A reductionist fallacy occurs when we take an incredibly complex issue and reduce it to one factor while ignoring other possible factors.
Race is almost always cited as being one of, and often the most, significant factors for arrests, sentencing, and incarcerations. However, I believe that this is due to lack of imagination on behalf of researchers. Race is often presented as a causal factor – because someone is black, they are more likely to be targeted by police or policies and end up incarcerated. However, there are other intervening variables.
According to the Cato Institute, native born blacks have the highest incarceration rate of all racial and ethnic groups (4.21%). However, black legal immigrants have an incarceration rate of 0.57%, which is lower than Hispanic and “other” (mostly Middle-Eastern) races. This is a massive difference, and is the largest difference between native and immigrant incarceration rates between any racial and ethnic group. If blacks from Africa have such a relatively low incarceration rate compared to native blacks, can we really attribute the discrepancy in incarceration rates to only race?
We again discuss race as it relates to poverty and crime, but we refuse to admit that poverty may be the more important variable. Blacks make up 34% of the prison population (while only 13% of the total population), while whites (67% of the total population) make up 30% of prisons. Blacks also have a poverty rate of 22% compared to 9% for whites. We MUST consider that the reason why black incarceration rates are so much higher than white incarceration rates, is because there is a much higher rate of blacks in poverty than whites.
When we tease poverty out, rates of violence, arrests, and incarceration are virtually identical. According to the BJS, “Poor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) have rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000).” If poverty is an equalizer, then race cannot be the primary factor.
There’s also the argument of geography. Crime is generally higher in urban areas. There is a higher concentration of blacks in urban areas. Again, when comparing overall crime rates by race, we should consider that most blacks live in crime areas than whites, but that does not mean that whites living in urban areas are committing a lower rate of crime. In most crime data used to make an argument about race, urban blacks (the majority of blacks) are essentially compared to suburban and rural whites (where they are the majority). Geography is the lost variable that I have rarely, if ever, seen considered. Perhaps research exists, but I have not seen it.
Of course, culture, as always, is ignored. American black culture, African culture, rich culture, WASP culture, Hispanic culture, Japanese culture, Asian culture, redneck culture, etc. are all different. They often have different dreams and aspirations, as well as opportunities. Their beliefs, values, and social norms are determined within the group and are difficult to change. There are plenty of examples of people moving from one sub-culture to another within a more dominant one. Assimilation rates differ, and the desire to assimilate is different among various cultures.
The argument is much more nuanced than the racial disparity proponents want to admit, and we would be hard pressed to find a plethora of data out there that dives into these nuances. It’s easier to employ the reduction fallacy, especially when it constantly remains unchecked. Political correctness and the fear of being labeled a racist stifles any further investigation.
Future research should acknowledge that racial categories are not monolithic. I doubt that will happen, because it goes against the narrative of race being the most determinate status in the history of everything.