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In about two paragraphs detail the relevance of Steffensmeier et al.’s findings. In other words, are there cases that you have read about that follow the sentencing trends documented in their study? Provide some details about the specific case or cases. Also, thinking about Burt et al., what are some possible solutions to the inequality in our criminal justice system?
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Social Problems, 2017, 64, 414–438
doi: 10.1093/socpro/spw036
Advance Access Publication Date: 28 February 2017
Racial Discrimination, Racial Socialization,
and Crime: Understanding Mechanisms of
Callie H. Burt1, Man Kit Lei2, and Ronald L. Simons2
University of Washington, 2University of Georgia
Taking a “strength approach” to African American families and cultures, recent research
demonstrates that familial racial socialization provides resilience to the criminogenic effects
of interpersonal racial discrimination among Black youth. Building on these nascent findings, the present study takes a process-oriented approach to understand how racial socialization reduces and counteracts the effects of discrimination on offending. Building on a social schematic theory of offending (Burt and Simons 2011), this study explores whether
two social psychological factors, positive racial identities and spirituality, serve as mechanisms through which racial socialization provides resilience. We test our hypotheses with
structural equation models using data from the Family and Community Health Study
(FACHS), a longitudinal, multisite study of roughly 700 African American youth and their
primary caregivers followed from late childhood to early adulthood. Consistent with our
theoretical model, findings suggest that familial racial socialization practices provide resilience to the criminogenic effects of racial discrimination in large part by increasing positive
racial identities and spirituality. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.
K E Y W O R D S : racial discrimination; racial socialization; crime; racial identity; resilience.
For many years scholars neglected the cogent insights of W.E.B. Du Bois (1899) that racial discrimination is directly implicated in the genesis of crime among African Americans. This oversight is being
corrected, as at least 15 recent studies have evinced the criminogenic consequences of racially discriminatory interactions for African Americans (e.g., Burt et al. 2012; Martin et al. 2011; Simons
et al. 2006; Unnever et al. 2009). The evidence is clear and moving to the mainstream: interpersonal
racial discrimination—the blatant, subtle and covert actions, verbal messages, or signals that are supported by racism and malign mistreat or otherwise harm racial minorities (Essed 1991; Feagin
1991)— is a risk factor for street crime and, therefore, plays a role in explaining racial disparities in
The first author’s work on this project was supported by a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice
(213IJCX022). The FACHS project designed by Ron Simons, Frederick Gibbons, and Carolyn Cutrona, and funded by grants from
the National Institute of Mental Health (MH48165, MH62669), the Center for Disease Control (029136-02), the National Institute
on Drug Abuse (DA021898), and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The authors are grateful to Kara
Hannula and 3 anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on several drafts of this manuscript. Direct all correspondence to Callie
Burt, Dept. of Sociology, University of Washington, Box 353340 Savery Hall, Seattle, WA 98195-3340.
C The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: [email protected]

Racial Discrimination, Racial Socialization, and Crime

offending.1 The costs of racial discrimination, in addition to other negative social, psychological, and
physiological outcomes (e.g., Clark et al. 1999; Krieger 2000; Williams 1997), thus include an increased risk of crime for African Americans (e.g., Burt et al. 2012; Unnever and Gabbidon 2011).
These findings imply that reducing or eradicating discrimination would be a potent crime prevention
strategy in addition to being a just goal in its own right.
Unjustly, interpersonal racial discrimination persists (Feagin 2010). Given both the stubborn persistence of racial discrimination and the fact that most African Americans do not engage in crime in
response to racial discrimination, scholarly attention has turned to sources of resilience—factors that
enhance an individual’s ability to overcome challenging or threatening circumstances (Masten, Best,
and Garmezy 1990; Rutter 1987). Recognizing the strengths of racial minorities in the face of racial
oppression, scholars have focused on identifying aspects of African American cultures that foster resilience to racism (Bowman and Howard 1985; Peters and Massey 1983). In contrast to earlier and
misguided cultural deficit approaches, which neglected racialized structural constraints and blamed
Blacks for their position in society (see Muhammad 2010), this “strength approach” highlights adaptive facets of African American cultures that contribute to positive adjustment in a racist context (e.g.,
Essed 1991).
