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Against the Wall

Poor, Young, Black, and Male

Edited by Elijah Anderson. Foreword by Cornel West

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The City in the Twenty-First Century

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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Foreword: Strong Men Keep A Comin On

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pp. ix-xvi

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...

Part I. Facing the Situation of Young Black Men in Inner Cities

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Chapter 1. Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male

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pp. 3-27

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...

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Chapter 2. David’s Story: From Promise to Despair

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pp. 28-37

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 flashingt lights. Police cars outside a public high school in Philadelphia are hardly newsworthy; law enforcement

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Chapter 3. Young, Black, and Male: The Life History of an American Drug Dealer Facing Death Row

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pp. 38-52

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...

Part II. Structural Analyses of Joblessness Among Black Youth

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Chapter 4. The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black Males

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pp. 55-70

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...

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Chapter 5. Blacklisted: Hiring Discrimination in an Era of Mass Incarceration

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pp. 71-86

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...

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Chapter 6. The Effects of Immigration on the Economic Position of Young Black Males

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pp. 87-101

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...

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Chapter 7. Immigration and Equal Opportunit

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pp. 102-120

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...

Part III. Engaging Urban Youth in Social Institutions

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Chapter 8. Youth Entrepreneurship Training in the Inner City: Overcoming Disadvantage, Engaging Youth in School

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pp. 123-137

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...

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Chapter 9. Black Male Students and Reflections on Learning and Teaching

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pp. 138-146

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...

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Chapter 10. Fighting like a Ballplayer: Basketball as a Strategy Against Social Disorganizatio

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pp. 147-164

Many inner-city black neighborhoods in South Philadelphia are variations of the ’hood—places with high rates of poverty, violence, singleheaded households, drug dealing, and premature death. Here and in similar urban American neighborhoods, people are indirectly monitored and supervised through physical boundaries, fraternal...

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Chapter 11. “Tell us how it feels to be a problem”: Hip Hop Longings and Poor Young Black Men

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pp. 165-178

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...

Part IV. Social Policy Matters

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Chapter 12. Social Issues Lurking in the Over-Representation of Young African American Men in the Expanding DNA Databases

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pp. 181-197

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...

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Chapter 13. “You can take me outta the ’hood, but you can’t take the ’hood outta me”: Youth Incarceration and Reentry

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pp. 198-217

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...

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Chapter 14. Suicide Patterns Among Black Males

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pp. 218-241

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...

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Chapter 15. Why Are Handguns So Accessible on Urban Streets?

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pp. 242-251

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...

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Chapter 16. What Do We Do Now? Toward a Brighter Future for Young African American Men

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pp. 252-268

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...


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pp. 269-278

List of Contributors

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pp. 279-284


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pp. 285-296


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p. 297-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206951
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220179

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The City in the Twenty-First Century