There exist multiple theories and Opinions as to why gun violence is prevalent in the Black Community. For instance, there coexist a subcultural boundary that divides this group from its counterpart, where E. B. Taylor (1871:1) was probably the first to define the term "culture". He defined it as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." The term "subculture", though not the concept, was not commonly used in social science literature until after World War II. Wolfgang credits Albert Cohen with "the first and most fertile theoretical statements about the meaning of subculture" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 97).
A subculture is "a normative system of some group or groups smaller than the whole society" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967:103). This "implies that there are value judgments or a social value system which is apart from and a part of a larger or central value system". But a subculture is only partly different from the "parent" (i.e., larger) culture, and cannot be totally different from the culture of which it is a part, otherwise it is what Wolfgang termed a "contraculture" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 99-100). This implies that the subculture has some major values in common with the dominant parent culture (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 104).
The subculture follows a set of "conduct norms", which are rules governing "the various ways in which a person might act under certain circumstances . . . the violation of which arouses a group reaction" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 101). If some form of punitive action was not taken by the group in response to a violation of one of these conduct norms, the group would lose its separate identity. By excluding, sending away, ostracizing, ‘kicking out’ the norm violator, the subcultural group is using sanctions similar to exile, banishment, deportation. The very adherence and involvement of the individual in the subculture make enforcement of these sanctions relatively easy, occasionally easier and more effective than law enforcement in larger societies. (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 106-107).
The transmission of subcultural values involves a learning process that establishes a dynamic lasting linkage between the values and the individuals (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 107). But also important to Wolfgang’s subculture of violence theory is the notion that people may be born into a subculture. (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 99-100). Examples of subcultures include the Amish, Mormons, delinquents, prison inmates, ethnic groups, and social classes (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 100).
The subculture of violence theory
Shihadeh & Steffensmeier, (1994) summarize the modern problem of urban black violence:
the mean rate of black adult robbery is nearly ten times higher than the nonblack rate (2,553.1 vs. 278.3 per 100,000), and the average urban homicide rate among blacks (87.1) is roughly six times greater than the rate of nonblack homicide (13.7) (Shihadeh & Steffensmeier, 1994: 737).
Homicide is the leading cause of death among urban black males, and black robbery rates are roughly ten times higher than white rates (U.S. Department of Justice 1985). Although blacks represent only 12% of the population, they account for more than one-half of all robbery and homicide arrests (U.S. Department of Justice 1990:Table 43)" (Shihadeh & Steffensmeier, 1994: 729).
Wolfgang thought that these disproportionately high rates of violence among blacks could be explained through a theory emphasizing a black subculture of violence. He proposed that among blacks in the U.S., there is a subculture of violence, in which there is "a potent theme of violence current in the cluster of values that make up the life-style, the socialization process, the interpersonal relationships of individuals living in similar conditions" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 140).
A brief summary of the black subculture of violence theory.
"Like all human behavior," Wolfgang wrote, "homicide and other violent assaultive crimes must be viewed in terms of the cultural context from which they spring" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 150). Deviant behavior "is not evenly distributed throughout the social structure. There is much empirical evidence that class position, ethnicity, occupational status, and other social variables are effective indicators for predicting rates of different kinds of deviance" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 151).
"Homicide is most prevalent, or the highest rates of homicide occur, among a relatively homogeneous subcultural group in any large urban community [i.e., blacks]. . . The value system of this group, we are contending, constitutes a subculture of violence". Homicide and other serious crime rates are highest among males, non-whites, and young adults. A study of 588 criminal homicides in Philadelphia (Wolfgang, 1958) showed that non-white males aged 20-24 had a rate of 92 per 100,000 compared to 3.4 for white males aged 20-24 (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 152). Non-white females had a rate of 9.3 compared to 0.4 for white females (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 152).
Wolfgang proposed that "by identifying the groups with the highest rates of homicide, we should find in the most intense degree a subculture of violence" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967: 153). Basically, the subculture of violence theory holds that the overt use of violence is generally a reflection of basic values that stand apart from the dominant, the central, or the parent culture. This overt (and often illicit) use of violence constitutes part of a subcultural normative system that is reflected in the psychological traits of the members of the subculture (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967:158). [T]he significance of a jostle, a slightly derogatory remark, or the appearance of a weapon in the hands of an adversary are stimuli differently perceived and interpreted by Negroes and whites, males and females. Social expectations of response in particular types of social interaction result in differential ‘definitions of the situation.’ (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967:153)
They argue that the black subculture actually values violence and that it is "an integral component of the subculture which experiences high rates of homicide". Just as the dominant society punishes those who deviate from its norms, deviance by the comparatively non-violent individual from the norms of the violent subculture is likewise punished, either by being ostracized, or treated with disdain or indifference. According to Wolfgang, "[i]t is not far-fetched to suggest that a whole culture may accept a value set dependent upon violence, demand or encourage adherence to violence, and penalize deviation". Also, the more a person is integrated into this subculture, "the more intensely he embraces its prescriptions of behavior, its conduct norms, and integrates them into his personality" (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 155-156).
