Case Study: Black Cannabis Dealers in a White Welfare State Race, Politics, and Street Capital in Norway
An ethnographic study of a group of young black men dealing cannabis at a drug scene called The River in Oslo demonstrates that accumulation and use of street capital can be seen as responses to processes of social and economic exclusion. In Norway, as elsewhere, many immigrant youths are marginalized by ethnic discrimination, racism, lack of education and job opportunities, and immigration policy. Street capital is a means to gain respect, status, and money. The concept is inspired by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and highlights how street culture becomes embodied and emphasizes the practical rationality involved when marginalized youths become involved in crime. Street capital is upheld by and embedded in gangster stories, but the young men also see themselves as victims. There are ongoing shifts between gangster- and oppression discourses; neither represents the “true story” of these men. Ethnographic study of street dealers’ language use demonstrates the complex relationship between street culture and a benevolent Nordic welfare state.
Blacks are arrested on drug charges at more than three times the rate of whites and are sent to prison for drug convictions at ten times the white rate. These disparities cannot be explained by racial patterns of drug crime. They reflect law enforcement decisions to concentrate resources in low income minority neighborhoods. They also reflect deep-rooted racialized concerns, beliefs, and attitudes that shape the nation’s understanding of the “drug problem” and skew the policies chosen to respond to it. Even absent conscious racism in anti-drug policies and practices, “race matters.” The persistence of a war on drugs that disproportionately burdens black Americans testifies to the persistence of structural racism; drug policies are inextricably connected to white efforts to maintain their dominant position in the country’s social hierarchy. Without proof of racist intent, however, US courts can do little. International human rights law, in contrast, call for the elimination of all racial discrimination, even if unaccompanied by racist intent.