‘The Alchemy of Race and Rights’: The Logic of Historicizing Contempo-rary Narratives on Race, Youth and Gangs

Book chapter


Miller, E. (2022). ‘The Alchemy of Race and Rights’: The Logic of Historicizing Contempo-rary Narratives on Race, Youth and Gangs. in: The Palgrave Handbook of UK Gangs Palgrave.
AuthorsMiller, E.
Abstract

In the United Kingdom (UK), race scholars continue to reinvigorate (Phillips et al., 2019; Nijjar, 2018) long established criticisms (Gilroy, 2008; Hall et al., 1978) on the need to historicize contemporary concerns about race, crime, and punishment. Scholars remark on apprehensions with an entrenched racialization of crime, particularly the typification of racialized peoples as normalized suspects and consequently subjects of punishment. As Phillips et al., (2019) note racialized peoples have become inextricably linked with deviance, in the public consciousness. Meting out extraordinary punishment for the racialized has been rationalized on this basis, to appease a public for whom penalty indicates the greater likelihood of the social stability purportedly threatened by the so-called typical deviant (Cox, 2018; Gilroy, 2008; Hall et al., 1978). The opening quotations emphasize the entrenched intersection between race, youth, and punishment, signifying how calls to historicize can also be read as calls to expand the customary explanatory scope, prioritizing concerns for youth’s vulnerability over their normalization as risky. This relational distinction between vulnerability and risk is crucial: while risk informed approaches rationalize amplified punitiveness (Miller, 2022, 2020), vulnerability approaches rationalize judiciousness, protection, and care (Honneth, 2003, 1995; Bottoms, 1980). Against this backdrop, this chapter explores statutory approaches to the contemporary, urban youth gang phenomenon as a relevant case for historicization. Indeed, within the UK, scholarship references a ‘race-gang nexus’ (Williams, 2015: 18; see also Nijjar, 2018), contending the phenomenon has been given a Black and or ethnic face (Hallsworth and Young, 2008: 185), despite knowledge that consumption of concomitant, contributory cultural artefacts like rap [and drill] music ‘include youths of all races, classes, and nationalities’ (Tatum, 1999: 341). Guided by corresponding concerns, the chapter draws from the critical race theory (CRT) tradition, particularly CRT scholar Patricia L. Williams’ influential ‘Alchemy of race and rights’ (1991: 6) logic, to historicize an account of the racialization of contemporary youth gang concerns. Williams’ thesis corresponds with the CRT (Crenshaw et al., 1995; Bell, 1992) position that racialized peoples were excluded from expanding universal rights, flowing from the enlightenment, and instituted coterminous with modernity. Williams’ thesis allows observation of statutory responses to the youth gang—particularly the gang’s racialization—as a process constituted by the contemporary reproduction of a historic race, rights paradox. According to this, expectations for a synthesis of race and rights represents an ‘Oxymoronic oddity’ (Williams, 1991: 6), signifying how young black men, in particular, suffer the suppression of rights never conferred in the first place, to racialized peoples.

KeywordsRace, Youth, Gangs, England, History, Rights, Punishment
Year2022
Book title The Palgrave Handbook of UK Gangs
PublisherPalgrave
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File Access Level
Open
Edition1st
Publication dates
Print30 Sep 2022
Publication process dates
Accepted18 Mar 2022
Deposited30 Mar 2022
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https://openresearch.lsbu.ac.uk/item/8z978

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