1. Outline the key historical events which shaped—and continue to shape—the nature of race relations in the UK today, affecting all aspects of society but especially crime and the criminal justice system.
The question requires thinking about the social construction of race and race relations and how the history of colonialism impacts on present day society.
To answer the question, you should show an understanding of European migration, imperialism and colonisation during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, during which time European powers occupied the Americas, Africa, and Asia and subjugated the people already living there.
Your answer should also consider the Atlantic, or transatlantic, slave trade, and how its legacy affected social attitudes towards black citizens; the mass migration from Britain’s colonies after the Second World War; and how, in the 1970s, young black males were seen as being part of a new crime problem and tensions arose between the police and black citizens.
More recently, consider how the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has identified a continued problem of police violence in the United States, and has come to represent resistance against the racism faced by black people and those from minority ethnic groups in all aspects of society and across many countries.
2. What are the main problems with ‘knowledge’, and particularly statistical knowledge, about race, ethnicities, and crime?
The question requires you to think about how knowledge is obtained and constructed. ABC (Always Be Critical) is a good strategy and it is important to remember that ideas about race, ethnicity and crime are socially constructed. Statistics on race and crime need careful consideration. For example, figures may suggest that people from ethnic minorities commit more crime, but think about some of the reasons why ethnic minorities are over-represented at nearly every stage of the criminal justice system. It can be misleading and inaccurate to take these figures at face value. Criminological knowledge on race is also historically limited, partly because, in common with other disciplines, its origins are dominated by white scholars, mainly men.
3. What are the apparent links between ethnicity and victimisation and offending?
The question requires you to think about the possible links between ethnicity, victimisation and offending and the nature of these links. Government data suggests that black and Asian people and those of mixed race are marginally more likely to be victims of crime than white people. But consider why this might be the case. Is it as simple as saying that they are more likely to live in high crime areas or might there be other explanations?
Consider the data on hate crime, which shows that ethnic minorities are more likely to be subject to racially and religiously motivated hate crimes, and that a proportion of the victimisation experienced by non-white people is directly linked to their ethnicity.
The information available on ethnicity and offending demonstrates that minority ethnic groups are over-represented at all stages of the criminal justice process. But in considering the data you will need to go beyond the basic ‘facts’ and consider such issues as possible bias in policing, prosecution and sentencing practices.
4. In the context of England and Wales, what are the main reasons for the over-representation of black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups at each stage of the criminal justice process?
In addressing this question, consider the extent to which ethnic minorities are more likely to be subject to certain crimes such as racially and religiously motivated hate crimes. Consider also how higher rates of victimisation may be linked to adverse outcomes in health, housing, and economic status.
You should also consider issues of bias or disproportionate responses in criminal justice practices, for example, the extent to which black people remain over-policed and under-protected, and once in the criminal justice system are treated harshly at courts and given longer sentences than white people.
Policing of drugs and the use of stop and search remain key drivers of disproportionality in prosecution and sentencing. In considering race, ethnicity, and offending, it is important to understand that labelling and racial profiling serve to reinforce and reproduce the associations between ‘black’ and criminality.
5. In which decade and where did critical race theory first gain prominence?
Critical race theory (CRT) is an interdisciplinary movement which emerged in the United States of America in the 1970s to study and theorise the relationship between race, racism, and power.
6. In his review of the key writings that informed the CRT movement, what five recurring themes or tenets did Bennett Capers identify?
Your answer should show an understanding of these five key themes that Capers (2014) identified as informing the CRT (Critical Race Theory) movement:
- Formal equality laws often marginalise and obscure social, political, and economic inequality.
- ‘Interest convergence’—the idea that legal reforms that seemingly benefit ethnic minorities happen only when such reforms benefit the interests of the white majority.
- Race is biologically insignificant and, to a large extent, socially and legally constructed.
- CRT scholars reject the belief that race itself defines how racial discrimination is experienced (called essentialism). Instead, they argue that race is experienced according to various personal and social circumstances and as a result of power relationships that reinforce oppression and subordination.
- Reference to race is often omitted in the law, so CRT scholars try to make race visible by incorporating personal narratives or ‘legal storytelling’ into their methods.
7. What are the main criticisms of CRT?
The question asks you to identify some of the perceived weaknesses of CRT. One criticism is that it reinforces a victim mentality and encourages a form of identity politics that overemphasises claims of shared experiences based on race. It has also been criticised for failing to offer solutions to structural problems (Capers, 2014); being extreme (Richard Posner called it ‘lunatic fringe’, ibid: 26); ‘playing the race card’ (exploiting the idea of racism for gain); encouraging a narrative of victimisation; propounding irrational ideas; sacrificing objective theoretical analysis for subjective storytelling; and implying that black people all think alike (Ugwudike, 2015).
8. Two more recent reviews focusing on race issues in criminal justice have been led by Baroness Lola Young and the MP David Lammy. Using CRT, discuss why these reviews stand out and what makes them significant.
The question invites you to consider the extent to which both Young and Lammy place race and racism at the centre of their reviews whereas previous reviews like Scarman could be accused of downplaying racism and instead relying on structural/social answers. You may discuss how, as a result, the Young and Lammy reviews stand out as accepting the existence of structural racism within criminal justice and empowering the voice and experience of those who have experienced racism.