Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

A Survey of the Literature on Theories and Prevention of Black Male Youth Involvement in Violence

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

A Survey of the Literature on Theories and Prevention of Black Male Youth Involvement in Violence

Article excerpt

This article provides a review of research and thinking on the causes of the disproportionate involvement of Black male youths in interpersonal violence and violent activities such as crime, as either victims or perpetrators. It also examines societal and community responses to this involvement. After identifying and exploring the parameters of the problem, it explores relevant theories and critiques existing programmatic initiatives aimed at preventing or reducing Black male youth violence. Lastly, the author offers recommendations for future intervention thrusts based on the literature and progress in the field.


The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (1994) defines violence as any act that causes psychological, emotional, or physical harm to individuals and/or communities, or that causes damage to property. It includes homicide, assault (including rape and sexual assault), spouse abuse and battering, child physical and sexual abuse, child neglect, suicide, and vandalism as well as other forms of property destruction. Accordingly, violence is not an isolated problem, restricted to one segment of the population; rather, it is multidimensional and pervasive. Even though reports have indicated that the frequency of several types of violent activities has actually declined in recent years (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993), other kinds of violence-especially the random, blatant, and apparently senseless kind, and that in which the perpetrator is of an increasingly younger age-are on the increase.

Like alcohol and other drug abuse, youth violence in the United States has taken an upturn in the last few years. This disturbing trend is especially true among Black males. The disproportionate involvement of Black males in violence and violent behaviors has been well documented (Gordon, Gordon, & Nembhard, 1994). Although Blacks represent only about 12% of America's population, Black men are disproportionately represented among persons arrested for violent acts (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). The 1993 Census Bureau report also indicates that homicide is presently the leading cause of death for Black males 15 to 34 years of age. It further estimates that the lifetime risk of death by homicide is far greater for Black men (1 in 21) than it is for Black females (1 in 104), White men (1 in 131), or White females (1 in 369).

A number of empirical approaches have been taken to better understand the factors that contribute to African American males' greater involvement in violence. Oliver (1994b) discusses several sociological theories and concepts that attempt to explain this phenomenon: the poverty-social disorganization theory, the racial oppression-displaced aggression theory, the subculture of violence theory, and the compulsive masculinity concept. Additionally, Jessor, Graves, Hanson, and Essor (1968) proffer the concept of "eco-system distrust" as a possible explanation.

An in-depth examination of all of these theories would be tangential to this article's purpose, but a cursory look is warranted. The poverty-social disorganization theory suggests that the disproportionately high rates of criminal violence among Black men are attributable to the high rate of poverty within African American communities and a tendency among Blacks to adhere to lower-class values and traditions (Voss & Hepburn, 1968). Sociologists who advocate this position conclude that poverty contributes to the rise of social conditions that are conducive to criminal violence-namely, chronic unemployment, teen pregnancy, female-headed families, academic failure, welfare dependency, inadequate socialization, and substance abuse. This theory further posits that poverty diminishes the ability of the Black community to encourage its youth, and especially its male youth, to adopt conventional values and behaviors (Oliver, 1994a).

This lack of positive encouragement is the basis of the so-called racial oppressiondisplaced aggression theory. …

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