Over the past several decades, an impressive body of research has identified racial socialization—which includes adaptive and protective practices used by minorities to promote healthy functioning in a society stratified by race—as a key cultural resource equipping minority youth with
competencies to overcome racism (e.g., Hughes et al. 2006; Stevenson 2003). Particularly relevant,
two recent studies have shown that racial socialization provides resilience to the criminogenic effects of racial discrimination (Burt et al. 2012; Burt and Simons 2015). Specifically, these studies
showed that two salient forms of racial socialization—cultural socialization and especially preparation for bias—buffer and compensate for the effects of racial discrimination on increased
The present study seeks to build on these recent findings and enhance our understanding of
these risk and resilience processes among African American youth by examining how racial socialization reduces the criminogenic effects of racial discrimination. In other words, we seek to identify
some of the individual mechanisms through which racial socialization fosters resilience.
Broadening the focus beyond documenting the presence of a protective effect of racial socialization to the mechanisms that underlie this effect is important both for knowledge and for informing preventative interventions.3 Only when we understand the processes through which racial
socialization practices provide resilience can we effectively strategize about their uses for informing policies that seek to foster prosocial coping and persistence towards valued goals in the face of
racial hostilities.
Theory and research on culture, stress, and coping from sociology, African American studies, and
psychology suggest two potential mechanisms: racial identity and spirituality (e.g., Brown 2008;
1 In noting that African Americans engage in higher rates of street crime than whites, we do not imply that law-breaking in general
is more common among African Americans, nor do we deny the harms that are perpetrated by whites (including those against
Blacks) that are not deemed illegal. It is unquestionably the case that certain crimes are committed more frequently per capita by
whites (e.g., white-collar crimes) and that by focusing on street crimes, racial disparities are magnified (Reiman 1979). Even so,
the damaging effect of street crime on African Americans as both victims and offenders deserves attention, even if only part of
the larger construct of law violation. We use the term crime throughout this article, but readers should note that we focus on
street crimes.
2 Parlance in the risk and resilience literature, compensatory factors are those associated with beneficial outcomes or that promote
positive adjustment across all levels of risk (Zimmerman, Bingenheimer, and Notaro 2002).
3 We wish to emphasize at the outset that although we focus on various familial and cultural strategies that have been shown to
provide resilience to the effects of racism, this focus does not imply that the onus should be on African Americans to deal with
racism. Reducing or eliminating discrimination is the just solution; however, given the persistence of racism, we believe that
identifying and better understanding how such cultural practices provide resilience against discrimination is a valuable

Burt, Lei, and Simons
Nicolas et al. 2008). We hypothesize that through teachings about cultural heritage and pride, racial
socialization practices strengthen positive racial identities, which buffer youth against some of the potential harmful effects of racial discrimination (e.g., Cross et al. 1991; Neblett et al. 2009; Sellers et al.
2006). In addition, we expect that by providing a system of meaning and purpose, faith, hope, and a
sense of interconnectedness, spirituality/religiosity4 is an important mechanism through which racial
socialization inculcates resilience to racial discrimination (e.g., Barnes 2009; Bowen-Reid and Harrell
2002; Stevenson 1997). Based on this research, we propose that these factors are individual mechanisms through which racial socialization compensates for and buffers the criminogenic effects of racial
In sum, the present study attempts to fill gaps in our understanding of linkages between race, culture, and crime by elaborating an integrative, micro-level model of racial discrimination, racial socialization, and offending among African American youth (Burt et al. 2012; Burt and Simons 2015).5 We
build on recent efforts that link racial discrimination to offending through a life-course learning theory, known as the social schematic theory (Simons and Burt 2011; Simons et al. 2014). In so doing,
we highlight the role of race-specific risk and cultural resilience factors in the lives of Black youth and
investigate the mechanisms through which these interactional factors influence development and
criminal behavior.
