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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Race and Crime

The discussion about race and crime is hard to pin because there are so many variables to consider.  Racism, self-control, socialization processes, poverty, suburbanization, biological factors, and the “War on Drugs” are just some of the factors that play a part in the high crime rate amongst criminals that are black.

I really dislike the term “black crime”.  It is pejorative to all the upper-class, middle-class, and poor people working 2 or 3 jobs a day that share nothing more with some criminals than skin color.

Racism as a factor is hard to quantify.  I doubt even Klansmen respond to surveys admitting they are racist.  How would you measure somebody who had racist feelings but who held integrity as a higher value and didn't commit racist acts?  I'll digress and refer to the literary howling over the “change” in the character of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird to Go Set A Watchman.  As a generalization, though, my opinion is that white people underestimate the factor of racism while black people overestimate it. Then again, how prevalent does white racism have to be to have an effect on black success?  If only 20% of whites are indeed racist, that is still one racist per black person.  And yet, how often are things accounted as racism that may have other causes?  Wilson (1992) contends that it is fear, not racism that results in de facto segregation. 

And it is not solely whites that segregate from poor black neighborhoods.  Hipp and Yates (2011) describe the effects of the flight of the black middle-class, including increased poverty and lack of social organization.  Steffensmeier et al (2011) recognize the flight of the black middle-class but do not account for it in their conclusion.  Without the influence of middle-class values and its resultant social organization, poorer blacks are subjected to socialization processes that inhibit the behavior patterns that lead to success in life.  Shihadeh and Flynn (1996) point out the social costs of “acting white” by succeeding in education and contrast this with the adult status given to young girls who become mothers, whether wed or not, in poor segregated communities.  I was once a proponent of self-control as a primary crimogenic factor, but it has been made clear to me that socialization plays a part in the amount of self-control a person has, and where that self-control is targeted in personal goals.

You will notice that neither paragraph has a definitive conclusion.  Assigning any one of these factors as a primary cause seems to me to prevent effective problem resolution because other factors are discounted in “proving” that one viewpoint takes precedence.  For example, Steffensmeier et al (2011) identify racial inequity as the independent variable, and a primary cause, although they admit that the dependent variable of violent crime committed by criminals that are black remained stable over the terms of their study.


Hipp, J. R., & Yates, D. K. (2011). Ghettos, thresholds, and crime: does concentrated poverty really have an accelerating increasing effect on crime? Criminology, 49(4), 955–990. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2011.00249.x

Shihadeh, E. S., & Flynn, N. (1996). Segregation and crime: the effect of black social isolation on the rates of black urban violence. Social Forces, 74(4), 1325–1352.

Steffensmeier, D., Feldmeyer, B., Harris, C. T., & Ulmer, J. T. (2011). Reassessing trends in black violent crime, 1980-2008: sorting out the “Hispanic Effect” in Uniform Crime Reports arrests, National Crime Victimization Survey offender estimates, and U.S. prisoner counts. Criminology, 49(1), 197–251. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00222.x

Wilson, J. Q. (1992). Crime, race, and values. Society, 30(1), 90–93.

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