Code of the Street An effort to understand and explain violence and related problems in the inner city
Questions to bear in mind • What is the “code of the street”? • How does the code of the street affect the day-to-day lives of individuals who live there? • Is Anderson’s characterization of life in the inner city on target?
Elijah Anderson’s Code of the Street • The “code” is a set of informal rules governing interpersonal public behavior, including violence • Respect is at the heart of the code • Believed that there were two types of families
What is the “code of the street”? • Rules that govern encounters with others in inner city neighborhoods • Respect is the key goal • Deterrence: the threat of vengeance • Violence becomes a common part of life
Decent Families • Accept mainstream values and attempt to install them in children • “working poor” • Generally involved in a church community • Tend to be strict with children • Respect authority • Polite, cooperative
Street Families • Lack consideration for others • Superficial sense of family/community • Disorganized • Aggressive with children ( physical punishment) • Children generally “come up hard”
Campaigning for Respect • Children from “street” groups go to the streets to “hang”, stay out late • Friends are the primary social bond • Children from the “decent” families have curfews, taught to stay out of trouble • Some parents will impose sanctions if the child is not aggressive enough • Have to “look” capable of taking care of oneself
Self Image Based on “Juice” • Presentation of self through possessions/body language • Objects are important willing to possess things that require defending • Taking possession from others gets higher respect • Zero-Sum Quality the extent to which a person can raise himself up depends on ability to put another person down. • Must be vigilant against transgressions or appearnace of transgressions
By Trial of Manhood • Something valuable is at stake in every interaction • Must have “nerve” throw the first punch, take another’s posessions, have no outward fear of dying
Girls on the Street • Respect is over assessments of beauty, boyfriends, gossip • May feel required to “take up for” friend who has been slandered • Girls will rarely use guns • Wont put life on line like boys
Going for Bad/Oppositional Culture • Uncertain about how long they will live, so they live on the edge • They appear to “go for bad” but hope they will never be tested • Create oppositional culture to preserve themselves and their self-respect because they feel alienated from society • A street oriented demeanor is a way to express “BLACKNESS” • This demeanor is also often used by “decent” blacks
Explanations of Poverty • Causes of poverty • Theorists have accused poor of having little concern for future and preferring to “live for the moment” and engaging in self-defeating behavior, characterized the poor as fatalists, resigning themselves to a culture of poverty in which nothing can be done to change their economic outcomes. Culture of poverty—which passes from generation to generation—poor feel negative, inferior, passive, hopeless, and powerless. • The “blame the poor” perspective is stereotypic and not applicable to all of underclass. Not only are most poor people able and willing to work hard, they do so when given chance. Real trouble has to do w/ problems as minimum wages, and lack of access to the education necessary for obtaining a better-paying job.
Effects of Poverty: Restricted Opportunity • Children who grow up in poverty suffer more persistent, frequent, and severe health problems than do children who grow up under better financial circumstances. • Children raised in poverty tend to miss school more often because of illness. These children also have a much higher rate of accidents than do other children, and they are twice as likely to have impaired vision and hearing, iron deficiency anemia, and higher than normal levels of lead in blood, impairing brain function;
Big Brother • According to another theory, the poor would rather receive welfare payments than work in demeaning positions as maids or in fast-food restaurants. As a result of this view, the welfare system has come under increasing attack in recent years. What is the problem of rent control? • Hint: Government created underclasses and ghettos??
Explanations of Poverty • Poor families experience much more stress than middle-class families. Besides financial uncertainty, these families are more likely to be exposed to series of negative events and “bad luck,” including illness, depression, eviction, job loss, criminal victimization, and family death. Parents who experience hard economic times may become excessively punitive and erratic, issuing demands backed by insults, threats, and corporal punishment.
Poverty continued…. • Sociologists have been particularly concerned about the effects of poverty on the “black underclass,” the increasing numbers of jobless, welfare-dependent African Americans trapped in inner-city ghettos. Many of the industries (textiles, auto, steel) that previously offered employment to the black working class have shut down, while newer industries have relocated to the suburbs. Because most urban jobs either require advanced education or pay minimum wage, unemployment rates for inner-city blacks are high.
Feminist Perspective on Poverty • Significant increase in numbers of single women in poverty alone, primarily as single mothers. In last three decades proportion of poor families headed by women has grown to more than 50 percent. This feminization of poverty has affected African-American women more than any other group. • This feminization of poverty may be related to numerous changes in contemporary America. Increases in unwanted births, separations, and divorces have forced growing numbers of women to head poor households
Feminization of Poverty…. • Increases in divorced fathers avoiding child support coupled with reductions in welfare support have forced many of these women-headed households to join the ranks of the underclass. Further, because wives generally live longer than their husbands, growing numbers of elderly women must live in poverty.
Exercise #1 • The natural process of everyday labeling • What are some things that we put labels or tags on? • What labels do we embrace or reject
One view of all of this • Personal respect is something we all desire • Fighting as a way of maintaining respect has been a feature of several American subcultures (e.g., rural South) • Drugs and availability of guns has taken violence to a new level
Effects on day-to-day life • Increases risks to personal safety,especially for young men • Increases confrontations between police and young men • Contributes to racial profiling by police • Creates stereotypes of inner city residents among those who live outside the inner city
Contrasting Life Styles within the Inner City • Decent and Street Families • Decent: civilly disposed, socially conscious, and self-reliant • Street: inconsiderate, ignorant, desperate • Achieving and maintaining respect • Code-switching among decent kids • Is code-switching necessary for safety and physical survival among decent kids?
Positive family role models within the inner city • Decent daddy • Works hard • Supports his family • Rules his household • Protects his daughters • Raises his sons to be like him • Encourages other young people to exhibit these qualities
Positive Role Models, continued • Factors that undermined the role of the decent daddy • Challenges from young blacks over how to confront prejudice and discrimination (Black Panthers to themes of Hip Hop) • Rejection of white society by African Americans who are decent, who follow the rules
The Grandmother • Important role in reality and in folklore roles • Taking responsibility for children abandoned by their parents • Asserting her moral authority for the good of the family • Sometimes rearing children herself
Challenges faced by current inner city grandmothers • Convincing young people that being decent and acting right will bring success • Fewer and fewer women have the social capital (networks, respect in the community) that permit them to play this role
Wacquant, AJS (May 2002) Anderson replaces negative stereotypes of inner city residents with positive stereotypes of decent people trapped in a bad situation. • Parochial, solely American view of urban poor • close to his subjects with insufficient attention to larger sociological theoretical issues • Mad scramble for accessible books on sexy topics • Anderson is sexist
Overview of Anderson, 1-2, 5-6 • Most people in the inner city are decent people trying to make the most of a difficult situation • Question: Is Anderson replacing negative stereotypes with positive stereotypes?
Anderson’s response • The sociologist’s job is to challenge conventional wisdom (The Sociological Imagination) • Ethnographic work, involving participant observation and personal interviews, gives one an in depth picture • Most people, including young people in the inner city, would like to be decent people • Respondents may be sexist but he is not
Overview, continued • The social structure of the inner city (lack of opportunities, drugs, violence) and the culture of the inner city reinforce one another. • Question: How responsible are individuals in the inner city for their personal behavior in this difficult setting?