Chapter 7: Conclusion (pp. 208-231)
Explain the crucial significance of Liebow’s assertion that ghetto related behavior is directly related to the specific socio-economic conditions of life in the neighborhood.
This inside world does not appear as a self-contained, self-generating, self-sustaining system or even subsystem with clear boundaries marking it off from the larger world around it. It is in continuous, intimate contact with the larger society-- indeed, is an integral part of it-- and is no more impervious to the values, sentiments and beliefs of the larger society than it is to the blue welfare checks or to the agents of the larger society, such as the policeman, the police informer, the case worker, the landlord, the dope pusher, the Tupperware demonstrator, the numbers backer or the anthropologist.
How does he defend his assertion that employment is of primary importance in altering ghetto related behavior?
One of the major points of articulation between the inside world and the larger society surrounding it is in the area of employment. The way in which the man makes a living and the kind of living he makes have important consequences for how the man sees himself and is seen by others; and these, in turn, importantly shape his relationships with family members, lovers, friends and neighbors.
Jobs are only intermittently available. They are almost always menial, sometimes hard, and never pay enough to support a family. In general, the menial job lies outside the job hierarchy and promises to offer no more tomorrow than it does today.
He has little vested interest in such a job and learns to treat it with the same contempt held for it by the employer and society at large. From his point of view, the job is expendable; from the employer's point of view, he is.
How do the corner and its shadow system of values provide a sanctuary for these men?
Increasingly he turns to the streetcorner where
a shadow system of values constructed out of public fictions serves to
accommodate just such men as he, permitting them to be men once again
provided they do not look too closely at one another's credentials....
The streetcorner is, among other things, a sanctuary for those who can no longer endure the experience or prospect of failure. There, on the streetcorner, public fictions support a system of values which, together with the value system of society at large, make for a world of ambivalence, contradiction and paradox, where failures are rationalized into phantom successes and weaknesses magically transformed into strengths.
Summarize the content of the corner culture’s attitudes toward
He wants to be publicly, legally married, to support a family and be the head of it, because this is what it is to be a man in our society, whether one lives in a room near the Carry-out or in an elegant house in the suburbs.
Although he wants to get married, he hedges on his commitment from the very beginning because he is afraid, not of marriage itself, but of his own ability to carry out his responsibilities as husband and father.
He carries job failure home where his family life is undergoing a parallel deterioration. His wife's adult male models also failed as husbands and fathers and she expects no less from him. She hopes but does not expect him to be a good provider, to make of them a family and be head of it, to be "the man of the house." But his failure to do these things does not make him easier to live with because it was expected.
On the streetcorner, the man chooses to forget he got married because he wanted to get married and assume the duties, responsibilities and status of manhood; instead, he sees himself as the "put upon" male who got married because his girl was pregnant or because he was tricked, cajoled or otherwise persuaded into doing so. He explains the failure of his marriage by the "theory of manly flaws." Conceding that to be head of a family and to support it is a principal measure of a man, he claims he was too much of a man to be a man.
Outside of marriage, he sees himself as a ruthless exploiter of women. Where women are concerned, he says, a man should take what he can get when he can get it. He claims not to understand men who do otherwise.
Friendships are precious relationships and of special importance to one's sense of physical and emotional security. Ideally, friendship is seen as a system of mutual aid in which the movement of money, goods, services and emotional support flows freely out of loyalty and generosity and according to need rather than as a mutual exchange resting securely on a quidpro quo basis. But money, goods and the stuff of comfort are normally in short supply, obliging each man to keep careful if secret account of what he gives out and takes in. Moreover, each man knows that his own and his friends' resources are meager and that, unconditional pledges of mutual aid not withstanding, each will ultimately have to look to himself whenever he requires more than token assistance or aid of the kind that would materially deplete the resources of the giver. And he knows, too, that all friendships are vulnerable to the sudden clash of self-interest, especially where sex and money are concerned.
3. The Corner Culture itself
Many similarities between the lower-class Negro father and son (or mother and daughter) do not result from "cultural transmission" but from the fact that the son goes out and independently experiences
the same failures, in the same areas, and for much the same reasons as
his father. What appears as a dynamic, self-sustaining cultural process
is, in part at least, a relatively simple piece of social machinery
which turns out, in rather mechanical fashion, independently produced look-alikes.
The problem is how to change the conditions which, by guaranteeing
failure, cause the son to be made in the image of the father.
[P]overty is, indeed, a proper target in the attempt to bring lower-class Negroes "into the mainstream of American life," and it supports the long line of social scientists, from E. Franklin Frazier and Gunnar Myrdal down through Kenneth Clark and Richard Cloward, in seeing the inability of the Negro man to earn a living and support his family as the central fact of lower-class Negro life. If there is to be a change in this way of life, this central fact must be changed; the Negro man, along with everyone else, must be given the skills to earn a living and an opportunity to put these skills to work.
No one pretends that this is an easy matter, to be accomplished at one fell stroke. For many Negro men, jobs alone are no longer enough. Before he can earn a living, he must believe that he can do so, and his women and children must learn to believe this along with him. But he finds it difficult to begin without their support, and they find it difficult to give their support until he begins. The beginning, then, will doubtless be a slow one, but, once started, success will feed on itself just as failure has done. 9
How had Liebow
planned to conduct this study?
By the middle of March, Tally and I were close friends ("up tight") and I was to let hlm know if I wanted or needed "anything, anytime."
To what extent should the racial divide between the writer and his
subjects affect our judgment of the conclusions which he draws about their
Is this type of study of poverty more valuable than a statistical study which seeks to eliminate the subjective bias of human feelings and intuitive insights?