimes such as violence and rioting.
1 The police arrest far more black people than they do white people or Asian people and this
maybe because police canteen culture emphasises and promotes the stereotype of the dangerous
young black urban criminal.
2 Furthermore canteen culture since 9/11 may have emphasised and promoted the stereotype of
the radical young Asian as a dangerous „enemy within‟. This explains the rising criminalisation
rates within this group.
3 Doesn‟t explain why only some young blacks commit crime, not all.
3 EXPLANATION THREE NEO MARXISM
Paul Gilroy ‘The Myth of Black Criminality‟ (1982)
Neo Marxists argue that the differences in the statistics do not reflect the
reality. On the contrary any differences are the outcome of a process of
social construction that stereotypes ethnic minorities as inherently more
criminal than the majority of the population.
Gilroy argues that the idea of black criminality is a myth created by racist
stereotypes of Afro-Caribbeans and Asians. As a result of the police acting on these racist
stereotypes, ethnic minorities come to be criminalised and as a result appear in greater numbers
in official crime statistics.
To Gilroy ethnic minority crime is best seen as a form of political resistance against racist
capitalist society and this has its roots in earlier struggles against British imperialism.
Most blacks and Asians or the ancestors originated in British colonies where anti-colonial struggle
taught them organised resistance to white oppression and the legacy of slavery, for example
through rioting and demonstrations.
Ethnic minorities hold the „scars of the imperialist voice‟ where they learnt to resist exploitation
during colonial times. Facing racism in Britain they adopted the same forms of struggle to defend
themselves, but their political struggle was criminalised by the British state.
1 Victim surveys consistently show that black people commit a disproportionate amount of street
crimes like mugging.
2 First generation immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s were very law-abiding so it is unlikely that
they passed down a tradition of anti-colonial struggle to their children.
3 Most crime is intra ethnic (black on black etc) so it is unlikely to part of an anti-colonial struggle.
Left Realists are scathing – Gilroy has just dressed up nasty brutal street crime as somehow
revolutionary when it is nothing of the sort.
4 Asian crime rates are similar to whites (although they are rising). If Gilroy is right then the police
are only racist towards blacks and not Asians which seems unlikely.
4 EXPLANATION FOUR
Stuat Hall et al Policing the Crisis (1978)
Neo Marxists argue that the differences in the statistics do not reflect
the reality. On the contrary any differences are the outcome of a
process of social construction that stereotypes ethnic minorities as
inherently more criminal than the majority of the population.
From 1973 Britain came to the end of the post war „long boom‟ of
economic prosperity. A moral panic was created over „black muggers‟
which served the interests of a capitalist state in crisis. This acted as a
diversionary process (muggers are the problem not capitalism) and
enabled the state to win popular consent for more authoritarian policing which could be used to
suppress opposition. It also helped to divide the working class on racial grounds and a divided
working class poses little threat to the ruling class.
As Neo-Marxists, they argue that moral panics are caused by the government to deflect attention
away from other issues. In 1972, the media was concerned about the link between young black
men and muggings. This led to tougher police action against ethnic minorities. Hall et al (1972)
argue that this was invented to deflect attention away from other issues and create a common
enemy and a valid excuse for tough policing to deal with those resisting capitalism.
1 Hall et al (1979) contradict themselves because on the one hand they argue ethnic minority is an
invention of police racism. On the other hand, they argue that declining job prospects for black
people have caused them to turn to a life of crime.
2 The idea that the over representation of ethnic minorities is caused by labelling is powerful. The
images of the 2011 riots seem to show a disproportionate amount of young blacks so the labelling
process might well date from the 1970s, be longstanding and be reproduced down the
3 Left Realists argue that inner-city residents‟ fear about mugging are not panicky but realistic.
4 Hall et al do not prove the link between the capitalist crisis and the moral panic on mugging. Nor
do they prove that the public were blaming crime on blacks. Too much of a conspiracy theory for
Phillipe Bourgois In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Bario (2003)
Bourgois spent 7 years researching street life in East Harlem, the tough El
Bario district of New York City. Bourgois draws on CLOWARD & OHLIN‟s
SUBCULTURAL THEORY – different areas contain different illegitimate
opportunity structures. In El Bario a living can be made selling crack cocaine.
Economic exclusion and negative social attitudes have forced young black
males to develop an alternative economy.
Bourgois argues that the economic exclusion of minority ethnic groups,
combined with negative social attitudes towards them has forced young black
males to develop an ‘alternative economy’. This has lead to a wide range of
legal and illegal activities, ranging from kerbside car repair to selling crackcocaine. Bourgois argues that a distinctive sub-culture has developed around
this informal economy. In many respects the drug dealers of El Bario resemble
business people chasing the American Dream, and a measure of respect (thus
the title of his study – In Search of Respect).
This sub-culture involves its participants in lifestyles of violence, drug abuse and
‘internalised rage’. Drug dealers are drawn into violence to support their habit.
The behaviour destroys both families and communities. The result is a chaotic
and violent community, where the search for dignity leads to a worsening situation.
Bourgois lived in El Barrio for several years, befriending two dozen street dealers and their
families, spending, he says, “hundreds of nights on the street and in crackhouses observing
dealers and addicts” and regularly tape-recording their life histories and conversations. The book
contains remarkably detailed empirical material, focused mostly on a crack house called “The
Game Room.” Bourgois describes the daily routines of drug dealers, particularly one “Primo,” a
sometime crack addict who kicked the habit and became the manager of The Game Room, along
with a variety of Primo‟s associates. Primo‟s pals are “Ray,” a sometime robber of other drug
operations, who becomes the “owner” of The Game Room, and “Cesar,” “Willie,” “Benzie,” and
“Little Pete,” addicts all, assorted runners, lookouts, and errand boys for Primo‟s operation at The
Game Room and later at the Social Club, a subsidiary operation financed with drug profits.
The book vividly describes the mechanics of the underground drug economy. Moreover, Bourgois
does not shy away from the violence intrinsic to the drug trade, the constant fear of robbery, the
physical abuse of addicted workers and customers, and especially the interpersonal violence that
is part and parcel of street hustlers‟ lives. A great deal of Bourgois‟s book describes the daily
squabbles and struggles among his street people for reputation, social distinction, and
ascendancy, significant in tragic proportions only in that very small world. Bourgois‟s basic
conceptual framework consists of an amalgam of postmodernism, Marxism, and Feminism.
Bourgois despises capitalism for the poverty and “inner-city apartheid” that it has wrought; he sees
the underground economy as the way street people “resist” capitalism even as he argues again
and again that an all-devouring capitalism is responsible for every ill that befalls his subjects. Yet
he also argues that his subjects resemble upwardly mobile citizens in their consumption habits:
Draws on a combination of theories – Neo Marxism, Postmodernism, Cloward & Ohlin, Feminism.