Guns, Violence, and Identity among African American and Latino Youth

By Deanna L. Wilkinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Violent Events and Social Identity:
Specifying the Relationship between Respect and
Masculinity

“Toughness” has been central to masculine identity in many social contexts of American life. Issues of respect, honor, and pride are repeatedly described as central features of male identity formation beginning in early adolescence. Physical prowess, emotional detachment, and the willingness to engage in violence to resolve interpersonal conflicts are seen as hallmarks of adolescence (Anderson, 1994; Anderson, 1999; Canada, 1995; Messerschmidt, 1993). While these terms have been used to explain high rates of interpersonal violence among nonwhites in central cities, toughness has persistently been highly regarded, a source of considerable status among adolescents in a wide range of subcultures from streetcorner groups to gangs (Canada, 1995; Goffman, 1959; Goffman, 1963; Goffman, 1967; Goffman, 1983; Hagedorn, 1997; Hannerz, 1969; Miller, 1958; Toch, 1969; Whyte, 1943; Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1982).

The process of self-preservation through displays of toughness, nerve, or violent behavior is considered a necessary part of day-to-day life for inner-city adolescents, especially young males (Anderson, 1994; Anderson, 1999; Canada, 1995; Wilkinson & Fagan, 1996). Violence often is used to perpetuate and refine the pursuit of toughness, and to claim the identity of being among the toughest. Acquiring fighting skills (and perhaps more importantly shooting experience): is considered important as a means of survival in the inner city (Sullivan, 1989:113). Perceived insults or transgressions typically have been grounds for fighting (Anderson, 1978; Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Strodtbeck & Short, 1968; Suttles, 1968; Thrasher, 1927; Whyte, 1943; Wolfgang, 1958). “Fair fights” have consistently represented the most elementary form of interpersonal violence among inner city youths.

Impression management seems to be an important aspect of negotiating the street world. The status and reputations earned through violent means provide inner city adolescent males with positive feelings of self worth and “large” identities especially when other opportunities for identity development are not available (Hagedorn,

-221-

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