Interactionist, Labeling, and Learning Theories Summary

This week, we covered the Interactionist, Labeling, and Learning Theories. In class, we extensively discussed Trayvon Martin’s death which shows the Labeling theory at work. Zimmerman saw Black youth in his neighborhood as dangerous and through his 46 calls to 911, made it clear that the distinction for him between potential criminals and innocent passerbys was race. This case mimics that of Emmett Till (circa 1940s) and countless others since. Existing stereotypes continue to portray the image of the “criminalblackman”, especially in the media.

The Learning theory shows that criminals learn their ‘bad’ behavior just like everyone else learns ‘normal’ behavior. The chances for a person to learn deviant behavior increases the more associated they are with a deviant group (Differential Association). Additionally, once a person is labeled by society as “deviant”, it becomes difficult to shed this label and eventually the person will accept the label and live up to its expectations.

Given the public outcry against cases like Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till, why does society continue to fall back on these stereotypes? And what can we do about it?