Intersectionality and criminality
Intersectionality and criminality; profiling Yusuf.
This was for a Y3 university assessment. Yusuf (and his family) is a representation, not a real person.)
This essay considers the meaning and extent of intersectionality, its relationship with and connection to othering, and the extent to which it may apply to a repeat offender, Yusuf.
Yusuf, 25, is a young Asian male of Pakistani descent, from a poor and dysfunctional working-class family. Poverty, mental health issues, alcoholism, and domestic abuse are evident in his childhood. Yusuf has a long history of violence and aggression, though it is unclear how early in his childhood this began. Despite living in a large Pakistani community (over 20% for Bradford), he is still in a minority ethnic group.
Intersectionality, originally a mathematical term (OED), was first used in the context of sociology by Crenshaw (1989). In the paper on Black women’s oppression in America via the legal system, she describes it as ‘multi-burden’. It refers to endemic and institutional legal, political and social discrimination of minority groups by those in a position of power and privilege (e.g. Sewell).
Whilst most widely known on this platform, its meaning was extended to included class, race, age, and gender (its focus for this essay). It now includes other targets of oppression, differentiation and othering, such as abilities and disabilities, citizenship, religion and other targetable forms of identity (Oxford Reference, Crenshaw (2017)). Intersectionality, as a result, has been highly politicised (e.g. Coaston (2019), Miller, (2018)).
Similarly, othering focuses on peoples’ differences, “them and us,” and “not one of us”. It too contributes to discrimination and prejudice and overlaps in all areas (e.g. Cherry, 2020). In contrast, intersectionality focuses on the compounding effect that occurs when these discriminative features overlap.
Yusuf is then Asian and male and young and from the lowest class, the precariat, each magnifying the last, rather than merely a cumulative effect. Within the essay context, most of these may be considered in both positive and negative terms.
Statistically, while BAME minorities are overrepresented in the prison system, Asians – such as Yusuf – appear less likely to be targeted by police than other races (e.g. Shaw, 2015). They also have a more supportive community spirit and a collectivistic culture than Western individualism (e.g. Din, 2006). However, BAME groups remain overrepresented in jails (OU VLE (a), 2020).
Mentally ill people are also overrepresented in jails; as high as 90% of the prison population (NICE, 2017). Many studies show that an adverse childhood dramatically increases the chance and severity of mental health. The level of poverty Yusuf experienced, combined with his home life and probable racially motivated abuse is likely to have added to this risk. The racial and cultural intersection may have further ameliorated these experiences with his class and stations economic capital. As Mangalore and Knapp found in their 2012 study (cited by Holman), income has a “particularly strong effect” on Pakistani mental health.
While Yusuf has no known mental health diagnosis, he did require the intervention of an educational psychologist. His ‘sneering’ and dismissive response to the prison psychologist deserves further inspection though. It is possible to posit a few hypotheses for this incongruity. Firstly, his own experiences and those of his mother, with her depression may have alienated Yusuf to psychologists, which may also have cultural intersections (e.g. Eleftheriadou (2010), and Rathod et al. (2012), cited by Sewel).
Class difference compound this and the psychiatrist may be seen as part of the establish (Towell (2011), Liggan & Kay (2006), cited by Sewell). He may also be a pathological liar, fitting with an antisocial personality disorder (see Appendix). Following from distrust of authority and institutional racism, Yusuf could assume that gaining a label for personality disorders could negatively impact his release date (Pilgrim). Finally, there is the question of adequate mental health support for the working class (e.g. OU VLE(f)(g), 2020)
Intersectionality is often an unconscious bias, its privilege masked by its existences generic nature (OU VLE (b), 2020). For instance, as a man, Yusuf is more likely to be arrested, and more likely to be jailed than a woman (Ministry of Justice, 2014, cited by Callaghan & Alexander). Balanced again this, he is likely to earn more in regular employment (e.g. Francis-Devine, 2020), and is less likely to be sexually assaulted. Conversely, as a young man, he is more likely to be arrested and jailed than an older person (Glorney).
Furthermore, age itself has several intersections on both biological and sociocultural levels. To a Western, capitalistic mind, old age equates to vulnerability, while Eastern cultures view it more respectfully, as venerable. Furthermore, full cognitive development (brain maturation) only occurs in a person’s mid-twenties, Yusuf’s current age. Before this, risky and impulse behaviour is a fact of adolescence (e.g. OU VLE(c), 2020)).