Interestingly, and without much explanation, Wolfgang declines to speculate as to how a subculture of violence originates (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967:163).
The theory includes the following corollaries:
(1) No subculture can be totally different from or totally in conflict with the society of which it is a part.
(2) To establish the existence of a subculture of violence does not require that the actors sharing in these basic value elements should express violence in all situations. (Otherwise normal social functioning would be "virtually impossible".) Members of groups having a subculture of violence might need to carry weapons for protection against others. But they say that the very act of carrying these weapons "becomes a common symbol of willingness to participate in violence, to expect violence, and to be ready for its retaliation".
(3) The potential resort or willingness to resort to violence in a variety of situations emphasizes the penetrating and diffusive character of this culture theme. The degree and extent to which an individual resorts to violence in response to provocation is dependent upon the degree to which he has adopted the cultural values associated with violence.
(4) The subcultural ethos of violence may be shared by all ages in a subsociety, but this ethos is most prominent in a limited age group, ranging from late adolescence to middle age.
(5) The counter-norm is nonviolence. The violation of normative violence is likely to result in sanctions imposed by the group, including ostracism.
(6) The development of favorable attitudes toward, and the use of, violence in a subculture usually involve learned behavior and a process of differential learning, association, or identification.
Not all persons exposed--even equally exposed--to the presence of a subculture of violence absorb and share in the values in equal portions. Differential personality variables must be considered in an integrated social-psychological approach to an understanding of the subcultural aspects of violence. . . [A]ggression is a learned response, socially facilitated and integrated, as a habit, in more or less permanent form, among the personality characteristics of the aggressor.
(7) The use of violence in a subculture is not necessarily viewed as illicit conduct and the users therefore do not have to deal with feelings of guilt about their aggression (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967:159-160).
HOW THE SUBCULTURE OF VIOLENCE MODEL HAS BEEN ALTERED AS NEW RESEARCH HAS EMERGED
Since Wolfgang and Ferracuti first specifically used the subculture of violence model to explain the disproportionately higher rates of murder and other violent crimes among blacks, it has altered considerably. It has since been used to explain the influence other factors such as being male, being lower class, gun ownership, street youths and living in the south, have had on rates of violence.
The southern subculture of violence theory
Most of the studies that have tested the subculture of violence theory have tested the model’s hypothesis regarding southern violence. Race, when it is analyzed, is usually only examined as a control variable (Cao, Adams, & Jensen, 1997:368).
The southern subculture of violence theory suggests that individuals socialized in the South learn to approve of violence in a wide range of situations and to view violence as important in enhancing their honor or reputation (Ellison, 1991: 1224). (Both per capita homicide and firearms ownership rates are higher in the South than in other regions of the U.S. (Ellison, 1991: 1223).)
Using data from the 1983 General Social Survey, Ellison (1991) tested the hypothesis that there are regional differences in levels of individual support for violence. His findings support Dixon and Lizotte’s (1987) conclusion that whites are more likely than nonwhites to approve of certain types of violence, especially in response to defensive or retaliatory situations. Interestingly, his findings suggest that the southern subculture of violence is linked to certain aspects of southern religion (Ellison, 1991:1234).
Southern religion is distinguished by its strong preoccupation with the attainment of individual salvation from punishment at the hands of a wrathful God. Popular southern theology stresses the themes of moral judgment and divine punishment prominent in the Old Testament . . . These images may legitimize interpersonal violence in defense of the less powerful or in retaliation for deliberate affronts (Ellison, 1991: 1233).
THE CURRENT USAGE AND POPULARITY OF THE SUBCULTURE OF VIOLENCE THEORY WITHIN CRIMINOLOGY.
Even thirty years after it was published, Wolfgang and Ferracuti’s The Subculture of Violence remains the definitive argument for society’s role in creating violent criminal behavior. Even critics agree that the theory is among the most cited in sociological and criminological literature. (Cao, Adams, & Jensen, 1997:367)
The subculture of violence theory might be even more relevant today than it was when it was first published, especially with regard to juvenile crime. It seems to be a common fear that adolescents today are more violent and lacking in empathy than those of only a generation or two ago. In fact, shortly before his death, Wolfgang himself had recently observed that today's juvenile offenders probably do about three times as much serious crime as did the crime-prone boys born in the 1940s and 1950s, and he feared that they could represent a new and especially challenging subculture of violence.