'Acting strangely' : the alienation, exclusion and criminalisation of young black people - an ethnographic study
This thesis looks at the experiences of a number of young black people in England. based
on a piece of research conducted in Bristol and London. Using an ethnographic approach,
the research aims to generate a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of the
research participants, of what it means (for them) to be young and black, and on the
fringes of, or involved, in the youth justice system.
A review of the available literature suggests that young black people are
disproportionately over-represented in crime figures. The review further suggests that
racism is at the heart of their disproportionate over-representation. It is the conclusion of
most of the literature that young black people constitute one of the most disaffected
groups, and are often victims of racism and social exclusion.
A total of ninety-two contacts in a number of group settings, spread across the two
locations, including twenty individual interviews in one of these locations provides the
evidence in this research to support the conclusions found in the literature. The findings
from the group contacts and individual interviews suggest that young black people's
experiences of racial discrimination start even before formal contact begins with the
police - often the gateway into criminalisation. Often, it starts from the school system
and this manifests within the dynamics of their relationship with teachers. Both the
evidence from the literature and the interview accounts from this research, suggest that
once involved in the youth justice system. the discrimination continues at every stagefrom policing to courts and pnson - and this results In their disproportionately hi~h
visibility in crime statistics.
Despite the gro\\ing research interest in the subject of young black people and their
expenences of racism and criminalisation, there remains a gap in kno\\ledge. The
evidence suggests that much of what is known is statistical. Of course, statistical
knowledge is helpful but it tells us little about the personal. or lived experiences of tllOS~
about whom the statistics exist. This knowledge gap is the justification for this research.
The research attempts to explain. from the point of vie\\ of the research participants. and
using their own words, what shape racial discrimination against them tak~s. and how it
contributes to. and exacerbates their sense of social exclusion. alienation from society and
In this sense, the research provides an opportunity to give a voice to young black people
and, by so doing. promote good practice in working \\ith them amongst relevant