What Do You Know About American History X?
American History X is a wonderful movie, that exposes racisim, hatred and violence in its true colors. The characters in the movie display several types of deviance that result in the tragidies of the movie. Deviance is when an individual goes against the norms of a society. A norm is a behavior that society finds acceptable.
There are three types of norms; folkways, mores and laws. When breaking a folkway, one is deviant by doing something a little different than the rest of society. When breaking a mores, one would violate a moral set by society. When breaking a law, one receives punishments upon being caught. In the film there are several different forms of deviance: racism, murder, and rape.
This movie is primarily based on racism; however, the occurrence of rape and murder are both products of racism. Racism began in the Vinyard family before Derrick’s father was murdered. Racism is considered deviant by society, which views it as breaking a mores. It all began because of professor Sweeney, who is African American, and teaches about African American history in school. Derrick’s father does not like that because he feels as though they are taking over. He gets upset because two African Americans get jobs as firemen, when two white men did better on the test. His anger escalates from there. Derrick begins to hate African Americans and he views them in the same light as his father. An African American murders Derrick’s father, which in turn, intensifies his detestation of race. When the news covers his father’s murder, Derrick states that the country is full of criminals, blacks are parasites to whites, and the murder happened entirely because of race, as is everything else in society.
When Derrick gets older, he has the Nazi symbol tattooed on his chest, along many other tattoos. He meets a man named Cameron, who uses Derrick as a front man for the “Skin Heads” gang. Derrick leads many different gang related activities, such as raiding a grocery store. He also preaches the notion that African Americans are taking over, whites are falling through the cracks, and something needs to be done now. While Derrick is taking part in his gang activities, his younger brother, Danny, is standing by his side the whole time, watching Derrick display deviancy. Derrick gets into an argument with his mother’s new boyfriend over the subject of race. His sister, Devena, informs him that Derrick is wrong and he should not talk like that. Derrick gets into a fight with her, throwing her around, and shoving food in her mouth.
Danny watches as his brother abuses his mother and sister over an argument about race. His mother says she is ashamed of her son Derrick because of his hatred. That night Danny told Derrick there were two African Americans outside breaking into their truck. Derrick runs outside shooting at them, one is trying to get away and he catches up to him. Then he forces him on the ground and makes him put his teeth around the curb and bite down. Derrick stomps his foot into the back of the man’s head, killing him. Now, this deviant act would have never happened if it were not for Derrick’s attitude of racism. At least not in the same awful way that Derrick murdered the man. Derrick goes to jail for two counts of murder. While he is in jail, the African Americans do not like him because of his tattoos of hate. Derrick finds others like him who has the same Nazi tattoos, and so he begins to associate with them regularly. Derrick continues to have hatred while he in jail, and discovers that one of the “Skin Heads” members is communicating between Hispanics. Derrick thinks it is wrong and that one is supposed to stick to his beliefs. During lunch, he usually sits with the “Skin Heads” gang, but after finding out that information, Derrick decides to sit by himself. Derrick’s only friend, who is black, informs him that what he did is going to get him into trouble. By dismissing his group, he was back were he started, and he had to watch his back because of the brothers. The “Skin Heads” were a form of protection from the brothers, but now, he is on his own.
The “Skin Heads” become very angry at Derrick for dismissing them in public. They gather around Derrick in the shower, and shove him against the wall. A police officer sees what occurring, but he simply shuts the door. The officer knows that what they are doing is deviant, but he just turns the other way. The officer’s attitude is being expressed in his own deviance. The gang proceeds to rape Derrick, and they throw him on the floor, yelling at him, and calling him names. Afterwards, when mealtime comes, the gang wants Derrick to sit with them. Derrick is disgusted with the gang members’ attitude towards him, and he wants no part of such an awful, deviant act. If Derrick had not have been racist to begin with, he would have never been raped, nor would he have even been in jail in the first place. Derrick is deviant because he is racist, and he displays tattoos of hatred. Due to his racism and hatred towards African Americans, he murders the man very brutally, only because of his color. It is really not about the car being broken into. Derrick is punished for his deviant action of murder with three years in prison. While in prison, he displays his tattoos very proudly, and so he expresses his hatred once again. Due to the fact that he stands by his racist beliefs he is gang raped by his own gang.
