Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

I have to admit, I've given up on Book Club. It was great for a while, but just not cohesive enough for me. I may, however, continue to check out the books they are reading, since most of them have been really good. The title of this book is super lame (it's the name of one of the chapters in the book) so that kinda put me off it for a while. But once I picked it up, I loved it. Sudhir is a sociology graduate student at the Univ. of Chicago, living in the "nice" part of the city. He decides that he wants to study gangs and gang life (and essentially urban poverty), but not from the sterile, isolated environment of academics. He decides to somewhat infiltrate a gang to see how they work from the inside. He literally walks into the projects, asks who's in charge, and is lucky enough to meet up with s sympathetic gang leader who takes him under his wings. His narrative is written in this naive voice, as in "I had no idea these people carry guns", but he ends up being somewhat non-judgmental, which works well. To a certain extent, there were a lot of things that surprised me about gang life. For example, the gang is run like a corporation. The guys selling stuff on the streets are the lowly worker bees, while the actual gang leaders live in luxury, usually somewhere in the suburbs (ironic, isn't it?). So all those arrests for possession of drugs with intent to distribute essentially do nothing to stop drug dealing, since some kid will come along and do that job again. Another interesting thing is that there are areas were the police are not in charge. I guess I kinda knew this, but once I saw it written down, I thought about it more. When I'm in trouble, or I need help, I call the police and they will come help me. But apparently, there are some place where they won't respond, or they have too few patrols to actually do anything. I remember being somewhat shocked when Kanye West said "George Bush hates black people" on the Katrina Help program. But now, I kinda believe it. And, really, it's pretty sad. This book gave me a new perspective on gangs, poverty, urban life, and black people (is that OK?). Read it, it's phenomenal.

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