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The idea of social class and socio-economic status being related to race/ethnicity can be demonstrated using several examples. This essay will discuss topics such as; the criminalisation of racial and ethnic groups and the discrimination of certain ethnic-minority groups, such as in housing. It will also be discussed how these problems can link closely to socioeconomic status whilst providing theories such as the strain theory, social learning theory and labelling theory to provide examples on how this can impact of levels of crime or deviance.
Many writers prefer the term ‘ethnicity’ over ‘race’ as it suggests a less biological concept. Newburn explains the distinction between race and ethnicity as the notion that one is biological (race) whereas the other is social (ethnicity), therefore he often uses ethnicity to “describe social groups believed or perceived to differ from other social groups”. This can be in terms of language, religion, cultural tradition or on a geographical basis. The idea of race can be seen in the ideas of racial difference and the superiority or inferiority of certain racial groups compared to others such as the ancient Greeks who considered non-Greeks as “barbarians” and inferior compared to those that were Greek. Reports of disorders in cities such as Bristol, Brixton and Manchester in the 1980s highlighted the fact that the areas with a high concentration of ethnic minority groups were also the areas of “deprived social and economic conditions”. It was shown that Afro-Caribbean boys especially were excluded from schools and that unemployment rates were higher among ethnic minority groups compared to the population as a whole.
Newburn (2017) describes criminalisation as “the assignment of the status criminal to particular individuals”. In society it has become a common stereotype that young men, those from ethnic groups and particularly black men, are more prone to committing crime and acts of deviance. In the 1980’s the link between young African-Caribbean men and mugging was created and since the early 2000’s there has also been the association of “gangland violence” with black people. Rather than policing white-collar crimes, it is often decided to police crimes that are commonly associated with poor and minority groups. This is argued to represent “the racism and classism inherent in elite institutions” and can reflect the idea that those at the bottom of the social stratification system are seen as more prone to committing crimes or acts of deviance. The police have the power to stop and search only “when an officer has ‘reasonable grounds for suspecting’ that evidence of particular offences will be found”. However, it was found that black people were 30 times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to white people in England in Wales. This is what is considered ‘Racial Profiling’, which is defined as the police using generalisations “based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin, rather than individual behaviour. This leads to whole groups being stigmatised which then reinforces racial tensions.
The theory of spatial assimilation brings forward the idea that differences in socioeconomic status across different racial and ethnic groups helps to shape patterns of segregation. For example, people from minority groups may not be able to afford to live in wealthier neighbourhoods as they lack considerably in terms of income, education and occupational status compared to whites. Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay argue that “low economic status, ethnic heterogeneity, and residential mobility” is what leads to the social organisation of a community being disrupted which in turn leads to the differences in crime rates. Place stratification, on the other hand, “emphasizes that a group’s residential patterns and integration into society” is dependent on the position of the group on the social hierarchy. In the United States, non-Hispanic white people are seen to be at the top of the social hierarchy, therefore people out with this group can experience negative stereotypes and the effect of these stereotypes. For example, African Americans may be “unable to attain their locational preferences as often” compared to people of similar socio-economic background but of a different racial or ethnic group. However, there are several theories which argue the reasons that people commit crime or why certain racial and ethnic groups are more prone to commit crime.
The strain theory focuses specifically on negative relationships that an individual has with others, where they are treated in a way in which they don’t want to be treated, and when relationships prevent an individual from achieving valued goals. This theory also argues that anger and other related emotions, which are often the result of negative relationships, lead to deviance. This could be because of a failure to achieve certain goals, or can be because of other related goals such as money and the desire for respect. A report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (2007) suggested that discrimination within the criminal justice system and social exclusion may be the key factors in the over-representation of young black people within i. They continue to explain that “80 per cent ‘of Black African and Black Caribbean communities live in Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas’”. All people are encouraged to work for money in order to buy necessities and luxury items, however many are prevented from getting this money “through legal channels, such as work”.
In post-war Detroit, the deindustrialisation and decline of the city was claimed to have been caused by three factors. The first was “the flight of relatively well-paid, secure and unionised jobs”, the second was the persistence of discrimination especially within workplaces in the private sector and the final factor was the racial segregation of housing. The discrimination in the housing market can be seen especially with Hispanics and Asians, where real estate agents will commonly steer these particular groups towards certain neighbourhoods. As well as giving them the unequal ability to access mortgage credit which may lead minority groups towards poorer or more deprived areas. Living in these deprived areas could lead to people experiencing “negative social and cultural influences” such as a lack of opportunity, disrupted families and a lack of trust in police. This can lead to people attempting to get the required money that they need through illegal activities such as theft, prostitution and the selling of drugs.
This desire to be respected and for an individual to assert themselves through violence can become widespread among deprived areas. Young men may “attempt to ‘accomplish masculinity’ through crime”, or might try and “adopt a tough demeanor” and assault or rob people who show any disrespect towards them. Kelly Miller discussed the Atlanta riot in 1906 and argued that poor race relations and the way in which the media exaggerated crime in the city were key reasons for starting the riot, with many claims or rumours of assaults by black men on white women circulating around the city. Miller continues by stating that “the actions of a few Negroes resulted in the ‘abhorrence’ of 40,000 Negro Atlanta residents” and compares this with basing the reputation of the whole of London on the actions of Jack the Ripper. Miller’s view can show the way in which a negative stereotype can be placed upon a certain minority group and this idea has been argued as the starting point of the labelling theory.
On the other hand, the social learning theory focuses on the “positive relationships with deviant others” which could be “through association with or exposure to others” such as “delinquent friends” or in the media. For example, the portrayal of ethnic or racial groups in television shows or on news channels can enforce a certain stereotype upon certain groups. Chiricos and Eschholz (2002) found that the news portrayed black suspects and Hispanic suspects negatively compared to white suspects, “for three of four qualitative distinctions, black suspects were shown in a menacing context”. This can lead to the criminalisation of certain racial or ethnic groups.
In conclusion, it can be seen that race and ethnicity are linked to socioeconomic status as it is common to see relations between those in ethnic minority groups and those of a lower social stratification. This can be linked to different theories of crime such as the strain theory, where people of minority groups could potentially feel strain with the discrimination they experience, such as less opportunity with housing. This could lead to possible violence or acts of deviance from members of these groups. Also, the labelling theory can cause frustration as it shows negative stereotypes being used on whole racial and ethnic groups. The media’s use of these stereotypes and the way they portray people from certain groups can also add to the idea of certain ethnic or racial groups being more prone to crime. Therefore, there can be a variety of arguments for the idea that both socioeconomic status or social class and race and ethnicity are closely related.
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