Ethnicity and Crime: The Role of Cultural Factors

Some Sociologists have suggested that cultural differences, especially differences in family life, may be responsible for underlying differences in offending between ethnic groups.

Single Parent Families are more common among African-Caribbean Families, which may be related to higher rates of crime

In 2007 Almost half the black children in Britain were being raised by single parents. Forty-eight per cent of black Caribbean families had one parent, as did 36 per cent of black African households.

Rates of teenage motherhood are also significantly higher among young black women and despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population aged 15 – 17, they accounted for 9 per cent of all abortions given to women under the age of 18.

The higher rates of single parenthood in Black-Caribbean families may lead to boys from this group being more likely to offend because of the lack of a male role-model to provide guidance and keep them in check.

However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that British Caribbean single parents are far from isolated, and not even really ‘single’ at all. Research by Geoffrey Driver in the 1980s revealed that Caribbean single mothers are often well-connected to other people in their communities, so not necessarily isolated. Networks existed within neighbours to provide informal help with childcare and school runs. Other research has also found that family connections to brothers and sisters (uncles and aunts) are strong in British Caribbean communities, while Tracey Reynolds (2002) points out that many single Caribbean mothers are in a long term relationship with a man who doesn’t live with them, but visits every day and plays an active role in childcare.

In contrast, Asian families tend to be more stable, which might explain the lower rates of offending within Asian communities.  Marriage is still seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life. A UK National Statistics report says the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person.

However,  there is a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation  Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages in the UK. This crime will of course be practically invisible in the official statistics.

The culture of anti-school black masculinity may also be related to higher rates of black criminality

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.

Sewell (2003) argued that “black boys today have real opportunities but they are failing to grasp them. I talk to middle class, black parents who tell me they literally have to fight to keep their boys on task. These are boys from well-resourced homes, they go to the better state schools and yet they are performing below their potential. A black male today faces anti-school peer pressure that dominates our schools. Ask your son about it if you need some enlightenment. A head teacher told me how one student was jumped outside of his school: he was beaten and his attackers took his mobile phone, his trainers, his jacket and his cap. In our inner cities, black male youth culture has moved from a community of safety and brotherhood to one of fear of each other.”

Evaluating the Role of Cultural Factors

There are limitations with cultural explanations of differences in offending

Firstly, these theories might be accused of explaining crimes by drawing on crude stereotypes – there are significant cultural variations within Black and Asian ethnic groups, and official statics only collect very basic stats on ethnicity (literally just recording whether people are Black or Asian) thus there is no real way to evaluate the above theories.

Secondly, it is difficult to separate out cultural from material factors such as unemployment and poverty, which are emphasised by Left Realists.

Thirdly, these theories don’t take into account the fact that underlying differences in crime rates may be a response to blocked opportunities which are in turn caused by structural racism in wider society.

Fourthly, these theories do not consider the fact that that the statistics might be a social construction and exaggerate the true extent of Black and Asian criminality. Critical criminologists, for example, argue that the over-representation of minority groups in the criminal justice system is because they are more likely to be criminalised by agents of social control.

 

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