Ethnicity and Crime

The whole debate about ethnicity and crime stems from ethnic differences in crime statistics. The stats show that ethnic minorities (Black and Asian) are more likely to commit a crime than a white person. Sociologists began to look deeper into  the matter and found that the stats were basically an exaggeration. But there were other sociologists who were in support of the statistics. Then the question that always stirs up emotions was born:

Are ethnic minorities actually commiting more crimes or do the stats simply reflect discrimination?

Let’s start with the argument that supports the belief that ethnic minorities are commiting more crimes. Left Realists Lea and Young argue that crime is the result of three factors: marginalisation, relative deprivation and status frustration. They argue that ethnic minorities are more likely to experience these than whites. This is caused by racism which makes them feel marginalised and these racist attitudes can sometimes prevent blacks and Asians getting jobs leading to relative deprivation and poverty. Then you got the media spitting out images of goods they can’t afford but they are told they need making them frustrated with their current status.

They then go on to say how this causes ethnic minorities, males in particular, to join gangs in order to raise their status. If you can’t gain respect by working in a bank, you can sure get some by stealing from one! It’s also a two-birds-one-stone situation because you can use that stolen money to buy a Ferrari Enzo and mansion so you feel less deprived. Happy days! But if money can’t shift all that anger built up inside, Lea and Young say ethnic minorities will vandalise or riot to express the frustration of being marginalised.

This is why ethnic minorities are heavily represented in crime stats. But what about the police that will arrest a brother for walking wrong, do I hear someone ask? To that, Lea+Young respond that 90% of recorded crimes are reported by a member of the public rather than a police arrest. This negates the whole racist arrest argument… or does it? Victim surveys conducted in England and Wales found that victims would identify their offender as a black man even if they were not sure. In my sociological opinion, this is because the media and police force have successfully joined forces to label blacks as inherently criminal. The public believe it and therefore report more crimes committed by ethnic minorities despite an uncertainty. The police see it as approval of their belief so they target ethnic minorities and the vicious cycle continues.

Hence why other sociologists are critical of Lea and Young’s theory. The first argument that supports discrimination in the criminal justice system focuses on how cases with ethnic minority offenders are treated at different stages within the system. Bowling and Phillips found that the police had ingrained negative stereotypes about ethnic minorities – probably heightened by their canteen culture. Figures showed that blacks were 3.6x more likely to be arrested than whites. However, when these cases reached the Crown Prosecution Service are vast majority were dropped and for the few that actually got to court, the jury were less likely to find the offender guilty – 60% of white offenders were found guilty as opposed to 52% of blacks and 44% of  Asians. The figures suggest two options: a) ethnic minorities are somehow bribing juries or b) the police are targeting and arresting ethnic minorities on weak, racist grounds that are of little or no value in a court of law. (I’ll let you decide which option’s more likely…)

Neo-marxists agree and argue that the stats do not reflect actual levels of crime. Instead they see crime stats as a social construct that shapes ethnic minorities as inherently more criminal. Gilroy sees ethnic criminality as a load of rubbish and argues that ethnic minorities aren’t committing crimes but are simply protesting against a racist society. Remember how the West charged into Africa, burned down homes, tore families apart and forced everyone to work on farms? Well, the previous generations of ethnic minorities were a part of the anti- imperialist actions against this injustice. Gilroy argues they would pass these beliefs onto their children. So when these second-generation ethnic minorities began to experience oppression and racism, they rioted or vandalised against it. A good example would be the riots caused by the Mark Duggan shooting. The big hole in this theory is intra-racial crime. What point is an Asian making by shooting another Asian? Surely the previous generation would have taught them about loyalty to your own kind?

Therefore, Hall offers an alternative argument. They argue that the whole “black criminality” scandal serves the interest of capitalism. In the 1970s there was a capitalist crisis that led to high unemployment, high inflation, widespread strikes and intense student protests. Sound familiar, Cameron? Well, before all this happened the state was able to  keep control and power through consent – pump out some malarky that some people are leaders and others followers or some other nonsense. But the public wasn’t buying it anymore. They were beginning to realise that the real source of their problem was…dare I say it?…CAPITALISM! And that scared leaders more than anything. So they had to find a way to restore control but it had to be done with force rather than consent. That’s when, quite suspiciously, the state pronounced there was currently a sharp rise in this “new” crime called muggings. I put “new” in quotes because in reality this crime had been around for ages but simply had no official name and, while we’re on the topic, showed no signs of an increase whatsoever. But the media, politicians and police pooled their resources together to successfully associate muggings with blacks.  Black muggings soon became the symbol of the social disorder caused by capitalism. Blacks became the state’s scapegoat. The public began blaming the blacks in their midst for their problems which led to a public divide which in turn weakened opposition to the state. Miraculously, the state had been able to restore power over the masses and even find support for policies that gave them greater control, all by labelling blacks as criminals.

Now for the rounding argument: actual crime or discrimination? In my opinion, it’s a mixture of both. I think ethnic minorities are more likely to commit crime mainly because all that frustration from discrimination has to go somewhere. But discrimination in the criminal justice system has led to the actual difference becoming distorted. However, that is just my opinion, what do you think?

