chapter  7
16 Pages

African-American men and desistance

This chapter focuses on African-American men in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, in the USA. The aim was to do a some analysis of the international community in relation to factors that enhanced or hindered notions of desistance for African-American men. The US strand of the research took place in Baltimore during August/September 2010, as part of a Winston Churchill International Travel Fellowship. This component of the research was comparative in orientation. I chose to use urban ethnography and semistructured interviews to explore the daily lives of some of the participants to obtain a snapshot of how the city of Baltimore enhanced or inhibited notions of desistance for African-American men. Urban ethnography involves up-close and personal observation listening to people in the context of their everyday lives, and it centres on the analysis of research strategies of the urban landscape (Anderson, 1999). Pryce (1979) feels that an understanding of black men comes not from an intellectual account or the cold analysis of social science statistics but requires the researcher to become more actively involved and to let go of notions of neutrality. This is a position shared by Clark (1965) who moves beyond the ‘participant observer’ role and becomes more of an ‘involved observer’ that requires ‘participation in rituals and customs, as well as the social competition with the hierarchy in dealing with the problems of the people he is seeking to understand’ (ibid.: xvi). Charmaz (2006) also argues that urban ethnographers bring different approaches to their studies, and feels ethnography has a role to play in social action and transformation. Anderson (1999), however, provides a word of caution when he argues that the urban ethnographer’s work should be as objective as possible, but knows that to achieve this is not easy, as it requires researchers to try and set aside their own values and assumptions. It was also important to understand how I could develop and analyse the findings using this method. Throughout this process I also questioned how to get behind the daily experiences of AfricanAmerican men in Baltimore to better understand those issues associated with their desistance trajectories. The study in this chapter asked two basic questions: (1) how do African American men understand notions of the racialisation of crime and criminal justice systems and its impact on the desistance process?; and (2) how do those understandings compare to those of black men in the UK?

All the interviewees agreed to be involved in the research process as they felt it was an opportunity to share their stories, where they felt their voices had been previously been rendered silent in previous encounters with other researchers. It was also apparent that there was a strong sense that, because I was not a native of Baltimore, the research would not be judgemental and would be more objective. In saying that, gaining access was still subject to rigorous community codes and rituals as a way of gaining credibility.