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Deviance and Risk Behaviors: Norm or the Exception? Literature Review Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1618

Literature Review

Introduction

Deviant behavior is determined by what the social norms are for a particular area, community, or culture.  A person may be deemed deviant when his/her behavior does not stay within the boundaries set by society. Early on, children are taught right from wrong by their parents or care gives, however, the child’s idea of right and wrong is strongly based upon what is being taught by the adult care givers. As a result, children are often conformed to the traditions of their families. Consequently, it can be difficult for one to determine if deviant behaviors are learned, environmental, or hereditary. Deviant behavior is also in the eye of the beholder; what one person views as deviant may be viewed by another as normal. Some theories of deviance are based upon governmental statistics. These statistics seem to convey that some ethnic minorities are more prone to be involved in crimes than other groups are. For example, Black and Latino boys appear to be more likely to commit crimes than white boys. According to the numbers, these facts may be true, but many psychologists are attempting to shed light on why these groups are more likely to commit crimes than other groups are. Findings have indicated that police often show bias towards black and Latino boys. Findings have also supported the fact that because of this inherent bias, police officers are more likely to stop black and Latinos on crimes that pertain to drugs. A person’s gender, race, environment, and culture play a dominant role in the way society’s views  them, and thus inadvertently determines if they are deemed deviant or not.

What is Criminalization

The way the criminal justice systems treats or handles certain members of society is criminalization. The way this system functions, has greatly shaped the way young black and Latino males view the world and make decisions (22). According to the author, the government has not forsaken these members of society, but it has shaped every aspect of their lives. Many members of these groups feel it is pointless to comply with laws because society has already formed a negative opinion of them. As a result, these members resist the laws with great hostility. One of the young men that participated in the study gave an example of criminalization. For example,

“The five-o stopped me all the time. They checked me for drugs and guns most of the time. At first I as scared and told them I was only twelve. They didn’t believe me and kept asking me where I was hiding the drugs. That made me hella mad ‘cause I wasn’t slanging or anything. On mama’s I wasn’t slanging. I said, fuck it. So a few months later I started selling weed.” (50).

The best definition of criminalization is when members of stigmatized group live up to negative expectations.

Environmental Factor

One’s environment plays a great role in shaping one’s perspective on life. Oakland, California, the place of this study, is defined by crimes, violence, and drug usage and selling (24). According to a study conducted by Discovery, there are more than ten thousand gang members who reside in Oakland, California. The neighborhoods there have been deemed the killing zone” because of it high incidence of murders. One’s environment greatly impacts one’s behavior towards and within society. For example, if a child doesn’t have the three key elements of adequate living, proper health care, and safety met, he or she is more likely to display deviant behaviors. According to the author, these needs were adequate food and clothing along with a stable place to live. In the study conducted in Oakland, it was found that many of the children who displayed deviant behaviors were not have one or more of the basic needs meet.  Another need going unmet was access to adequate healthcare services. It was also found that many of the Oakland children had not been seen regularly for routine preventive care. Astonishingly, many of the children had never received proper immunizations (59). Finally, nearly all of the children were not in safe environments. With crime rates at an all-time high in Oakland, the children had become accustomed to gang violence and drug scenes.  It was concluded that when families are unable to provide their children with these basic human needs, children are at a great risk of participating in deviant behaviors-drugs, gang violence, teenage pregnancy, and even murder. Children need to be provided with quality environments in their communities.  Research supports the fact that a child’s environment directly affects his cognitive and intellectual development, which plays a direct role in a child’s willingness to participate in deviant behaviors.

Cultural Effects

Most time when a child is deemed a deviant, society points a finger at the parents.  Parents are the primary source for all of a child’s learning.  As that child grows, the parents set boundaries and conveys to the child what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. According to the author, parents’ teachings are directly linked to their cultural up-bringing.  So, if a parent who was raised in a culture that accepts certain types of behaviors that society deemed as deviant, that parent is still likely to instill those traits in the child. A person parenting style is also dictated by his/her culture.  For example, if a parent was raised in a culture where spanking was acceptable, that parent will most likely administer corporal punishment to his child when he/she misbehaves.  Research supports the fact that the discipline a child receives will determine the outcome of behavior he/she will display. Consequently, when there is a child who has less than the best parents, the child may display certain behaviors just to gain the parents attention. The parent’s attention may be the administration of corporal punishment, but to a child starving for love and attention it better than receiving nothing.  Another cultural effect of deviancy is the labeling theory.  According to this theory, when two people break a societal norm, only one may be labeled as deviant. However, in the case of Oakland two would be labeled as deviant-the black and the Latino (57). According to the findings, this very theory is what causes many black and Latinos boys to commit deviant acts. In their minds, they have already been cut off from society and forgotten by government and deviant behaviors is a way to convey their anger to society. In Oakland, a negative stigma has been placed on blacks and Latinos. The stigma was so widespread across Oakland that the formation of other gangs by nonblack and Latinos was formed as a way to protect themselves from these groups.  Although there were gangs of other ethnicities, member of the black and Latino gangs were more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes than their white counterparts. Also, those convicted served more jail or prison time than their white counterparts.

Social Control

In the study, social control was very evident. One of the young men that was being study, Tyrell, a black boy, was greatly affected by social control. He was labeled early on as a problem kid. He grew up in a housing project, but was encouraged by his father. He looked up to his father, but felt that a mechanic could never make enough money to make ends meet. Tyrell says,

“He worked on other people’s cars, but they were broke too. They gave him five, ten dollars, but he couldn’t pay rent with this. So we ended up at other people’s houses or in our car most of the time… One day a crack head told us she was moving back to Atlanta. She said we could live in her apartment if we wanted, but we had to pay rent. This is when we got our own place. I was hella happy knowing that I would have my own place. That’s crazy, I was happy, ‘cause I was gonna live in the projects…” (48).

As a result, a crack dealer who had created a drug empire in the 80s in Oakland became his role model. He was destined for disaster because society had conveyed to him that he was out of place in normal society. He was told that he was too tall. So, early on he has a low self-concept of himself because of the way he looks. Tyrell was often stopped by police both on the streets and at school because of his appearance.  The author conveyed that most of the boys in the Oakland area had had negative encounters with the police, which shaped their negative view of police and other authority figures.  So Tyrell has one of the basic elements for being a deviant in society. He lived in a hostile environment. Growing up in the housing projects, Tyrell’s outlook was still positive.  Eventually, Tyrell conforms to what he believes is the norm for him-he begins selling drugs. Although Tyrell’s father was a positive influence on him, the influence of the culture of the people who lived in the housing project had the greatest influence on Tyrell’s choices. Although what he deems as normal for a kid like him, it is seen as deviancy by a society labeled him.

What Can Be Done

Schools, law enforcement agencies, and policy makers, and all concern stake holders must realize that these young people are capable of success. They must first be educated. According to the author, a way to “respect and embrace the work that young people do” must be found.  In order to do this, society must be decriminalized in its thinking. First, young people in these situation must be able to voice their opinions and be heard about what they believe will work best for them. If their recommendations are taken seriously, true progress can be made.

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