It is in this critical period of life that disorders can begin to emerge, or be triggered (Glorney, Ackerley (a), (2019), DeLisi et al., (2019)). This age is important as concerns have been raised that young people are being criminalised for what may be considered normal adolescent behaviour. (e.g. Arnet (2007), Brown (2011), cited by Glorney). For instance, a disproportionately high number of ASBOs – three times greater – were applied to youths between 1999 to 2013 (Home Office, Ministry of Justice (2014), cited by Glorney). Critically, while it is not stated whether Yusuf had an ASBO applied, he would have been aged between 10 and 19 in that same period and thus a more visible target to authorities.
Yusuf’s gang membership might also correlate, both in terms of risky behaviour and giving in to peer pressure, but also finding a sense of belonging (particularly concerning his parents’ separation), and perhaps a sense of protection from authorities (e.g. OU VLE(d)(e), 2020).
A further consideration relates to gender and masculinity. Women tend to internalise more. Paradoxically, outward displays of emotion (e.g. sobbing) are considered effeminate. In contrast, men tend to externalise stress and distress in more aggressive and violent acts. Admission of mental health problems would be viewed as a weakness, particularly undesirable in a prison setting. (Rice et al., (2015), cited by Callaghan & Alexander).
As Yusuf identifies as being heterosexual, his gender may be considered purely in biological terms, (i.e. male), which might be considered privileged position compared to those from the LGBTQ+ community, who face homophobic abuse, notably from religious factions.
However, while it is undoubtedly a factor, intersectionality concerning Yusuf is not that straight forward. There are only three years of difference between Yusuf and his brother. Nevertheless, one is still living in poverty, has a history of substance abuse and of violence, no stable relationships, and has been in and out of prison several times. In contrast, the older brother is a married doctor, living in London.
The same overlapping opportunities, discriminations and childhood problems (e.g. poverty, parental divorce, unstable home life) will have affected both brothers, but with very different outcomes, suggesting other factors were at play. It is well established that an adverse childhood can have severe consequences and, as well as significant health risks, significantly increase the possibility of venturing into a life of crime (e.g. Baglivio et al., 2015).
Some studies and reports (e.g. Bellis) suggest just four factors (out of ten) are enough to increase the likelihood of a people subsequently using narcotics by sixteenfold, and – as with Yusuf – are twenty times more likely to be incarcerated during their lifetime. Such factors and considered are far more prevalent in the lower classes. They would be compounded for minority cultures who, additionally, would experience racial discrimination and abuse on a regular basic. Yusuf’s profile suggests as many as nine of the ten factors were evident in his childhood (see Appendix).
Counter to this, there are two more considerations. The older brother may have had more support and balances to counter this adverse childhood (Ackerley (a), Appendix, Hughes et al., 2019). Also, aspects of in-group intersectionality may have been neglected within Yusuf’s profile, such as the eldest male child’s cultural importance and position within Pakistani families (e.g. Atewologun (2018), Britannica). Thus such socio-cultural factors may nuance, and both underlie and support this dichotomy, e.g. he is a young male and Asian. However, he is not the oldest son, so it may have been that Yusuf was viewed as a lesser person in the power and privilege hierarchy. Seen side by side, there is little difference between the brothers yet, culturally, the interplay of age and gender could have resulted in discrimination against Yusuf.
A further consideration, not explored in the profile, is the question of Yusuf’s intelligence. He is described as mischievous and ‘less clever’, but his actions tally with a highly gifted individual’s maladaptive coping mechanisms. His acting up may have been an outlet for such high potentialities. (Vaivre-Douret, 2011). Though not immediately evident, this may be considered intersectionality related to class (and race). His brother, now a London GP and arguably now fitting into the established middle class, rarely visits his criminal brother.
In the final analysis, it raises the question of whether government policy set Yusuf on his path. While the perpetrator in a violent crime, Yusuf is also a victim of birth and socially constructed discrimination. A dichotomous system of mass control pursed by those who may be considered the ‘ruling elite’, by rich and powerful individuals and corporations that control and own the media, lobby government, driving a wedge between themselves and the greater populace (Holman). Quoting Hall (et al., (1978), cited by Holman), those in power attach a “criminal label to the activities of groups which the authorities deem it necessary to control”. People like Yusuf.