Strain theory in when an individual wants to achieve a goal, usually set by society, but cannot achieve this goal the legitimate way. Every individual does not have the same opportunities as others do. Some families live in poverty, in which they have a poor education. This disjuncture between goals and not having the opportunities to achieve that goal creates a strain on the individual, in which they strive to achieve the goal at any cost this is called Strain Theory. This is caused by the removal of positive stimuli and replaced with negative stimuli. Due to the negative stimuli, anger is brought about and crime is the chosen solution. A motivating factor for deviance is anomie. An individual whom is experiencing anomie is feeling a sense of loneliness. Deviant groups seek out loners and invite them to join, in which the individual feels like they belong to something. When Derrick’s father is murdered, a removal of positive stimuli occurs, followed by the sense of loneliness, and results in anomie. While derrick is in an anomie state of mind, he becomes vulnerable to deviance. He is angry at the African American population. Cameron sees this in Derrick, and invites him to join the “Skin Heads”. Derrick joins, which gives him a sense of power. The admission into the “skin heads” creates negative stimuli, which allows deviance to occur. This strain placed upon derrick, with the removal of positive stimuli, and the presence of negative stimuli, results in derrick’s hatred towards African Americans. Following behind Derrick’s footsteps is the younger brother Danny. Positive stimuli are removed when Derrick is arrested. Danny feels alone, and he does not have his brother to show him the right ways of life. This creates the strain, because Danny feels lost, so he turns to the “Skin Head” gang, following in Derrick’s foot steps. Danny is young and influential, which Cameron takes advantage of, just like Derrick. Danny adopts the views of the “skin heads”, and becomes like them, creating deviant acts and crime with the rest of them. Danny is no longer the innocent one because he has become the instigator.
There are four elements to Hirschi’s bonding theory. His first point is: attachment, which is the feeling of closeness to others with personal interactions. His second point is: commitment, which is having a responsibility to something resulting in consequences. His third point is: involvement, which is what a person does with his/her time, such as joining conventional activities, such as sports or a youth group. The more conventional activities a person is involved in, the less time there is to be deviant. His final point is: beliefs, which are the morals, values, norms, rules, and laws that one must abide by. Conformity is one’s willingness to conform to the norms of society. Social control motivates conformity, and motivations of deviance and crime are universal. When an individual chooses not to conform to society, he is labeled as deviant. Conformity is caused by strong bonds to conventional, social institutions, such as family, which is where all bonding begins. Following that is school, which involves peers and activities. When one is considered to have a strong bond to a given social institution, whether conventional or unconventional, the individual is involved with some sort of activity.
A weak bond would be considered as an individual who does not get involved with a social institution. Having a weak bond makes one more vulnerable to deviance and crime. Every act of hatred by the members of the “Skin Head” gang is a display of deviance. The relationship to Hirschi’s theory is: the “Skin Head” gang is considered to be an unconventional, social institution, which partakes in deviant acts. The members have a strong bond to the gang because they fully believe that what they are doing is right, and they enjoy being deviant. When Derrick was younger, he had a lack of attachment, meaning he did not experience any personal interactions. Cameron, a leader of the “Skin Heads”, finds Derrick and takes advantage of the fact that he is vulnerable. Cameron convinces derrick to conform to his ideas, and that he is powerful, and that people will listen to him. Derrick speaks to people who are tired of being kicked around by black people, just as he was. Derrick becomes the “Skin Head” that everyone respects and looks up to. African Americans feared Derrick. When the gang was going to raid a grocery store Derrick gave a speech about the immigrants that were given jobs over Americans who already worked there and had more creditintials. While considering bonds, Derrick had a weak social bond with the school which is considered to be a conventional social convention. Therefore because of his weak social bond to a conventional social institution he was vulnerable to fall into deviancy with an unconventional social institution which became the Skin Heads. Due to the fact that Derrick became so involved with the Skin Heads he developed a strong bond. The gang is an unconventional social institution; because they conduct deviant acts. Derrick enjoys participating in the acts of deviance; the gang gives him a sense of belonging. Derrick fully believes that the immigrant population is taking over the whites. He also believes in the hate crimes the gang commits to express their hatred. This is an example of a strong bond to an unconventional social institution.
There are nine principles to Sutherland’s Differential Association Principle. His first principle is: deviance is learned. His second principle is: it is learned through interaction and communication. His third principle is: interactions occur in intimate interpersonal groups. His fourth principle is: through the interaction with groups; techniques, rationalizations, drives, motives, and attitudes are formed. His fifth principle is: the techniques, rationalizations, drives, motives, and attitudes are formed through definitions either favorable or unfavorable to deviance. His sixth principle is: deviance is the result of exposure to definitions favorable to deviance. His seventh principle is: associations may vary in frequency, priority, duration and intensity. His eighth principle is: all mechanisms of learning are involved in learning deviance. His final principle is: deviance is not explained by needs and values. Derrick was a role model for Danny, everything Derrick did Danny observed. Danny watched as his brother murdered an African American very brutally. He followed derrick to his meetings with the gang, he was friends with members of the gang. Danny saw everything; he observed every deviant act that Derrick committed. While Derrick was in jail, Danny thought it was his duty to carry out his brother’s deviance. He too began to hate African Americans; he even got involved with the gang members. While derrick was in prison, Danny felt like he had to continue what his brother was doing.
