Critical Race Theory, Gang Membership and the Issue with the “Corrective Lens”.
There is a large presence of marginalized youth within communities in the US and all have incredible potential. But due to numerous systemic barriers, the mere ability to imagine this potential as a reality has been removed. Despite the educational systems in place, there seems to be a deeply rooted issue at hand, one that has caused a growing case of troubled youth that seems to come from a mixed bag of oppressive backgrounds. If an educational system is in place, all students need access to it, and success from it, but when comprehension levels are low, and social environments outside of school become hostile, success is hard to pursue. Gang membership has become one of the most prevalent activities for marginalized youth to turn to for both “respect and honour” according to Huff and. A place that they can find some form of “success”; they find income, identity, safety and community but with the trade-off of drug trafficking and violence.
Misconceptions and stigma surrounding the activities of gangs tend to equate excessive substance abuse at the cause of violence (Joe-Laidler and Hunt, 2013), when in truth, systemic issues come into play- making it difficult for individual success in schools. Critical Race Theory, a theory attempting to push against White, traditional civil rights legislation (Gloria Ladson-Billings, 2008) reveals all the more how “Institutional and structural racism” seems to be the driving forces within inequality, and the inability for qualifications in educational advancement and jobs etc. Property tax disparity which determine the degree of funding that schools receive are one of the many ways by which poor communities suffer and privileged communities thrive. Desegregation, a concept that desired to integrate equality within education systems has done the opposite, leaving Black communities to poorer services and programs and allowing for privileged communities to once again reap more benefits. The presence of Black students within prosperous communities is vital for privileged (Whites) to reap the increase in benefits, rather than helping underprivileged Black students thrive within the academic context. This I believe gives us a glimpse about gang membership in the community is on the rise within youth. Incarceration rates therefore have risen not only due to gang membership but due to a very racist dysfunction in a system that the government has implemented. Governments need to recognize that continuous imprisonment of youth is going to simply contribute to the vicious cycle, and not giving these people a second chance.
As much as the authors within these articles have brought these things to light, I find that there are several things that need to be said about their work.
Firstly, when touching on Black and White culture, they bypass the rest of the minorities that tend to experience much of the same segregation within a desegregation movement as Blacks do. Latino and other Asian communities have received unequal treatment as well. Secondly, there was no focus on the systematic ways by which gangs are formed in other parts of the world, which made me question their existence here in Vancouver by which the root cause is not necessarily poverty or poor upbringing but organized international implementation (Chinese Triads). As much as Blacks were the majority that were targeted and marginalized, there seems to a lack of intersectionality (for example, gangs in Vancouver are multi-ethnic, from Aboriginal, White, to Chinese, to Black etc..). Joe- Laidler and Hunt (2013) did address the fact that they were analyzing San Franciscan gang membership through a UK researcher perspective, and admitted that their analysis was based on a “corrective lens”, which rooted from “theoretical movements”, which come from an outsider, more privileged context inexperienced with gangs themselves. Therefore an ethnocentric perspective could possibly have skewed the data given. In addition, Joe-Laidler and Hunt (2013) address the fact that researchers still are not unified in their definition of what a gang really is- in its rather organic and fluid nature it can be difficult to keep track of it, further making one question the validity of all of this. I would like to see more theoretical work done based on international gang organization in our locale and how it affects education and youths.
Joe-Laidler, K., & Hunt, G. P. (2012). Moving beyond the gang–drug–violence connection. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 19(6), 442–452. doi:10.3109/09687637.2012.702144
Gloria Ladson-Billings (1998) Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11:1, 7–24, doi: 10.1080/095183998236863
Howell, J. C., & Decker, S. H. (1999). The Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Connection. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e303732003–001
Wong, M. (2015). Canada’s gang hotspots — are you in one?. [online] CBC News. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/canada-s-gang-hotspots-are-you-in-one-1.2912442 [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017].