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The Minds of Marginalized Black Men

The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity, and Future Life Chances

Alford A. Young
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Minds of Marginalized Black Men
    Book Description:

    While we hear much about the "culture of poverty" that keeps poor black men poor, we know little about how such men understand their social position and relationship to the American dream. Moving beyond stereotypes, this book examines how twenty-six poverty-stricken African American men from Chicago view their prospects for getting ahead. It documents their definitions of good jobs and the good life--and their beliefs about whether and how these can be attained. In its pages, we meet men who think seriously about work, family, and community and whose differing experiences shape their views of their social world.

    Based on intensive interviews, the book reveals how these men have experienced varying degrees of exposure to more-privileged Americans--differences that ground their understandings of how racism and socioeconomic inequality determine their life chances. The poorest and most socially isolated are, perhaps surprisingly, most likely to believe that individuals can improve their own lot. By contrast, men who regularly leave their neighborhood tend to have a wider range of opportunities but also have met with more racism, hostility, and institutional obstacles--making them less likely to believe in the American Dream.

    Demonstrating how these men interpret their social world, this book seeks to de-pathologize them without ignoring their experiences with chronic unemployment, prison, and substance abuse. It shows how the men draw upon such experiences as they make meaning of the complex circumstances in which they strive to succeed.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4147-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    • Introduction Making New Sense of Poor Black Men in Crisis
      (pp. 3-15)

      These are the words of young black men who were born into urban poverty. The men were living in the Near West Side of Chicago, one of the most destitute urban regions in the United States. They were born and reared in the Henry Horner Homes, one of the Near West Side’s most infamous public housing developments.They continued to reside in or nearby the development.² These men shared a common ground of a life without much material comfort and in the midst of despair and violence. Yet, in significant ways their personal histories are strikingly different. Larry, age 24 in...

    • Chapter One The Past and Future of the Cultural Analysis of Black Men
      (pp. 16-34)

      The phrase “the crisis of the black male” has come to have great salience in the public imagination over the past two decades. This crisis, in all actuality, pertains to low-income black men. A range of measures and indicators make the notion of a crisis legitimate. Sociologist William Julius Wilson (1993, pp. 25–34) reported that by the late 1980s less than half of the prime-aged black men (those between 22 and 58 years) with less than a college education worked full-time. In early 1970, 70 percent of such men worked in full-time employment. John Kasarda (1990a, 1990b, 1990c, 1995)...


    • Chapter Two Time, Space, and Everyday Living
      (pp. 37-64)

      The minds of the men in this book, as with all people, have been shaped in reaction to past and present experiences. Before looking at their interpretations of the social world, it is important to know something about the social world of the Near West Side of Chicago. In doing so we must take note of the meanings that these men give to the institutions, experiences, and individuals that they encounter in everyday life. This involves focusing not only on what is different about their lives in comparison to more privileged people, but also on what aspects appear to be...

    • Chapter Three Coming Up Poor
      (pp. 65-104)

      These are Devin’s recollections of his early childhood years. They do not easily fit with the person that he became as a young adult. Although he entered adulthood in possession of a criminal record and a public image as a menace to the community, Devin said that his life began over twenty-one years earlier in a household steeped in discipline and good intentions. He recalled his mother as being not only encouraging, but also intensely afraid of letting him get too close to the world beyond the doors of the family’s apartment in Henry Horner Homes. His mother’s overprotective impulse...


    • Chapter Four Framing Social Reality: Stratification and Inequality
      (pp. 107-136)

      I first met Barry one spring afternoon in 1994 when he came into the Near West Side alderman’s community office. Barry was tall and lean, but not in an athletic way—lanky is a better description. He also had a haggard look on his face. I had long ago stopped thinking of this look as unusual for a twenty-four-year-old man living in this community. Barry told me his life story, all of which unfolded squarely within the boundaries of the Near West Side.

      As a child Barry took very few trips downtown. Because he had no friends or family outside...

    • Chapter Five Framing Individual Mobility and Attainment
      (pp. 137-155)

      On one afternoon in the summer of 1994 I sat across from Tito in the community office of the 28th Ward alderman. Dark-skinned and thin, Tito was an extremely talkative young man. Whenever he wanted to assert himself or make a special point about something in response to my questioning, he would begin by bursting out, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!. . .” followed by his commentary. Most of this occurred as he was talking about his past, which included intense periods of gangbanging, incarceration, and a very brief period of employment with a moving company. In an extremely literal sense, Tito...

    • Chapter Six Looking Up from Below: Framing Personal Reality
      (pp. 156-179)

      These words reveal Larry’s vision of a better life. His remarks, however, make no mention of the particular kinds of jobs that might act as a springboard to this kind of life. Larry mentioned employment only after I asked him directly about the kind of job that he hoped to be doing in five to ten years; he then spoke in general terms about the possibility of a unionized job with the city of Chicago. His comment about unionized work capped our discussion of his personal hopes and dreams, his failures, his views on job opportunities in Chicago, the resources...

    • Chapter Seven Getting There: Navigating Personal Mobility
      (pp. 180-198)

      When speaking about what they needed to do to get ahead in life, the men of the Near West Side said the kinds of things that one would expect from any citizen of modern-day America: they appropriated the standard public script of the American Dream by emphasizing factors such as hard work, discipline, motivation, and education. The men counted a high school diploma as essential; beyond that, they believed that the only useful education was training directly tied to one’s career interests.

      The men viewed education credentials, human capital characteristics, and appropriate attitudes about work as constituting the bare essentials...

    • Chapter Eight Recasting the Crisis of Poor Black Men
      (pp. 199-206)

      Vance Smith spoke these words one afternoon when I was in the Western Avenue community office of the 28th Ward. Nothing else that Vance had to say during my time there appears in this book because, as a man in his mid-forties, he is far above the age ceiling for this study. His life on the Near West Side has been filled with a much broader array of opportunities and encounters. Since his adolescent days in the 1960s, Vance has been a gang member and cofounder of a faction of the Vice Lord Nation, an associate of the Chicago chapter...

  8. Appendix
    (pp. 207-210)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 211-246)
  10. References
    (pp. 247-262)
  11. Index
    (pp. 263-266)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)