He wanted to make his brother proud of him so he wrote a paper on Mein Kampf which is racist. Dr. Sweeney is an African American who read Danny’s paper; saw that Danny was becoming more like his brother every day. Danny became friends with derrick’s gang buddy Seth. Seth came over to their house almost everyday. Seth was videotaping derrick’s coming home, and he wanted to know Danny’s feelings towards African Americans. Danny’s statement is something derrick would have stated before he went to jail. Danny stated that he hated anyone who was not a white protestant. He hates freeloaders, and that it is cool to be black and listen to hip hop; he does not want to get along with blacks. This is very much like the statement that derrick gave the news after his father’s murder. Devena, the brother’s sister told Danny not to believe in that stuff that it is wrong. Danny expressed his feelings towards an African American one day while in the bathroom. The three African Americans were ganging up on white boy when Danny was exiting the stall. An African American got in his face and was yelling vulgar comments. Danny did not say anything but he puffed his cigarette and blew smoke into the boys face. He was displaying his racism much like Derrick. Danny only committed the racist acts because he learned it from derrick whom he spent a great deal of time with. Derrick began to act racist after his fathers death, however his father had place the idea into his mind before he was murdered. When Cameron Alexander found derrick he really had no knowledge of racism except for what his dad had exposed him to. Cameron exposed derrick to a whole new world of deviance; acts of racism, vandalism, murder, and much more. For derrick this became a way of life. It is obvious how differential association can be applied to the actions of derrick followed by Danny. Cameron began it all, he taught derrick acts of deviance by having derrick get involved in the skin head gang. Following Cameron, derrick taught acts of deviance to Danny by allowing him to come along on his rampages. Danny looked up to his brother and wanted to belike him, he saw everything derrick did and it placed itself into his memory. With deviance in his mind Danny became almost as deviant as derrick.
A moral panic is the reaction to a deviant act by the public recognizing the threat to society’s norms. There are five criteria to a moral panic. The first point is: the offensive behavior causes a heightened concern for the consequences it will bring on society. The second point is: the folk devil is identified along with the rest of the group; resulting in hostility and social isolation to the individuals involved. The third point is: the rest of society agrees that the act is a real threat. The fourth point is: the belief that if something is not done about the issue everyone will be threatened which is exaggerated. The final point is: volatility and passion occur. With a moral panic there are moral entrepreneurs and folk devils involved. Moral entrepreneurs are the rule creators and enforcers. Rule creators define deviance by what threatens them. Rule enforcers apply the definition to specific groups. Folk devil is the opposite of a moral entrepreneur; they are the ones creating the moral panic. They are easily identified and become a symbol of the moral panic.The moral panic began when Cameron Alexander influenced Derrick, to join the Skin Heads as a leader. Derrick became the folk devil, the leader of the local Skin Head gang, he was considered to be a protégé to Cameron Alexander who lived to promote white power. Derrick led the gang which they called the DOC, in riots in the town, raiding local stores being mean and hateful towards immigrants. The moral panic arises when Derrick murdered two African American men for breaking into his truck this is stage two of the moral panic criteria. The way in which he murdered one, was so brutal and hateful; forcing the man to the ground, and placing his teeth around the curb as Derrick stomped his foot into the man’s head, killing him. Derrick immediately went to jail on two counts of murder.
While everyone else began to live in fear of the Skin Heads, the younger people began to call Derrick a legend. The moral entrepreneurs in the film were Dr. Sweeney and Derrick’s sister Devena. Dr. Sweeney saw the events that led to Derrick’s arrest, and he began to watch Danny as he began to follow in his brothers footsteps. Dr. Sweeney went to see Derrick in jail several times to try to talk to him about Danny. At first Derrick did not believe that Danny was in any real trouble, until Derrick himself realized the level of trouble he was in. Devena, throughout the entire film tried to change the viewpoints of her two brothers. She informed them that they were wrong and displaying prejudice, which she was ashamed of. Devena prides herself in her school work; she worked very hard to get straight A’s. She helped take care of the family after Derrick was gone, making sure her little sister was well cared for. She tried to influence Danny into a different way of thinking, by trying to remove Seth from the house, who became an influence on Danny. The moral panic develops into stages three and four of the moral panic criteria the day that Derrick was released from jail. There was a meeting held among some investigators in which Dr. Sweeney attended. They are concerned that there may be an outbreak among the gangs. They stated that Derrick had become the protégé to Cameron Alexander who wrote a hate column in a newspaper, promoting white power. They concluded that the root of the problem was Cameron, who influenced Derrick in the first place. The community is defiantly over reacting to Derrick being released from jail, they do not realize that he is a different person. He had decided not to be apart of the Skin Heads anymore. While attending a party led by Cameron, derrick informed his old girlfriend Stacey and Cameron, that he no longer wanted to participate. Danny told Cameron he was a chicken hawk, because he preyed on people, using them for whatever he wanted. Derrick told Stacey that he no longer wanted to be apart of the gang, she replied that he was crazy.
