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Assess the usefulness of Marxist approaches in explaining the causes and the extent of ethnic-minority offending in society.

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Assess the usefulness of Marxist approaches in explaining the causes and the extent of ethnic-minority offending in society.

An area which sociologists and criminologists alike have researched and studied extensively is that of the rates of ethnic minorities offending in society, and the causes of their offending. This comes as no surprise as official statistics show that black people are over three times more likely to be arrested than white people, whilst Asian people’s rates of arrest are similar to those for white people.

One Marxist approach in explaining the causes and the extent of ethnic-minority offending in society is Stuart Hall’s. Hall et al. (1978) argued that the late 1970s were a period of crisis for British Capitalism. There was political unrest and there was a collapse in the economy. As a result, Hall claims, the British press turned their attention to the crime on our streets. They used young African-Caribbean males as a scapegoat for all the crime which subsequently led to a “moral panic” developing in British society. As a reaction to this, more police were put on the streets to control this young ethnic group.

Hall’s analysis can be credited in the sense that it acknowledges that fact that the media can generate panic in society whereby we are made to think something is worse than it actually is. In the case of ethnic minority groups and offending, therefore, we are made to believe that young black groups, for example, are heavily responsible for crime in Britain, when in actual fact, the situation is far more complex than that. However, Hall’s analysis is by no means entirely credible. No attention was actually given to researching the motivations and thinking of young African-Caribbean males, whilst the association between criminality and black youth has been around for years, and was not something which came and went with a crisis of capitalism.

An alternative Marxist approach to explaining the causes and the extent of ethnic-minority offending in society has been developed by Scraton (1987) and Gordon (1988). This theory, commonly referred to as “Cultures of Resistance”, states that: in response to media coverage and political debates all focusing around the issue of race being a problem, young members of ethnic minority groups commit crime as a political act rather than a criminal act. In other words, they are almost “protesting” against the dominance of white people in the developed world. Like Hall’s Marxist-based theory, this theory has been heavily criticized by many. For example, Lea and Young (1993) point to the fact that the majority of crimes are “intraracial”. This means that crimes are “black on black”, and therefore, these crimes cannot possibly reflect a political struggle against the white majority. Indeed, Scraton and Gordon have also been criticized of romanticizing crime and criminals. By this, it is meant that they see crime as a positive resistance against white people and their powerful influence upon ethnic-minority groups. This therefore means that Scraton and Gordon ignore the harm that crime can have upon its victims.  

Mayhew et al. (1993) provides a challenge to both Hall’s, and Scraton and Gordon’s Marxist theories of ethnicity and crime. Mayhew argues that most crime is committed by young males who come from poorer backgrounds. Therefore, there would inevitably be an overrepresentation of offenders from minority ethnic groups, simply because there are a higher proportion of young males in the ethnic minority population than in the population as a whole. This argument therefore challenges the Marxist approaches as it focuses upon ones’ economic position as opposed to media “scapegoating” and cultural and political struggles between different races as a reason for crime in ethnic groups.

Another one of the major factors which all Marxist theories ignore as a reason for ethnic minorities supposedly committing more crime is the possibility of racist police practices. For example, police are six times more likely to stop and search a young African-Caribbean youth than a white one. It would, therefore, be expected that black youths are found carrying knives more often than white youths – simply because many of the white youths would go uncaught, for example. The possibility of institutional racism within the police force, too, has been pointed at as one possible explanation for why ethnic minority groups are arrested for criminal offences more often than white people.

It may in fact be that our interpretation of crime statistics is what has led many of us to believe that ethnic-minority offending occurs more so than white people offending. Fitzgerald et al. (2003) developed the “Statistical artefact” approach, which, amongst other things, showed how there was a statistical link between higher crime levels and lone-parent families. African-Caribbean households are more likely to be headed by a lone parent, and therefore, it is to be expected that African-Caribbean youths commit more crime. Marxist theories can therefore be criticized in the sense that they fail to acknowledge what (after some very brief analysis) crime statistics actually show.

It can, therefore, be argued that the two main Marxist approaches which try to explain the causes and extent of ethnic-minority offending in society are heavily flawed. Although they both provide some logical reasons for why ethnic-minority groups are more likely to offend in society, they provide little evidence to back up their main arguments. Moreover, both theories ignore the fact that certain ethnic-minority groups like African-Caribbean’s, for example, commit more crime simply because they very often tend to be working class.

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