Notably, we build upon research that establishes interpersonal racial discrimination as a criminogenic risk factor. Our theoretical model prioritizes the role of racist structural arrangements—specifically white racism instantiated in discriminatory interactions—as a causal force setting in motion a
developmental cascade that may increase the likelihood of offending, an outcome that has been
(and continues to be) argued to result largely from cultural (e.g., Wolfgang and Ferracuti 1967) or
biological deficits (e.g., Wright and Morgan 2014). As we elaborate below, our model highlights
(unconscious) cognitive adaptations that promote self-protection and survival in the face of social
hostilities. Importantly, we do not conceive of these cognitive adaptations or social schemas as
unique to racial minorities. That is, we do not posit the existence of a unique Black psychology or
distinct personality traits (e.g., Poussaint 1983; Curtis 1975). As we discuss, we focus on the development of criminogenic cognitive schemas that result from internalizing the lessons inherent in hostile, unpredictable social experiences—racist and non-racist in origin (Simons et al. 2014).
Moreover, our approach emphasizes the adaptive strengths of African American families in fostering
healthy development in the midst of a racially stratified society (e.g., Burt et al. 2012). At its core,
our model locates “the problem” in racist structural arrangements and explores how racist social acts
influence development among minority youth with the goal of better understanding the remarkable
resilience to racial discrimination that is rooted, in part, in everyday cultural practices within African
American families.
In the following pages, we discuss the theory and research undergirding the present study. The
data that will be used to test the study hypotheses is the Family and Community Health Study
(FACHS), a survey of African American families from Iowa and Georgia. The FACHS study is
unique. It is the largest in-depth panel study of African Americans in the United States. It examines
4 For clarity in exposition, we use the term “spirituality” to refer to both spirituality and religiosity. Although some scholars have argued that these are distinct but related concepts (Mattis 2002), our measure inquires about the importance of “spirituality or religiosity,” thus tapping into both.
5 The focus of the current study is on the lived experiences of African Americans and how this influences risk and resilience factors
influencing the likelihood of criminal behavior. This focus does not imply that Blacks are the only group facing ethnic-racial injustices. However, given that the peerless worldview of Blacks has been “shaped by their incomparable racial subordination”
(Unnever and Gabbidon 2011:7), we believe that a focus on African Americans is warranted. This work builds, in part, on the
scholarship of Black criminologists and critical race theorists who have highlighted the need for a distinctive body of work focusing on African American lived experiences and offending (e.g., Du Bois 1899; Mann 1993). Even so, these findings have implications for risk and resilience processes among other ethnic-racial minority groups. It is hoped that future research explores these
processes in other ethnic-racial groups.
Racial Discrimination, Racial Socialization, and Crime

Black families from a range of socioeconomic situations from the very poor to the upper middle class.
With its developmental focus and wealth of familial information, the FACHS is particularly well
suited for the present study.
As noted, more than a dozen studies over the past decade have linked interpersonal racial discrimination to an increased risk of offending among Black Americans (see Unnever and Gabbidon 2011, for
a review). More recently, scholarship has focused on understanding the processes through which interpersonal racial discrimination increases the likelihood of general offending. The challenge is explaining how discrimination augments the risk of general offending, not limited to immediate
backlash against the perpetrator(s). Addressing this challenge, several recent studies have linked racial
discrimination to offending drawing upon a recently developed social schematic theory of crime
(Simons and Burt 2011; Burt and Simons 2015). Building on these efforts, the present study links racial discrimination to an increased risk of offending through this developmental learning theory.
