Against the Wall

Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
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    Against the Wall
    Book Description:

    Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title Typically residing in areas of concentrated urban poverty, too many young black men are trapped in a horrific cycle that includes active discrimination, unemployment, violence, crime, prison, and early death. This toxic mixture has given rise to wider stereotypes that limit the social capital of all young black males. Edited and with an introductory chapter by sociologist Elijah Anderson, the essays in Against the Wall describe how the young black man has come to be identified publicly with crime and violence. In reaction to his sense of rejection, he may place an exaggerated emphasis on the integrity of his self-expression in clothing and demeanor by adopting the fashions of the "street." To those deeply invested in and associated with the dominant culture, his attitude is perceived as profoundly oppositional. His presence in public gathering places becomes disturbing to others, and the stereotype of the dangerous young black male is perpetuated and strengthened. To understand the origin of the problem and the prospects of the black inner-city male, it is essential to distinguish his experience from that of his pre-Civil Rights Movement forebears. In the 1950s, as militant black people increasingly emerged to challenge the system, the figure of the black male became more ambiguous and fearsome. And while this activism did have the positive effect of creating opportunities for the black middle class who fled from the ghettos, those who remained faced an increasingly desperate climate. Featuring a foreword by Cornel West and sixteen original essays by contributors including William Julius Wilson, Gerald D. Jaynes, Douglas S. Massey, and Peter Edelman, Against the Wall illustrates how social distance increases as alienation and marginalization within the black male underclass persist, thereby deepening the country's racial divide.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0695-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword: Strong Men Keep A-Comin On
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Cornel West

    In 1932 Sterling Brown, one of the great black men of the twentieth century, published a monumental work of poetry, Southern Road. In Part I, called “Road So Rocky”—a phrase that still describes what young brothers encounter in so many chocolate cities—is a poem called “Strong Men.” In this catastrophic moment for so many black brothers growing up in impoverished communities, we must recall and invoke the tradition of strong men, men of courage, wisdom, and dignity, as did Sterling Brown in his time.

    I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and when I think of black...

    • Chapter 1 Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male
      (pp. 3-27)
      Elijah Anderson

      Living in areas of concentrated ghetto poverty, still shadowed by the legacy of slavery and second-class citizenship, too many young black men are trapped in a horrific cycle that includes active discrimination, unemployment, poverty, crime, prison, and early death. When they act out violently, or are involved in dramatic crimes that make the news, the repercussions for the general image of the young black male can be far-reaching. Strongly identified with violent criminality by skin color alone, the anonymous young black male in public is often viewed first and foremost with fear and suspicion, his counter-claims to propriety, decency, and...

    • Chapter 2 David’s Story: From Promise to Despair
      (pp. 28-37)
      Raymond Gunn

      When I approached the school where I had been conducting field research for the past three years on an unseasonably warm morning in late October, I was startled by two Philadelphia police cars with flashing lights. Police cars outside a public high school in Philadelphia are hardly newsworthy; law enforcement officers are routinely summoned to these imposing gray structures with steel doors and grated windows. Parents often have little choice but to entrust their children to these unwelcoming institutions. Crowded, bored, and frustrated, students act out from time to time, although less often than might be expected given the conditions...

    • Chapter 3 Young, Black, and Male: The Life History of an American Drug Dealer Facing Death Row
      (pp. 38-52)
      Waverly Duck

      In Code of the Street and Streetwise, Elijah Anderson illustrates the complex effects on the urban poor of unemployment, spatial concentration and isolation, ineffective schools, the drug trade, and rampant violence. He describes how a street culture, the “code of the street” governing behavior, appearance, and moral values, often arises in the inner city in response to the weakening or absence of economic resources, education, and civil law. The code represents some young men’s desperate quest for self-respect in the midst of urban decay. Because violence arises from the competition that is central to street culture, and what policing exists...