When Derrick came out of Cameron’s office, the gang was waiting for him, with murder on their minds. Derrick began to fear for his life, watching his back wherever he turned. The African Americans were after him and Danny for their display of hatred, and the gang was after him for his resignation from the gang. 6. A stereotype is an assumed characteristic towards a specific group, because their beliefs, habits and ways of life are different from the norm created by society. When an individual goes against the norms of society they are labeled deviant, which would be a specific stereotype to their deviance. In contrast an individual who appears to be like the group that is stereotyped, but is not actually deviant, may become deviant because of the association to the groups stereotype. Through Derrick’s participation in the gang, the Doc began to develop a stereotype. To African Americans the DOC was a racist group of people, who they went up against constantly to prove they were better. For example with the basketball game between the blacks and whites, the winner stayed on the court, and the looser left for good. The white supremacist’s and the younger people saw Derrick as a powerful individual who was a leader and example to follow. He developed a stereotype of being a legend in their town. Danny was involved with Derrick before he went to jail, by joining him in his raids. He began to be considered racist in his school. This is when Danny began to fall into deviance. The African Americans began to hate Danny for his attitude and his brother, the legendary “Skin Head”. The African Americans placed a stereotype on Danny as a racist, he approved of the stereotype. In fact he even smiled at an African American who was informing his friend that Danny was the one they were looking for. In the end of the film, Danny became the victim of his stereotype. He was murdered by an African American, the same one he blew smoke at and smiled at. The African American developed the same kind of hatred as the “Skin Heads”, only it was directed towards whites.
The use or absence of color in a film can often serve to enhance the story. The use of colored lenses creates an illusion and paints a picture of a bygone era. The significance of black and white in the film American History X is used to represent the past and color is used to represent the present. Our eyes use different colors to distinguish between images. When the image is black and white; flashbacks are created. In the films case the flashbacks are used to describe Derrick’s attitude towards African American individuals, as well as to show how Derrick started the gang. When using the black and white lenses Danny is shown to be an innocent bystander who happens to be Derrick’s younger brother. When the image is in color; changes are shown to have occurred in the characters attitudes. In the films case the changes in attitudes are first placed on Derrick. While he was in jail there was an African American man who helped him out, he was the only reason Derrick made it out alive. This gave Derrick a new outlook on life; he now viewed African Americans as real people and gained respect for them. On the other hand Danny was shown to be an instigator in hating African Americans. He had Nazi symbols all over his room and he used vulgar language towards the African Americans he came in contact with. While the color lenses are being used in the film, black and white lenses do not exist. However there are objects that are made to be black and white to express the significance of hatred towards African Americans. After Derrick was released from jail he no longer wanted to be apart of his old gang. One of his old friends Seth, who participated in the gang, came to visit with Derrick. While he is at Derrick’s home he finds a candy dish with jelly beans. The significance of the jelly beans is that there were only black and white jelly beans. In a display of Seth’s hatred towards African Americans he is shown eating only the white jelly beans and throwing the black jelly beans out. This scene is portrayed in color, but black and white is still expressed through the candy dish with jelly beans.The transition to the color lenses also shows how Derrick comes to realize the affect his actions have had on Danny. Derrick makes it his duty to help Danny realize that racism is wrong, and mend their family back together.
