Over the years, there has been an increase in the complaints of the effects of violence related to hate crimes in the U.S. These crimes have been associated with the continued diversification of the population. Hate crimes cause both physical and psychological trauma that can affect people’s views towards themselves and others. The social and online environment can be viewed as common factors that contribute to hate crimes. Hate crimes can increase victims’ feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, anger, and shame. While it is important to seek justice for hate crimes, identifying the affected populations, the factors that place them at risk, and the effects of these crimes on their well-being is also essential. The selected group of interest will be that of African Americans.
Importance of Exploring the Hate Crime Problem in the U.S.
According to the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S. C § 534), these types of crimes manifest in different forms of discrimination, including gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or variations in ethnic groups. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) assesses the credibility of these crimes by considering factors such as the use of offensive language by offenders, offenders’ use of hate symbols meant to agitate or anger the victims, and evidence obtained through a police investigation that confirms the actions committed by the offender align with those associated with hate crimes. The assessment conducted by the police also investigates whether the offender had been accused of hate crimes or discrimination in the past and the relationship between the offender and the victim (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2020). Since the focus group for this essay is African Americans, most of the hate crimes directed towards them are usually caused by Whites.
Exploring these hate crimes is important to understand the causes and motivations for the crimes. Perpetrators of these hate crimes are not usually motivated by a single similar factor. Understanding their motive can help people determine the best way to prevent these crimes. Police and crime investigators need to assess the situational factors such as location, the relationship between victim and offender, and other environmental aspects. The social environment can also contribute to hate crimes. When society is structured in a manner that promotes hate crimes, such as through the belief of White supremacy and Black inferiority, Whites have a higher likelihood of committing these crimes (Walters, Brown, & Wiedlitzka, 2016). This is the nature of the current society in the United States.
Another factor that makes it important to explore these crimes is the lack of conclusive evidence. While it is evident that these crimes exist, victims might not be able to report the perpetrators because of a lack of enough evidence to support their claims. It might be hard for victims to differentiate between real threats and simple conflicts between people. The variation in the perception of the threat directed to the victim might also differ from one victim to the other. Threats related to hate crimes directed towards African Americans can be linked to a sense of safety, social norms, people’s cultures, access to services, and economic factors (Walters, Brown, & Wiedlitzka, 2016). Most hate crimes are also not characterized by physical but psychological injuries, which can be challenging to assess (Green & Spry, 2014). Understanding these crimes and their motivation can improve measures put in place to address them and punish offenders.
Stereotypes about African Americans
Some of the stereotypes related to this group include the assumption that Whites are superior when compared to African Americans. This assumption is associated with the history of slavery. African American males are also assumed to have a higher likelihood of engaging in gang crimes as compared to other races. They are commonly viewed as being aggressive and more likely to engage in these crimes because of the negative connotation of the term “thug,” which is usually used among Blacks. Studies have shown that factors such as African Americans’ behavior and love for the hip-hop culture, appearance or dressing, lifestyle, and their places of residence or work promote the assumption that they engage in crimes. Media portrayal of the mythical Black thug was based on inaccurate anthropological assessments that viewed Blacks as being naturally aggressive and violent (Smiley & Fakunle, 2016). These stereotypes have contributed to continued risks of discrimination towards African Americans.
African Americans have a higher likelihood of being associated with gun-related crimes than Whites. People assume that African Americans get involved in gun-related crimes more often because of the types of neighborhoods where most of them live. The portrayal of African Americans in films related to gang violence has also contributed to the development of negative stereotypes that African Americans have a higher likelihood of engaging in these crimes when compared to Whites. African Americans have a higher likelihood of being accused wrongfully of rape as compared to Whites (Smiley & Fakunle, 2016). The challenges in the justice system, which discriminate against African Americans, affect Blacks’ ability to get justice for themselves.
Statistics and General Information about African Americans and Hate Crimes
Racial discrimination directed towards African Americans is based on the variation of population ratios between Whites and Blacks. About 25% of African Americans experience interpersonal discrimination related to their race and ancestral origin, while up to 60% face some form of racial discrimination (Causadias & Korous, 2019). In research conducted by the Pew Research Center Survey, approximately nine in every ten African American adults (87%) reported that they were generally treated less fairly by the justice system than Whites (Gramlich, 2019). When Whites included in the research were asked to respond to the claims, 61% of them reported that they had noticed the same issue. In a different research that assessed the same problem, 79% of African Americans reported noticing discrimination by the justice system when compared to 32% of Whites (Gramlich, 2019). Discrimination in the justice system affects African Americans’ trust in the justice system, which also contributes to psychological trauma.