    • Chapter 4 The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black Males
      (pp. 55-70)
      William Julius Wilson

      The economic predicament of black men in the inner city today resembles the situation documented by Elliot Liebow in his classic book Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Street Corner Men. Liebow wrote Tally’s Corner in the mid-1960s, yet his arguments concerning the work experiences and family lives of black men in a Washington D.C. ghetto are still applicable to contemporary urban communities. In analyzing the data collected by our research team on poverty and joblessness among black males in inner-city Chicago neighborhoods, I was repeatedly reminded of Liebow’s analysis. Liebow was perhaps the first scholar to call attention to...

    • Chapter 5 Blacklisted: Hiring Discrimination in an Era of Mass Incarceration
      (pp. 71-86)
      Devah Pager

      Jerome arrived at a branch of a national restaurant chain in a suburb twenty miles from Milwaukee. He immediately sensed that he was the only black person in the place. An employee hurried over to him, “Can I help you with something?” “I’m here about the job you advertised,” he replied. The employee nodded reluctantly and went off to produce an application form. Jerome filled out the form, including information about his criminal background. He was given a math test and a personality test. He was then instructed to wait for the manager to speak with him. The manager came...

    • Chapter 6 The Effects of Immigration on the Economic Position of Young Black Males
      (pp. 87-101)
      Gerald D. Jaynes

      The charge that immigrants, especially the undocumented, put downward pressure on wages and take jobs from native-born Americans has become one of the most contentious issues in the debate over immigration and “control of the U.S. border.” Support for these charges appears readily available, and disturbing evidence is disseminated widely. Recently, the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates and lobbies for tighter restrictions on immigration to the U.S., issued an alarming report discussing the effects of undocumented immigration on the employment of native-born workers. One of the report’s starkest findings concerned job growth between March...

    • Chapter 7 Immigration and Equal Opportunity
      (pp. 102-120)
      Douglas S. Massey

      African Americans have long watched successive waves of immigrants enter the United States at the bottom of the economic ladder only to bypass them in a generation or two. Prior to the civil rights era, African Americans faced systematic exclusion from and discrimination within most U.S. labor markets, while immigrants were generally able to gain access and advance within these same markets, though not entirely without resistance (Alba and Nee 2003). Over time, immigrants moved steadily up the socioeconomic ladder while African Americans did not.

      It is not at all clear that today’s immigrants will repeat this historical experience. Contemporary...

    • Chapter 8 Youth Entrepreneurship Training in the Inner City: Overcoming Disadvantage, Engaging Youth in School
      (pp. 123-137)
      Luke Anderson

      The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) provides at-risk urban youth with entrepreneurship training as a means of engaging them in school and improving their life chances, self-esteem, and career aspirations. As program director of NFTE’s Chicago office and after several years spent as a graduate student in sociology, I have been working directly with students, teachers, and administrators at 33 of Chicago’s most troubled high schools for the past two years. In most urban public school systems throughout the U.S., high schools fail to provide an engaging curriculum, a supportive learning environment, or any serious incentive for students to...

    • Chapter 9 Black Male Students and Reflections on Learning and Teaching
      (pp. 138-146)
      L. Janelle Dance

      In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1999) and Pedagogy of Hope (2004), Paulo Freire distinguishes between the reading and teaching of the word and the reading and teaching of the world. Freire implores educators to respect the local realities in which students are enmeshed and to teach in a dialogic manner that facilitates critical reflection in both the educator (teacher-as-learner) and the “educand” (student-as-teacher). Before or in tandem with learning to decode written words (or studying science, social studies, or other subjects), students from marginalized backgrounds need to be empowered to read their worlds. Freire states, “The teaching of reading and...

    • Chapter 10 Fighting like a Ballplayer: Basketball as a Strategy Against Social Disorganization
      (pp. 147-164)
      Scott N. Brooks

      Many inner-city black neighborhoods in South Philadelphia are variations of the ’hood—places with high rates of poverty, violence, single-headed households, drug dealing, and premature death. Here and in similar urban American neighborhoods, people are indirectly monitored and supervised through physical boundaries, fraternal and compound policing,¹ and limited access to mainstream social services. These conditions are symptomatic of social disorganization. Children are raised under tenuous conditions where relationships and trust are strained early on and adult efforts must be combined. Parents and guardians seek to keep young males from the street, hoping that they will resist the allure of the...

