Runnin' Down Some Lines: Book Review

Topics: Ghetto, South Los Angeles, Adolescence Pages: 8 (2912 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Deprived of opportunities for advancement in mainstream society, [black ghetto] teenagers elevate their personal style into a philosophy of life. Their exemplars are pimps and gangsters.... Gangs develop to bolster self-identity through psychological control of the streets; hip "threads" and "freaked out" cars also serve as outward signs of inner creativity. Both sexes consider coitus ("doin' the do") a natural and desirable part of adolescence; soft drugs, primarily marijuana ("tea"), also offer a temporary alternative to the harsh reality of ghetto existence. But embracing all of these is the vernacular itself - in its grace, flexibility, and strength it is a valuable tool for "gettin' down," for "blowin' fire," ultimately for staying alive... (Anderson 1981:233-234).

Edith A Folb is a white woman who threw herself into the depths of one of America's most notorious ghettos for nearly nine years of fieldwork on the language and culture of African-American teenagers. She left the University of California, Los Angeles in 1964, midway through an increasingly dissatisfying Ph.D. program, to involve herself in a variety of community-based activities in the hopes of determining the future course of her life. After two years of working amongst the predominantly black inhabitants of South Central Los Angeles, Folb returned to school with a better subject of focus for her studies. She had found her calling in the last place most people would think to look; in the heart of the ghetto. "So, in 1967, [she] began the systematic study of black teenage vernacular vocabulary" (Folb 1980:viii).

In 1980, Edith A. Folb's first book, runnin' down some lines: the language and culture of black teenagers, was published. The book is based on her extensive first-hand research on the teens of South Central. She spent over eight years operating within the community, interviewing many teens and conversing less formerly with countless others. Folb feels that these youths are representative of an aspect of American society both disregarded and misunderstood by the white majority. She even goes as far as to refer to the ghetto as a "country" of its own within the boundaries of the United States (Folb 1980:2). Her goal is to shed some light on the otherwise dark subject of inner city culture. Folb believes that the manner in which the teens of South Central speak may "tell those who would listen what it means to be young and black and live in a ghetto community" (Folb 1980:4).

To open the book, she describes her experiences as a white female participant observer in an area where both white females and either of the words participant or observer are highly uncommon. As the book progresses, she explains how studying the teens' vocabulary serves as a means of examining their lifestyles. The book has chapters on "name terms in the black community", street sense and values, "male-female interaction", drugs in the community, and "the dynamic nature of black teen jargon" (Baugh 1981:475-476). Although she may lack substantial evidence for some of her conclusions and empirical evidence for some of her generalizations (Scott 1981:189), the book does present the reader with an interesting analysis of the African-American teenagers of South Central Los Angeles. In defining her goal, Folb writes: "It is my hope that this book will begin to acknowledge the significance of lexicon in understanding a groups concerns, values, and expectations" (Folb 1980:4).

Give me a black goddess sister I can't resist her. No stringy haired, blonde hair, blue eyed, pale skinned buttermilk complexion. Grafted, recessive, depressive, ironing board backside straight up and straight down. No frills, no thrills, Miss six o'clock, subject to have the itch, mutanoid, caucazoid, white cave bitch... (Ice Cube 1993).

As the words of Dr. Khalid Muhammed from rapper Ice Cube's 1993 song Cave Bitch indicate, the white woman is not the most...
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