African Americans And Equality Criminology Essay

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This paper seeks to explore how the African Americans in United States of America struggle for equality in the modern context of the 20th and 21st century. Particularly in the context of American judicial system which contains racial disparities that cause a disadvantage to the African Americans. Especially the juvenile judicial system and the Rodney King incident which treats African Americans based on their misrecognised identities.

Understanding racism in America

To understand the existence of discrimination in America, one needs to look at the seeds of America's racism. North America was colonized by White English people, Europeans, who believed in White Supremacy. The Europeans would judge people according to their appearance, usually by one's skin colour. However, one's skin colour is hereditary, meaning that it is determined by genes, not by choice. Hence, to define a person based on skin colour is a concept of Geneticist view noted by Clammer (1998). Adopting the Geneticist view, the Europeans associate race with genetic qualities that determines the African Americans' level of intelligence and behaviour. Since these genetic qualities are determined by race, within the blood of each race, it denotes that these qualities are unchangeable.

With such perceptions, the dark-skinned African Americans are essentialised by the Europeans with negative connotations such as being , inferior to the white-skinned Europeans in terms of intellectual capabilities and highly prone to criminal behaviour. White Americans hold on and subscribe to this geneticist view for centuries since colonization till modern 21st century. They continue to destabilize and weaken the African American community using the geneticist view. Furthermore the White Americans construe that the African Americans characteristics and behaviour can never be changed even in a largely White American environment. Therefore, social inequalities that the African American community faced are seen as natural since nothing could be done (Clammer, 1998). These perceptions of African Americans are still evident in America today, which will be further discussed using the case studies of the juvenile judicial system and the Rodney King incident.

Criminal Justice System - Juvenile Judicial System

Reports show that African Americans are the usual targets for arrest in the war on drugs. In 1980, more African American youths were arrested for selling drugs at a ratio of 5-to-1 in comparison to White Americans. While in 1990, the racial disparity increased to a ratio of 100-to-1(CITE?) . These figures signify an increasing racial discrimination against the blacks in America. Furthermore, figures also show the disproportionate ratio of minority (Blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans) youths that are likely to be transferred to the adult court than the Whites is at a ratio of 6.2-to-1 under the juvenile judicial system. In particular reference to African Americans youths, they are 18.4 times more likely to be sentenced to prison by an adult court than White youths. This disproportionate ratio indicates the discriminatory treatment of the African Americans within the criminal justice system.

These figures are a prime example of essentialism still existing in the American society. It portrays geneticist concept in play in America, and African Americans being misrecognised with geneticist views, dark-skinned people are inferior and have tendency to commit crimes. More importantly, this discrepancy within the criminal justice system proves the existence or the implementation of "unearned privilege" as noted by Tatum (1997). Tatum's (1997) notion of "unearned privilege" states that the members of the dominant group are simply advantaged because they belong to the dominant group without having to earn for any of these advantages. Furthermore, Clammer (1998) notes that the dominant group would de-value the minorities and makes them scapegoats of the society, in order for the dominant group to sustain its sense of superiority. In this case, the Whites apply the sense of perceived White Supremacy and label the African Americans as scapegoat of the society. The disparity in figures and treatment in the criminal justice system highlights the existence of "unearned privilege" since the African American who are dark-skinned are instantly deemed with the higher tendency to commit crimes due to the genetic qualities they possess. Therefore, the African Americans receive harsher treatments and punishments than the Whites.

The continual misrecognition of the African Americans with concepts of essentialisation and incorrect views of African Americans is undesirable. More so when misrecognition exists within state bodies which are meant to uphold justice regardless of the person's colour of skin. The fact that state bodies are implementing geneticist views; it gives the public an impression that such inequalities are natural and seemingly allowing the Whites to continue misrecognising the African Americans.

Rodney King incident

In 1991, four White police officers of the Los Angeles Police Department brutally assault Rodney Glen King, an African American. This incident was recorded on tape by a bystander and submitted to the State court against the four White police officers. However, the State court which consisted of ten Whites, one Hispanic, and one Filipino-American, the mainly White juries found the police officers not guilty of the charges. This verdict aroused the African Americans to go onto the streets shouting slogans, seeking attention for justice.

This incident demonstrates several concepts, such as the existence of geneticist view in the American society, the notion of essentialisation which leads to the misrecognition of the African Americans' own identity.

The presence of geneticist view on race is evident when extensive violence was applied on King by the White American officers who used deadly weapons and applied extensive violence to King's minor resistance. A clearer indication of geneticist view present is seen when the largely White jury have been socialized for centuries into believing that the Whites are genetically born to be well-behaved, therefore, not capable of such criminal offence, and committing acts of violence. On the other hand, the Whites have been socialised and brought up into accepting geneticist views that African Americans are inferior to the Whites and prone to criminal behaviour. These geneticist views which are recognized could be misrecognition of the African Americans. Yet, the concept of essentialisation was applied to King, and giving the impression that King was responsible for the brutality applied on him. Yet, it was highly evident that misrecognition of the African Americans played a large role rather than the vast evidence of brutality in the Rodney King trials against the White officers.

Therefore, the existence of geneticist view in the American society has led to the essentialisation and misrecognition of the African Americans identity. With this misrecognition, and socialized thinking of White supremacy, the White police were acquitted despite the apparent evidence of unnecessary violence towards King.

Globalization in the 21st century

In the 21st century, for the first time, an African American had been elected as the President of United States of America. However, that does not mean the African Americans lives have improved. Instead, the social status and capabilities of the African Americans are still beginning challenged and perceived using the White's geneticist concept. Globalisation has brought little changes to the lives of the African Americans, although many have the preconceived notion that globalization equates to acknowledgement of different races and their rights, meaning African Americans are given the rights they deserve. That is not the scenario seen in the age of globalization, instead racial profiling has become part of law enforcement of the American society. The notion of racial profiling and essentialisation has been ingrained in the American society thus leading the police force to conduct more checks on the African Americans, hence statistics shows the African Americans with higher crime rate. Proving the Whites geneticist views - dark-skinned people are prone to criminal acts. This creates a ground for the Whites to make the African Americans scapegoats of the society.

The continual misrecognition of the African American identities has several undesirable impacts to their identities, especially when they are the minorities while the Whites belong to the dominant group. This is a major concern as Tatum (1994) notes the need for individual to have own identity. Yet, the miscognition affects the construction, building of the African Americans own identity. As Tatum (1997) notes that one's identity is built based on a dialogical model where interaction is needed with people around us. Evidently, the dominant group of people around the African Americans, the Whites, does not treat them with equal respect. This hinders the African Americans building of their own identity without geneticist views from the Whites. As mentioned earlier, the dominant group would label the minority, African Americans as inferior and incapable. This continual misrecognition would lead the African Americans internalizing, believing and portraying the images that the Whites had imposed on them (Tatum, 1997). Therefore, the African American might assimilate into the American society with lighter-skin tone in order to fit into the dominant group to feel accepted and respected by the society.

In conclusion, there is an urgent need for educators to relook at the notion of race in the age of globalization. Educators, not just American educators should also review the concept and existence of unearned privilege globally. Through education, it would be ideal if one could understand and act upon the misrecognition the African Americans are facing as the continual misrecognition could change the way African Americans identify themselves.