On the Assimilation of Racial Stereotypes among Black Canadian Young Offenders *
Manzo, John F., Bailey, Monetta M., The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology
THIS PAPER INVESTIGATES THE ASSIMILATION AND ITERATION of racial stereotypes among Black (1) Canadians by inspecting open-ended interviews with eight Black or mixed-race respondents who are adjudicated young offenders. The focus of this investigation is on whether, and to what extent, this assimilation can be observed in interviewees' discourse and, moreover, whether the speakers' self-concepts entail their incorporation of "criminal" as an aspect of Black identity.
An association between race and criminal justice processing in Canada has been documented, particularly with respect to Black and Native persons. Wortley (1999) notes that, in 1997, Native persons represented about four percent of the population but constituted fourteen percent of federal prison inmates. Black persons accounted for roughly two percent of the population while representing over six percent of those in federal correctional institutions. Native persons had an incarceration rate of 184.85 per 100,000 persons, while that of Black Canadians was 146.37; non-Native, non-Black Canadians were incarcerated at a rate of about 100 per 100,000 (Wortley, 1999: 261).
This evident association between race and crime (or incarceration), among other factors, has led many in society to develop negative stereotypes of persons based on their racial identities. In Canada these negative impressions stem not only from actual experiences of prisoners in the criminal justice system, but also from images in North American culture and media. Despite the relatively small Black population in Canada, Canadians are almost certainly familiar with the image of the Black "gangsta" from media imagery imported from the U.S., a nation with more than six times the population of Black persons, per capita, and embracing a Black population with a history, culture, and level of social segregation different from that in Canada.
Mass-cultural images of Black Canadians, it would seem, not only motivate stereotyping on the part of those who are not Black: they should also influence racial identities and related self-concepts among Black persons themselves. This paper considers results of a study that investigated the association between crime and the formation of a racial identity among Black young offenders. The study entailed open-ended interviews on topics including police-minority relations, the racialization and criminalization of their racial groups, the connection between their lifestyle and cultural influences such as rap music, and the relationship between their racial group and the dominant (White) culture.
The focus of this paper is on the responses given by respondents with regard to the social depiction of their race, the possible impact of this depiction in their racial identity formation, and the relationship between this depiction and their criminal actions. First, we consider how the youth believe their racial group is portrayed in society. We then ascertain if they believe these images comprise "criminal" elements. Finally, we investigate whether and how this portrayal has been internalized by these youth to inform or influence their criminal actions.
We consider "race" to be a socially constructed, malleable, interpersonally relevant and, thus, a "micro"-level phenomenon; we also recognize that "race" has an historical and otherwise "macro" social resonance and meaning that exists over and above individuals' perception of and claims to it. For these reasons, the theoretical perspectives of this paper adopt views that partake of both historical and social-interactional construal of race. This paper deploys social construction perspectives as developed by Berger and Luckmann (1966) with notions of the historically embedded construction of race derived from post-colonial theory (Fanon, 1967; Said, 1978), and, at the level of lived and lively social experience, we rely on the notion of cultural transmission that is based on the contributions of C. Wright Mills (1963) with respect to what he termed "vocabularies of motive." The first two of these theories account for "race" as socially and historically defined and embedded, as aspects of a cultural endowment that is given and, more clearly for post-colonial theory, imposed, on persons; the last theoretical theme considers how, through what concrete discursive means, the content of racial typifications is "taught" to occupants of those historically and socially constructed racial categories.
Social construction theory (cf. Berger and Luckmann, 1966) maintains that individuals define themselves based on social conceptions of the group to which they claim membership. Social construction theory holds that the basis for "subjective" reality is in fact the social world: the self is created through a dialectical, reflexive relationship between the individuals and their social milieux. Social construction theory thus argues that persons see themselves in the same terms that society views them.
With respect to racial identity and criminal propensities, social constructionists such as Blakey (1999), Holdaway (1997), Rodkin (1993) and Schiele (1998) argue that most social theories about race and crime tend to reify race and ignore the social process that is involved in the creation of racial categories. Such theories do so by treating race as endogenous to the person and assigned as any other biological feature. We, on the other hand, side with constructionists who view "race" not as a static, ascribed quality of persons but as a process achieved and learned through social interaction and as a consequence of the receipt of cultural definitions of race. This construction of race is known as racialization, a process through which meanings and definitions become associated with what become socially defined as different racial categories. It is the way in which race is constructed in everyday life and becomes, in effect, "real" in society and to the individual.
Colonial theory adds to social-construction approaches by accounting for social conceptualizations of race based on historical relations among different racial and ethnic groups. In his seminal Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon (1967) proposes that, in a former colonial society, socially accepted modes of thought are based on the views of the dominant, "colonizing" group. The culture, language and customs of the colonizers come to be normative and to be considered superior to both local indigenous cultures and to those who were part of subsequent non-White diasporas to post-colonial societies. Thus, in North American society, definitions and stereotypes of races, among other topics, are created and organized by persons of Northern and Western European origin. Colonial theorists sec present-day society as evincing the racial relationships and subjugation that characterized colonial times. Negative images associated with minority groups therefore derive from a colonial history, and the self-concepts that minority persons adopt owe to their place vis-a-vis White persons historically.
Although post-colonial theory has been most recently and enthusiastically …
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Publication information: Article title: On the Assimilation of Racial Stereotypes among Black Canadian Young Offenders *. Contributors: Manzo, John F. - Author, Bailey, Monetta M. - Author. Journal title: The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. Volume: 42. Issue: 3 Publication date: August 2005. Page number: 283+. © 1999 Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Assn. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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