19 Urban Questions: Teaching in the City

By Shirley R. Steinberg; Joe L. Kincheloe | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN

What Does It Mean
to Be in a Gang?

Haroon Kharem

It became clear that school labeling practices and the exercise of rules oper-
ated as part of a hidden curriculum to marginalize and isolate Black male
youth in disciplinary spaces and brand them as criminally inclined.

(Ann Arnett Ferguson, 2001)

True nerve exposes a lack of fear of dying…the clear risk of violent death may
be preferable to being “dissed” by another…. Not to be afraid…has made
the concept of manhood a part of his very identity, he has difficulty manip-
ulating it—it often controls him.

(Elijah Anderson, 1995)

For many teachers, gang life is a remote and terribly frightening concept. For many Americans, in general, few things scare them as much as the possibility of running into gangs. Many of us have watched the movie Grand Canyon and can relate to the fear that Kevin Kline's character experienced when his car broke down in Los Angeles on his way home from a Lakers game. He faces the scariest group in the United States—a group of young black men. He is saved from death only by the intervention of a “good” black man, portrayed by Danny Glover. Black men must always bear the consequences of such white fear. Indeed, one cannot understand American history without insight into the role that white fear of black men has played in shaping the nation's institutions and its consciousness.

Too infrequently do teachers and students in urban teacher education gain insight into what it means to be a black, Latino, or Asian gang member. Many of the programs purporting to educate teachers and other citizens about gangs have little to say about why young people feel the need to join them. Feelings of powerlessness, a lack of respect from others, and low self-esteem experienced by young black men and women and the relationship between these feelings and gang membership are not common insights among educators. So often the ostensibly “random acts of violence” committed by gang members are directly related to efforts to assert their self-worth, to demand respect, and to defend their dignity. In the twenty-first century the only solution to the problems presented by gangs in the cities involves building more prisons, installing metal detectors in schools, and treating children as adult offenders. Such policies, however, have not worked, as

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