The Code of the Street

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  • Topic: Sociology, Inner city, The Police
  • Pages : 1 (326 words )
  • Download(s) : 388
  • Published : November 9, 2007
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Put simply, the "code of the street," which according to Anderson is prevalent in the inner city ghetto, functions as a way for African American youth to maintain social order in neighborhoods that have been abandoned by formal institutions such as the police. Unlike other social codes that informally regulate public space in mainstream American culture (in Jacobs' era or our own), a violation of the code of the street can put an individual at potentially life-threatening risk. According to Anderson, these norms of the street grow out of an opposition to mainstream culture, which itself is a response to the alienation of black inner-city residents from the economic and social institutions of a predominantly white society (p. 323). The code ensures some amount of physical protection in an environment where a violent drug economy poses a sense of danger in everyday public life. Ambient threats to personal security, combined with a distrust of the police, lead youth to develop their own policing mechanisms through which respect must be demonstrated toward those who have built reputations based on their toughness. These informal rules "prescribe both proper comportment and the proper way to respond if challenged. They regulate the use of violence and so supply a rationale allowing those who are inclined to aggression to precipitate violent encounters in an approved way" (p. 33). Thus, the code organizes public life in the community by both limiting violence and condoning it under certain circumstances.While most of the children come from families of a "decent" (that is, conformist) orientation toward mainstream values, their families often encourage them to be knowledgeable of the street code as a means of self-protection. This leads to a conflict between conformist and street orientations and requires many young people to engage in a process of "code switching" when moving across different environments. This is an old story, dating back in...
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