The social schematic theory (SST; Simons and Burt 2011) is a life-course learning theory that elucidates the social psychological processes through which social-environmental adversities and supports influence individual differences in propensities to offend. Drawing on insights from social
learning (e.g., Akers 1985), structural-cultural (e.g., Anderson 1999), and information-processing theories (e.g., Dodge and Pettit 2003), SST emphasizes the role of the lessons communicated by the
persistent and recurring interactions that comprise an individual’s everyday existence. These lessons
are stored as social schemas, defined as cognitive representations of the patterns in social interaction
that influence future behavior by specifying the import and meaning of various social stimuli and the
probable consequences of various lines of action (Crick and Dodge 1994). Numerous theories in social and developmental psychology suggest that social schemas (and similar concepts such as social
heuristics and scripts) serve as the link between past experiences and future behavior, as they are tacitly relied upon when defining situations and forming lines of action (e.g., Crick and Dodge 1994;
Shank and Abelson 1977).
Focusing on criminal behavior, SST proposes that various social insults—such as racial discrimination—increase individuals’ propensities to crime because they foster criminogenic social schemas, or
those that increase the likelihood that situations are defined as justifying or excusing law violation
(see also Simons et al. 2014). In brief, SST postulates that individuals who are frequently exposed to
unpredictable, harsh, and unfair social interactions and environments internalize messages that delayed rewards rarely materialize, the world is a hostile, unpredictable place, and social rules and punishments do not apply equally to everyone.
Drawing on established theories in criminology and developmental psychology, Simons and Burt
(2011) identified three key criminogenic schemas. These include impulsivity or low self-control (e.g.,
Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990), hostile views of relationships (e.g., Anderson 1999; Dodge 2006),
and disengagement from conventional norms (e.g., Akers 1985; Hirschi 1969). Arguing that because
the schemas are rooted in the same set of harsh, unpredictable social conditions, which communicate
similar lessons about the world, Simons and Burt (2011) contend these three schemas coalesce into a
higher-order criminogenic knowledge structure (CKS) that makes situational definitions compelling or
legitimating crime more likely, thereby increasing propensities to offend. Research supports the contention that the CKS mediates between social conditions and criminal behavior (e.g., Burt and
Simons 2011; Simons et al. 2014).
Focusing on racial discrimination, several studies have linked racial discrimination to offending
through one or more of the schemas in the CKS (e.g., Simons et al. 2006; Stewart and Simons
2006). More recently, Burt and Simons (2015, see also, Simons and Burt 2011; Simons et al. 2014)
demonstrated that racial discrimination increased the risk of offending in large part through the CKS.
Together, these results provide evidence that racial discrimination increases the risk of offending in

Burt, Lei, and Simons
large part through its effects on these criminogenic cognitive schemas. This is the theoretical model
we adopt in the present study. Thus, consistent with prior work, we expect that racial discrimination
increases the risk of crime in large part through the CKS, in other words, by fostering a view of the
world as hostile, unpredictable, and unfair.
Recognizing that resilience to racial discrimination, including its criminogenic effects, is the rule
rather than the exception, scholars have identified racial socialization as an important racially-specific
cultural practice that promotes resilience to racial discrimination among minority youth (e.g., Hughes
et al. 2006). Broadly, racial socialization is “the process through which children come to understand
their own and others’ identities, roles, and positions vis- a-vis race in various contexts, and how race
will function in their lives” (Winkler 2011: 274). Although children receive racial socialization messages from numerous sources, scholarship has highlighted familial racial socialization—defined as explicit or tacit messages that family members communicate to children about their racial cultural
heritage and history, the realities of racism, and how to cope with racism effectively (e.g., Hughes
et al. 2006; Stevenson et al. 2003). Research among Black families suggests that, to varying degrees,
family members communicate messages to children about African American pride, strength, and
achievement and impart values, attitudes, and a set of critical tools for negotiating a racially hostile society (Hughes et al. 2006; Winkler 2011). Indeed, a trove of studies documents the existence and importance of familial racial socialization among Black families, demonstrating that youth draw upon
this cultural resource as they navigate a society hostile to racial differences (for a review, see Hughes
et al. 2006; Lesane-Brown 2006). Two forms of racial socialization have been identified as particularly
relevant to youths’ resilience: preparation for bias and cultural …
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