What is race? In today’s society many individuals have set definitions of race that limit the differences between two races to specific traits, which can include skin color and religion, among others. However, the boundaries which we draw between the groups of people we separate into race have not always been so clear. Race has been as changing and dynamic as other established social institutions. Yet, as modern definition may change, race still displays an important role in the way that individuals categorize themselves and others. Race, when focused exclusively upon, can become a boundary used to justify inequality and discrimination, as most people are familiar with today.
Race, as defined by Dalton Conley, is “a group of people who share a set of characteristics- typically, but not always, physical ones- and are said to share a common bloodline.” Coming hand in hand with it, racism is “the belief that members of separate races possess different and unequal traits.” In modern terminology we generally define race based upon and individual’s skin color and ethnicity. But beyond those simple traits, we also group generalizations of each individual’s behavior due to their classified race. In one such study by Richard Felson et al. (2007), the generalizations of race and its correlation to violent crime in adolescents is explored.
Felson et al. studied the correlation between race and crime rates in the research study, ‘Do theories of crime or violence explain race differences in delinquency”. This article uses national data from 15,430 youth in grades 7-12 and their crime records. According to this research, black adolescents are more likely, sometimes twice as much so, to engage in violent crime than their white adolescent peers. After accounting for other demographic factors such as family structure and socioeconomic status, there is still a significant difference in violent crime rates between black and white adolescents. This data shows that there is a strong connection between race, more specifically blacks, and delinquency.
There are many reasons why this difference in crime rates may occur. Societies often negatively define minority races and label them with stereotypes, a type of racism. Eventually these labels impact how people in that race actually act. By being typecast as delinquents, black adolescents may act in accordance and be more likely to break the rules and deviate from social norms. After taking part in initial acts of crime, adolescents are labeled as deviant and then become more likely to take part in secondary deviance, rule-breaking that occurs a result of a deviant label. Black adolescents are constantly put in this cyclical process of labeling and deviance.
Our society is constantly reinforcing the idea that black adolescents are delinquents. The way these adolescents are typecast creates a negative label for them that is continuously present throughout their social life. The negative stigmas that come along with these labels lead to deviant actions by these youth. They alter their identities as a result of this racism and are more likely to participate in deviant crimes. As a result of this cycle, racial feelings and tension are reinforced.
As our society changes and moves forward, we often hope that we will more towards eliminating inequality and racism. Yet, the institution of race will only change in significance if the current boundaries are changed. What do you think makes an individual define race in the context of their everyday lives? Do you think our current definition of race will change, and if so, what factors will influence that change?
The Felson et al. article:
*Due to link problems, go to www.sciencedirect.com and enter title: “Do theories of crime or violence explain race differences in delinquency?” and enter auther Richard Felson
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