Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Inner city kids and our culture. . .

The fresh graffiti sketch stood out bright red thanks to the "Bloods" trademark it portrayed right there on the stall wall inside our downstairs men's restroom at our Haskell Avenue Resource Center.

Bloods and Crypts and gang warfare--inner city reality. I hate to see the signs of this negative presence.

It strikes me that when life turns hopeless, a growing number of urban youth turn the entire matter into a video game-like experience.

Busting a cap up against somebody's head seems no more difficult than firing away with the aid of a joystick after dropping a couple of coins in a game machine.

While there is absolutely no justification for the violence often accompanying this urban fact of life, it does seem useful to ask, "How did we get here?"

What's up with all of this?

It is really difficult to come close to the beginning of any semblance of understanding if you view the situation through middle-class eyes.

The turmoil experienced by urban youth is driven in part by the economics of the social context. I would argue economics plays a large part.

We live in a very material world. Cities epitomize the material. The kids who reside in the cities of the U. S. don't get an exemption from this cultural reality.

We can talk all day about "the importance of spiritual values," but the fact remains, young people are shaped by our marketing, consumer-dominated, material society.

Think about it.

Television, advertising, music, movies, print media, billboards--everywhere any of us turn we are being sold on something and our need for it. In fact, we are all bombarded on a daily basis, so much so that we've come to expect it. [For some reason at this point my imagination takes me to the annual Super Bowl commercial competition!]

Identity is transactional in the U. S. today. To be somebody, to enjoy not only the "good life," but the hip life, you have to own, use, possess, consume.

Hard to do if you're broke.

Hard not to compare yourself and your circumstance to folks across town who seem to "have it all goin' on," especially when your neighborhood is a mess and no one wants to pay any attention to it, except possibly to tell you how dangerous and bad it is.

Complicate the entire picture now by adding in the mythology of the drug trade. You know, the notion that you can make "big money" running drugs--one of the inner city's cruelest lies. The only people making real money in drug trafficking don't live in the ghettos of American, you can be certain of that!

With limited funds, opportunity, hope and healthy community, those who buy the unrelenting sell of American consumer culture band together, sometimes in gangs, but usually just as kids full of their music, their "look" and their swagger, without much direction or purpose.

What's needed here is serious intervention. Of course, many of us who are trying to interrupt the cycle are trapped in our own ways by the same materialist curse!

What's the answer? Where is the way through?

Relationships. Friendships. Honest conversation. Risking it by simply reaching out. Placing oneself in unusual circumstances and venues to simply communicate that there are people who care and that there is a better way.

I suppose I'm talking about a new kind of spirituality crafted and experienced with the help of many of the very values and lifestyle choices that can challenge the urban scene today.

Those who make the effort to understand, to connect, simply to be present--those folks will matter in a big way.


owldog said...

I have to ask and it does relate to todays topic also :)

Were any of the teenagers at the Greenville party who DID NOT have ID "white" and if so what happened to them?

Travis Stanley said...

There's a great chapter in the book Freakonomics about the economy of the inner city drug trade. It opened my eyes to the reality.www

Justin said...

I'd say one of the first things we need to do is legalize drugs. When they are legalized (and regulated and taxed by government) there would be no black market profits for anyone, which would cut down on gangs and turf wars defending their drug territory. When alcohol was illegal, white gangs formed and organized crime went nuts. Prohibition is never the answer.

dmowen said...

I agree with Justin at least in the case of marijuana. I think the net effects of such a move would be beneficial for our society and economy. It can be grown in the US which would give struggling farmers another cash crop and possibly allow us to reduce farm subsidies. It would help reduce violence in the border towns, because it would no longer be lucrative to smuggle it across the border. The reduced demands on the criminal justice system and revenues from taxes could be put into programs aimed at treating drug addiction as a disease, not a crime. Lessons learned from litigation in the tobacco industry and strong regulation from the beginning would probably make large corporations reluctant to market marijuana aggressively to new audiences. I don't think marijuana use would dramatically increase because there would still be strong social disapproval, just as there is for smoking.

Anonymous said...

We have legalized drugs,
we call them pharmaceuticals.

Understand the dynamics of
the body's chemistry and mental illness, then look at drug and alcohol addictions.

Having money = having insurance, a psychiatrist and a pharmacist.

No money = having a dealer and an addiction.

cynthia o.

Larry James said...

A couple of things.

First, owldog, it is my understanding that all of the students were Hispanic.

Second, the issue here is not drugs. The issue is hopelessness in the face of consumer/material expectations as communicated by the entire culture. The question for urban youth who are poor remains, "How can I be 'somebody' as defined by the America I see, watch and know?"

Anonymous said...

We walk-it then we talk-it

We talk about advantages of the 13 year old car we drive,
and the "almost paid for house",
we tell the truth, "it came from a Thrift Store" when we're complemented on a possesion,
we model how you can live without debt, we pay cash.

It's not glamorous, but speaking about the benefits of "owning" as opposed to "being owned by" is a legacy my g-ma gave me, and I have passed on to my two