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All God's Children

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Introduction Fox Butterfield was the author of this book that referred back to the history of the Bosket Family. The family had a lot of history that interweaved with the larger social history of America. Therefore, there are multiple questions that must be answered when discussing Fox Butterfield’s book, All God’s Children. The first question that must be answered in order to discuss All God’s Children must be about the historical and cultural forces. These were the cultural and historical influences that produced the criminal behavior in the Bosket family. There were many different factors that came into play throughout the history of the Bosket family. One of these examples is that someone must fight and be “bad” in order to gain respect or to be considered a man. After all, this idea of being “bad” actually became almost like tradition for the men in the Bosket family.
The Bosket family only knew how to be bad men. Every man in the Bosket family had a reputation, and each one of the men wanted to keep their reputation. The men in the Bosket family would fight because all they really had was their name. Therefore, these men almost needed to maintain their tough guy images in order to feel good about themselves, but also to keep their reputation. Another part of the history of the Bosket family, and really a lot of different families is the self fulfilling prophecy idea. For the self fulfilling prophecy idea, the younger generation is expected to do as the generations prior to them. Consequently, for the case of the Bosket family, the men were expected to become bad men. The men had to deal with slavery, but the men still wanted respect. In order to get respect, these men must fight or commit crime and that is just what they did in order to gain respect and a reputation. Finally, some of the last aspects that the Bosket family had to deal with are racism and strain. The Bosket family men were men of color. Throughout the years it is well known that those men of color had to deal with a lot of racism. Racism can bring a man down emotionally and even physically in some cases. This then leads back to the men wanting to keep a reputation of being bad because all they had was there name since they really could not own anything. They also did not own much because they did not have any money. Not having any money can lead to a lot of stress causing strain upon a person and their family. Strain can also come from the racism because the family had to deal with abuse. It was just like we talked about in class because someone could take one step forward, but have to take two steps back then. Strain could also have been caused by the fact that each man really had no connection with their father. Some were traded away, but some were also abandoned and did not have a male role model to follow. This then would lead to the men having to make their own name and reputation. Again, for the case of Willie, he wanted to become like his father who was a murderer. Therefore, the history of criminal activity in the family kept going because the younger generation would look up to the older generation who was generally in trouble. This then leads into the different theories that are covered throughout the book. One of these theories is about the seductive quality of crime. One of the many different situations is the situation of becoming a “bad” man. The Bosket men wanted the reputation where other people would fear them. Basically, in order to become a “bad” man, someone must fight and be violent in order to earn respect and gain a reputation. The only way that these men knew how to gain respect and also a reputation was to fight and be violent. This trait was then passed down through different generations. The theory about seduction qualities of crime fit well into this book and fits well with the Bosket family. This is because Katz discusses how to become a “bad” man, and in order to become a “bad” man someone must be tough, not easily influenced, be able to leave an impression, and should hold to his morals. A great example of sticking to their own standards is when Willie writes to his father who was in prison. His father wrote back to Willie and tried to talk Willie into not going down the same path that the father went down. Willie ignored the words of his father, and Willie chose to keep going down the path of violence and being involved in the system. One of the other ways that Katz discusses about being a “bad” man is to be “bad” on the streets. Fundamentally, this is another way of saying that a person must have a bad reputation because a bad reputation is essential for someone who wants to be a “bad” man on the streets. This is something that basically all of the Bosket men strived for. From the book, one example that can be used about being a “bad” man is Pud. Pud was Willie’s great-grandfather and Pud liked to be more of a man that would push, but usually only when pushed. This was because Pud would describe himself by saying that the only thing that he had was his name. Pud wanted to protect his name because that was really the only thing that he had. Therefore, Pud used violence to keep his name and maintain that “bad” man image. Willie was another guy that liked to be known for his reputation of being a “bad” man. In the book, even at a young age, teachers would call Willie “crazy” because Willie was so concerned about his “bad” man image. On the streets, being called “crazy” was a compliment to Willie because Willie liked to be known for his unpredictable violent acts. This was Willie’s reputation. Even the author, Fox Butterfield, thought that there was an attitude towards someone that was called “crazy” that would make people admire them. Willie also liked to be cruel to other people. Willie would try to outdo other mean acts that other people were doing. An example is when people would give one person a bottle of wine, that was filled with urine, to drink, but Willie would go farther by putting nails in that same person’s feet. This is just one way as to how Willie made his reputation that was key to his life. The other theory that fits well into All God’s Children, is the differential association theory. The differential association theory has to deal with social learning, and also the roles that people learn in criminal activity. Differential association deals with people who like to associate with other people who will reward or praise them for the actions that they have committed. Since these acts are being praised, the actions will then be continuously repeated. With differential association, there is learning and learning can include many different ways of doing something, whether it is good or it is bad. Consequently, for the book All God’s Children, the learning that is done is mostly criminal behavior. A great example from the book is that of James. James was Pud’s son, and James flat out said that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and be a “bad” man. This resulted in James carrying around a knife and he liked to sharpen this knife wherever he was and it did not matter who was around James because James would still sharpen this knife. This was just to show that James had the potential to be a “bad” man. James then had a son named Butch. Butch learned some of his violent behavior from his father, but also from the streets. In the streets, Butch witnessed two men knife fight to the death. This was then lodged into Butch’s brain because this is what he was learning. The lessons that he was learning was the lesson that someone needs to fight. The people around Butch would fight and fighting was encouraged. Therefore, these were some of the social learning factors for Butch and what was encouraged to go on. Butch then had a son, Willie, who also grew up idolizing the ones before him. Willie wanted to grow up and be just like his father. Willie knew that his father was in jail for murdering two men, but he still wanted to grow up and be just like Butch. Willie’s teachers believed that he would use violence in order to get closer to his father. These teachers believed that Willie thought that criminal behavior was a positive thing and a path to follow. Since Willie grew up in the time where being beat by your parent as a child was acceptable, the actions of being beaten would then reinforce his idea that violence was acceptable and an answer to situations. Willie grew up being told to not be bullied, but this just makes the acts of violence more of a necessity to Willie when he is being told to not be bullied. An example of this is when Willie fights another juvenile at Wiltwyck. Willie is smaller in this fight, but he remembers to not be bullied and ends up hurting the other juvenile and leading to the other juvenile needing medical attention.
The Bosket family was a great example as to how different influences and different theories can influence behaviors of a person or a family. The Bosket men were taught all their life to be “bad” men and to stick up for themselves. The ideas that these men learned were criminal actions, but they knew nothing else. These men only had their name and their reputation to live up to. The book All God’s Children gives a great look at what ideas are pushed into certain people’s minds and just what some people do believe is the right thing, even if it is morally wrong. After reading the book, the theory of seductive qualities and differential association are two perfect theories to describe how the Bosket family learned what they believe is right and why they did what they did. Therefore, these acts were wrong, but the theories help understand why these acts were committed.
Butterfield, F. (1995). All God's Children. New York: Vintage Books.
Gabbidon, S., & Greene, H. (2013). Race and Crime. Los Angeles: Sage.

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