Symbols are used to communicate, understand or represent something. “Possession of one deviant trait may have a generalized symbolic value, so that people automatically assume that its bearer possesses other undesirable traits allegedly associated with it” (pg 75). In relation to the quote above; Derrick had the Nazi symbol tattooed on his arm. The Nazi symbol represents hatred toward the Jews, as it was expressed during the Holocaust. In the film the Nazi symbol still represents hatred, only towards a different group, African Americans. When African Americans see the tattoo they automatically assume it represents hatred towards their race; which in the film it does. Derrick chose to have the Nazi symbol tattooed onto his arm, which created deviance; this caused African Americans to see Derrick as a racist. Derrick used his Nazi tattoo to intimidate people whenever he wanted. For example, when the whites and blacks were playing basketball, the deal was whoever won stayed on the court; whoever lost had to leave for good. As the game began, Derrick removed his shirt to expose his Nazi tattoo. He used his tattoo to intimidate the African American team, expressing that the whites were better. While Derrick was in jail, he knew no one in the beginning. To the inmates having a shaved head was a symbol as well as the Nazi tattoo. In order for Derrick to feel like he belonged to a group, he felt he had to display who he was, by exposing his tattoo. He removed his shirt, in response he was invited into the rest of the “Skin Heads”, whom most had shaved heads. Derrick became to be viewed as a raciest individual as a result of displaying his Nazi tattoo. The African Americans already considered Derrick to be racist because of his bald head, but the tattoo confirmed it.
When Derrick got out of jail he no longer hated African Americans because of the kindness placed upon him from an African American. While Derrick was in jail, Dr. Sweeney visited him to tell him that his brother Danny was following right behind Derrick. When Derrick was released from jail, he made it his duty to change Danny and to protect their family. Derrick resigned from the DOC “Skin Head” gang and forced Danny to leave as well. Derrick told Danny everything that happened to him while he was in jail, and explained why he no longer wanted to hate blacks. He said the only reason he acted the way he did was because he was pissed off. Derrick said that being pissed off did not do anything for him except destroy his family, and he did not want to be pissed off any longer. Derrick had an effect on Danny, after giving him all of the details of his decision. Danny decided that his brother was right, and there was no point to the way of living they had chosen. Together they tore down all of the Nazi and hate band posters; they removed everything that had anything to do with racism. They both felt reprimanded, they were trying to ride themselves from evil. The only problem with this is Derrick waited to long to try to change Danny. Danny had already set a name for himself and was hated by African Americans in his school. Danny’s choice of actions to follow his brother’s footsteps, led to his murder. He became the victim of his own deviance. Derrick also suffered from his deviance; by being arrested for murder, murdering because he was racist, and being raped for standing up for racism which he believed in. By the time Derrick realized the consequences of his own actions it was to late for himself and for Danny. Derrick had already experienced his consequences of his deviance, by the time he realized it. Danny on the other hand, did realize it, before he was murdered; only the damage had been done.
This film teaches about racism and the consequences of racism. Throughout the entire film, racism is the cause of everything. I feel that through Derrick’s actions towards racism, are defiantly deviant. However, through being punished for his actions, Derrick realizes the effect he had on Danny. In addition to having an African American befriend and protect him from the “brothers”, because of this one man, Derrick develops a whole new way of thinking. Derrick realizes that his brother was following right behind him, when he is visited by Dr. Sweeney, after being raped in jail. Dr. Sweeney expresses how great an influence Derrick has been on Danny. Dr. Sweeney informs Derrick of the racist paper that Danny had turned in, which exposed his views on African Americans. Derrick finally understands the impact that his racism has had on Danny. After observing Derrick, as he came to the realization of the effect he had on Danny, it also made me realize how racism can come back to harm you. When Derrick was raped by the members of his own gang in jail, this revealed to me how gangs are only going to defend you, as long as you are defending them. I now understand the impact a gang has on an individual, as well as the membership. The membership to a gang is viewed as a lifetime membership of deviant activity, racism, murder, and rape. By joining a gang one is automatically committed to the gang for life. I am now aware of how gangs influence racism as well as increasing it. Gangs also prey on younger individuals who appear to be lost, influencing them into being deviant. There are consequences to being racist that one would never consider. This film shows how racism can come back to with vengeance. If the characters had not been racist to begin with, Derrick would not have been deviant, nor would he have been able to influence Danny. This film shows exactly how one learns to become deviant, by showing Danny present at every event leading up to Derrick’s arrest. Personally I chose not to be racist, which I was not in the first place. I have begun to express my opinion of racism towards others. I feel like racism in our town alone has gotten out of hand, people do not deserve to be treated so unfairly. I have also begun to recognize different forms of deviance in others. I usually do not say anything to the individual; instead I try to set an example by being polite, friendly, honest and so on. So far I see a difference in myself especially at work. I notice customers are more welcoming if I am just honest. I try to be honest with all of my customers, it shows them I care. I plan to continue my new way of thinking, much like Derricks. I realize it is not worth it to be hateful towards someone and no one deserves to be treated that way. I try to treat everyone as equal that is the way it is supposed to be. Society needs someone to set an example and be kind to all races, by doing this others will follow.