Ethnicity, harm and crime: a discussion paper

Rebecca Roberts and Will McMahon
Wednesday, 1 October, 2008

In 1983 the criminologist Bernard D. Headley published 'Black on black’ crime: the myth and the reality’ in the journal Crime and Social Justice. He highlighted the striking evidence of the disproportionate range of harms experienced by black Americans, challenging the widely held assumption that ‘black on black’ street crime posed the greatest threat to the individual safety, well-being and security of Black Americans.

This discussion paper adapts Headley's original structure and argument, presenting data that raise similar questions about whether ‘Black on Black crime’ and in particular young black men are presently the locus of the most serious harm to Black people in the UK.

The argument set out in this paper is also informed by a social harm perspective, which seeks to broaden the object of analysis beyond 'crime' to a wider range of social harms. This involves the recognition that the kind of financial, health and state harms we examine are socially mediated. That is, they are in large part the product of political economic processes that determine that harms are concentrated among those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage. The experience of harm victimisation, in other words, is significantly influenced by social forces, rather than  being the result of individual choice and responsibility, or the lack thereof.

The paper formed the basis of a roundtable discussion the Centre hosted in October 2008. Responses at that roundtable by Professor Danny Dorling,  Professor James Nazroo, and Professor Lucinda Platt are also available for download.