Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

On the Assimilation of Racial Stereotypes among Black Canadian Young Offenders *

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

On the Assimilation of Racial Stereotypes among Black Canadian Young Offenders *

Article excerpt

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.

Theoretical Perspectives

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. …

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