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Feminist theories on religion

Feminists argue that in religion there is evidence of an oppression against women. Feminists  highlight  4 ways in which religion oppresses and subordinates women:

  1. Sacred texts – sacred texts feature predominantly male gods and profits as well as being written and interpreted by men. Women in sacred texts are presented in a negative light. For example, Eve and Lot’s daughters . However, this ignores positive descriptions of women in the sacred texts such as the Virgin Mary.
  2. Places of worship  – there are often rules that only pertain to women that prevent women from participating fully. For exactly , not being able to touch holy books when on menses or not being able to speak in the religious place. Women are often segregated and marginalised (poor seating). Holm refers to this as the devaluation of women in contemporary religion.
  3. Religious laws and customs – they can end up giving women less rights than men and influence the way in which a nation is run. Many religions legitimate and regulate women’s traditional and domestic role.
  4. Religious organisations – many are male dominated and prevent women from being in positions of leadership despite women having a higher attendance than men in religion. Armstrong refers to this as the marginalisation of women.

However, religion has not always been like this as there was a time when religion was very she woman centred, e.g mother goddesses, fertility cults and women priesthoods. It was the rise of male dominated, monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Juaism that led to the opression of women in religion. According to El Saadawi, it was the interpretation of religion in a male dominated patriarchal society that led to male domination in religion – not religion itself.

Like El Saadawi, there is Woodhead that argues religion is not opressive to women. She argues that women can use religion to liberate themselves and to feel more valued. E.g in the Evangelical Church, the combination of the saying “you should practice what you preach” & “husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church” can be used by women to prevent abuse by their husbands. In Islam, women wearing the headscarf gives them ability to have jobs and experience the world without losing their identity, thus liberating them from the housewife role.

Other criticims

  • Marxists would argue the working class are truly opressed by religion – not women.
  • Functionalists would argue that is not oppressive but is helping women to know their gender role, thus creating social cohesion.
  • New Age religions such as crystal healing and feng shui are dominated by women so are not oppressive. But are New Age practices religions?
  • Even if religions were oppressive, Leymah Gbowee shows how women can overcome that and use religion for their own liberation.

Functionalist theories of religion

Malinowski

He argues that religion performs psychological functions. Salinowski argues that religion is used in a time of life crisis. So, when there’s a death, for example, or birth, or even that scary time when a teenager realises they are experiencing “changes”… Malinowski proved his theory through the study of the Trobian Islanders. He found that when they were about to fish in the vast, uncertain ocean the Islanders prayed to their totem but when they fished in local lakes they did not pray. This proved that religion provided certainty and comfort in a time of life crisis or uncetainty.

A slightly more modern example would be President Bush’s words after the 9/11 attacks. Watch this video from 3:30 to see how Bush calls upon religion.

Evaluation

  • Malinowski’s theory is quite dated but the Bush example would make a nice counter argument
  • What about the times where religion is prevalent but there is no evidence of a life crisis? Think about the people who go to a religious place every week…

Parsons

Firstly, Parsons believes that religion is used to answer the “big” questions in life. Eventually we begin to ask ourselves questions such as: why are we here? Why do people die? What happens after death? According to Parsons, the fraction of religion is to act as a primary source of meaning to these questions and the ability of his questions to be answered can help society deal with certain events that may arise. For example, Christianity is states that after death the soul lives on and this can help some people deal with the death of a close one.

Secondly, Parsons argues that religion’s function is to create and adjust to my society’s values. This is done by religion’s ability to sacralise the norms and values of society. For example, some societies are centred around the belief of being charitable and selfless and this is reiterated by religion which promotes charitable giving and selflessness. So religion makes the basic norms of society sacred.

Bellah

Bellah argues that it is not just mainstream religion that takes place in society but that there is a civil religion that can integrate society in a way that mainstream religion cannot. For example, a civil religion would be the American God. The American God is not an actual God but it is representative of all the sacred values and norms that underpins the American way of life – it is socially constructed. The American civil religion promotes loyalty to the state and a belief in this American God. Now, the American civil religion is able to bring people together because it appeals to all American’s and its aim is to unite all the people as one nation.

Functional alternatives/functional equivalents

These are not the religious beliefs, ideologies and practices that have the same function as religion such as social cohesion or reinforcing shared values. For example, Nazi Germany and the American civil religion. The main problem with functional alternatives is that it blurs the distinction between what is religion and ways in. Accordin Ato the substantive definition there must be a belief in the supernatural but others would disagree.

Evaluation

  • Ignores religion as a source of division and conflict
  • Is a civil religion really a religion?
  • Ignores the negative aspects of religion
  • Does religion sacralise society’s values or is society simply basing its values on religion?

Functionalist theory is slightly outdated because it has not taken into account the secularisation taking place in modern society – sacralising values may not have much impact in society today and people may have found compensator is for those “big” questions

Definitions of religion

There are 3 main definitions of religion:

Substantive

Religions under this category MUST have a belief a god or some type of supernatural figure. E.g Catholics believe in God or Muslims believe in Allah. This definition is exclusive. In other words, it makes a clear line between what is a religion and what isn’t, there are no maybe’s. Some believe this is not fair to non-Western believes that such as Budhism that do not believe in the supernatural but is seen as a religion.

Functional

You can define a religion by the social or psychological functions it performs for individuals. E.g integration or asking big questions. This definition is inclusive. In other words, it applies to many religions. However, by this definition football can be defined as a religion as it brings people together and makes them feel part of a group- football fans are integrated!

Social constructist

Focus is on the definitions individuals put to religion and these definitions are constructed. So it’s more about what I as a person thinks religion is rather than what other institutions are telling me  it is… Social constructists do not have a single definition of religion and don’t believe religion needs a god or supernatural or perform a function to society. All they care about is the meanings