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The Appendix and related tables are included for completeness and should not be considered an integral part of the essay. It is an observation that Yusuf’s profile may correspond with an inherent susceptibility (nature, DNA) towards psychopathy, triggered by intrapersonal familial conflict (nurture and epigenetics5). i.e., intersectional aspects are secondary.
It is acknowledged that an accurate clinical assessment and diagnosis requires an appropriate level of qualifications and experience, such as that of the prison psychologist.
The dysfunctional and adverse nature of his childhood, combined with poverty and other factors, correlates positively with life trajectories that may result in lifelong physical and mental health problems and a greater chance of criminal activities.
Unchanneled high potential can turn into self-destructive and even criminal behaviour. This incongruity could arguably be considered intersectional – that of a potentially gifted individual (more typically associated with the middle-class) trapped in a proletariat environment (lower working class).
Yusuf appears to score very highly for an Antisocial Personality Disorder, commonly considered as sociopathy or psychopathy. (Noting the nuanced differences and lack of inclusion as strictly psychological terms).
There are suggestions (in Mad or Bad) that prompt towards of BPD 4. However, while he does appear to meet some of the criteria (e.g., unstable relationships, impulsive and or self-destructive behaviours, anger issues), there is not enough information to consider if he meets others. (e.g., Mood swings, emptiness and depression, self-harm, and emotional swings).
1 ACES Too high, (n.d.), ‘Got your ACE score?’, [Online], available at https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/
1 Baglivio, M. T., Wolff, K. T., Piquero, A. R., & Epps, N. (2015). ‘The relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and juvenile offending trajectories in a juvenile offender sample’. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(3), 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2015.04.012
1 Public Health Scotland, (2020), ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)’. [Online], available at http://www.healthscotland.scot/population-groups/children/adverse-childhood-experiences-aces/overview-of-aces
1 Scottish government, (2018), ‘What have ACEs got to do with Justice? Understanding Childhood Adversity, Resilience and Crime’, Justice Analytical Services, [Online], available at https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/research-and-analysis/2018/05/understanding-childhood-adversity-resilience-crime/documents/00535550-pdf/00535550-pdf/govscot%3Adocument/00535550.pdf
2 Vaivre-Douret L. (2011). ‘Developmental and cognitive characteristics of “high-level potentialities” (highly gifted) children’, (Table 4), International journal of pediatrics, 2011, https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/420297. [Online], available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184407/
3 Bonn, B.A., (2016), ‘Psychopathy: A Clinical Diagnosis. The most dangerous antisocial personality disorder’, Psychology Today, [Online], available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/wicked-deeds/201610/psychopathy-clinical-diagnosis
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3 Leonard, J., (2020), ‘What is a psychopath’, Medical News Today, [Online], available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychopath
3 Robinson, K.M., (n.d.), ‘Sociopath v. Psychopath: What’s the Difference?’, WebMD. [Online], available at https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/sociopath-psychopath-difference#1
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5 Gescher, D.M., Kai G. Kahl, K.G., Hillemacher, T., Frieling, H., Kuhn, J., & Frodl, T., (2018), ‘Epigenetics in Personality Disorders: Today’s Insights’, Frontiers in Psychiatry, 19 November 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00579 [Online], available at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00579/full#h5
5 Habashi, J., & Whitlock, K.H., (2013), ‘Genetics and epigenetics in the psychology classroom: How to teach what your textbook doesn’t’, American Psychological Association [Online], available at https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/ptn/2013/02/genetics
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This essay was written for a year three paper on forensic psychology. It was praised for its content, then given a low grade of only 54% as, it seems, it didn’t fit the ‘woke’ narrative of the university.
(It should be noted that other papers, one’s that tick the right boxes, get graded as high as 99%).
I was told to
play the game and that
at this level of study you are not required to have your own thoughts. This, I remind you, was for the final year of an honours degree in forensic psychology! It seems they want you to critically assess – but to only think what they tell you to think!
I pointedly told them I’m not playing their game. My grades dropped accordingly.
(The Powerpoint presentation I did on paraphilias got a much higher grade, but, well, not something to share on a family site!)
(All links above are correct as at January 2021)