    • Chapter 11 “Tell us how it feels to be a problem”: Hip Hop Longings and Poor Young Black Men
      (pp. 165-178)
      Imani Perry

      In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the autobiographical essay that opens The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois reflected on his response to provocative (and insulting) white peers: “To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word” (1903, 1). In the United States today, perhaps no one is made to feel like a problem more acutely than the poor young Black man who, despite his great social vulnerability, is so often presumed to be a predator or threat.¹ These youths, proclaimed to be “in crisis” by commentators ranging from academics...

    • Chapter 12 Social Issues Lurking in the Over-Representation of Young African American Men in the Expanding DNA Databases
      (pp. 181-197)
      Troy Duster

      In early May 2007, the governor of New York announced a plan to expand the state’s criminal forensic database by requiring DNA samples from “those found guilty of any misdemeanor, including minor drug offenses” (McGeehan 2007). While several commentators were invited to reflect on some of the social consequences of this proposal, not a single word in the report or in the governor’s plan mentioned the 800-pound gorilla in this database: race. Even the most cursory review of incarceration rates by sex, race, and age reveals an astonishing level of overrepresentation of young black males in the nation’s prisons and...

    • Chapter 13 “You can take me outta the ’hood, but you can’t take the ’hood outta me”: Youth Incarceration and Reentry
      (pp. 198-217)
      Jamie J. Fader

      Each year, over 100,000 young offenders are incarcerated in facilities designed to reform them and end their criminal careers (Sickmund, Sladky, and Kang 2004). These institutions employ a wide variety of strategies to “rehabilitate” their young targets, but all are based on the common assumption that children and youth are especially malleable and can be transformed through resocialization. Despite widespread belief among policymakers that any treatment is better than none, substantial empirical evidence suggests that many, or even most, forms of intervention have little measurable effect. Worse yet, they may have unintended negative consequences, particularly for the disadvantaged (McCord 2003;...

    • Chapter 14 Suicide Patterns Among Black Males
      (pp. 218-241)
      Sean Joe

      Several high-profile suicides and suicide attempts by young black males have recently aroused public concern about self-harming behaviors among African Americans. Interest in the suicidal behavior of young black males has been fueled by incidents such as the highly publicized suicide of eighteen-year-old James Dungy, eldest son of Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, and the reported suicide attempt of Terrell Owens, one of professional football’s most talented, misunderstood, and taunted stars. Public dismissal of the possibility that Owens might have attempted suicide arises in part from the notion that people who are rich and famous could not possibly consider...

    • Chapter 15 Why Are Handguns So Accessible on Urban Streets?
      (pp. 242-251)
      David Kairys

      Why are handguns so accessible on urban streets? Why is it easier for young black men to obtain a handgun than an up-to-date school textbook or a regular job?

      This question has two components: How does the gun market work to make a product designed to kill so easily available? And why do we allow it to function this way? The answers differ significantly from conventional wisdom. The common image of an underground, illegal market is largely fictional. Most of what goes on is the predictable result of simple distribution and marketing choices, and is surprisingly legal.

      The statistics on...

    • Chapter 16 What Do We Do Now? Toward a Brighter Future for Young African American Men
      (pp. 252-268)
      Peter Edelman

      After reading to this point, you may well be wondering what anyone can say with any confidence about solutions to the problems confronting young black men in inner cities. These problems add up to a crisis that will not give way easily. It has developed over a long period of time, and will not disappear with the wave of a wand.

      Nonetheless, much can be done—provided there is a will to act. The answers involve many actors and many actions. They include public policy and civic action in the larger community and help and support in black youths’ immediate...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 269-278)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 279-284)
  10. Index
    (pp. 285-296)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 297-297)