African Americans have a higher likelihood of viewing crimes as a problem in the country when compared to Whites. In a study conducted before the U.S. elections of 2016, three-quarters of blacks compared to less than half of Whites stated that violent crimes were a common problem in the country (Horowitz, Brown, & Cox, 2019). In the same survey, 82% of the blacks also reported that gun violence was a major challenge in the country, while 47% of Whites in the same survey reported noticing the same problem (Horowitz, Brown, & Cox, 2019). The variations of crime rates perceptions among Whites and Blacks indicate that Whites are incapable of noticing these problems because they do not affect them directly, and they are less likely to be accused of these crimes.
The differences in the perceptions of the rates of crimes in the country were associated with factors such as variations in the neighborhoods that most Whites and African Americans live and economic status differences and association of most crimes with African Americans. This evidence aligned with a survey conducted in 2017, where 34% of African Americans reported living in communities that they did not view as being safe. In the same study, only 15% of the population reported viewing their local communities as being unsafe (Parker, Horowitz, Igielnik, Oliphant, & Brown, 2017). The variations in the number of African Americans and Whites who perceived their communities as being unsafe can be linked to high rates of poverty among African American communities.
Hate crimes related to discrimination in the job market also affects African Americans. African Americans have a higher likelihood of being associated with crimes in the workplace when compared to their White colleagues. In a research that examined the rates of hate crimes in the workplace, those that were verified included 56% of cases of related to the unfair firing of Black employees, 25.3% were associated with workplace harassment, and 4.3% were linked to hiring opportunities given to unqualified Whites instead of qualified Black candidates (Mong & Roscigno, 2009). An assessment of cases that were yet to be verified showed that there were 62.3% cases of unfair firing of African American employees and 20.6% harassment cases (Mong & Roscigno, 2009). The high rates of unverified cases were linked to challenges of assessing hate crimes and the discrimination seen in the justice system.
Symbolic Interactionism Theory
The symbolic interactionism theory is based on propositions that revolve around human’s attitudes towards things within their environment and the effects of interactions between people. The theory analyzes society based on the symbolic meaning that people within a community give to objects, events, and behaviors. People’s behavior towards others is based on the meaning that they associate with a group of people. In the case of the relationship between Whites and African Americans, Whites perceive African Americans as being an inferior race because of the history of slavery. The history of slavery makes it difficult for Whites to treat Africans as equal race. When Whites who have been accused of hate crimes think of African Americans, the assumption they have about Africans Americans dictate their treatment towards them (Curtis & O’Connell, 2017; Aksan, Kisac, Aydin, & Demirbuken, 2009). For instance, most African American youths living in low-income neighborhoods are likely to dress in clothes that represent hip-hop culture—dressing in clothes that are not considered official increases their likelihood of being associated with crimes.
The symbolic interactionism theory focuses on the symbols that differentiate people. When considering the differences between Whites and African Americans, factors such as language variations and culture also promote discrimination and increased rates of hate crimes. While both Whites and African Americans communicate in English, variations in the pronunciation of words and expression of African Americans in conversations is often associated with the “thug” life (Smiley & Fakunle, 2016). Black residential patterns, cultures, language, and dressing, portrays them as being aggressive.
This theory explains why people are more likely to view all African Americans as being aggressive despite not having a past relationship with them. During the slavery period, African Americans were viewed as being physically stronger and less likely to get sick when compared to Whites. These stereotypic beliefs affect the perception and attitudes that people have towards African Americans. According to the symbolic interactionism theory, the mind and ego are the products of society (Aksan, Kisac, Aydin, & Demirbuken, 2009). As such, the perceptions and stereotypic beliefs held by people about African Americans are developed in society.
The high rates of hate crimes in the country and the discrimination directed towards African Americans can be associated with the existing stereotypes affecting this population. The symbolic interactionism theory illustrates the effects that societal perception and attitudes towards a group of people can contribute to discrimination. The stereotypic beliefs held by Whites about African Americans affect the way they interact with them. Stereotypes, such as beliefs that African Americans are “thugs” and are more likely to engage in crimes, explain why society has a higher likelihood of connecting African Americans suspects to crimes when compared to Whites suspects. Symbolisms interactionism explains the relationship between different racial groups in the country and the belief of the existence of a superior and inferior racial group. Some of the approaches that can be applied to prevent these hate crimes include promoting awareness of the importance of equality, improving the justice system, and offering equal opportunities and access to services to people regardless of their race or background.
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