Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City

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9780393320787: Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City

Unsparing and important. . . . An informative, clearheaded and sobering book.―Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post (1999 Critic's Choice)

Inner-city black America is often stereotyped as a place of random violence, but in fact, violence in the inner city is regulated through an informal but well-known code of the street. This unwritten set of rules―based largely on an individual's ability to command respect―is a powerful and pervasive form of etiquette, governing the way in which people learn to negotiate public spaces. Elijah Anderson's incisive book delineates the code and examines it as a response to the lack of jobs that pay a living wage, to the stigma of race, to rampant drug use, to alienation and lack of hope.

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Review:

As sociologist Elijah Anderson shows in the detailed and devastating Code of the Street, the senseless crime in the inner city represents a complex, though ultimately self-defeating, set of social mores. These mores, called "codes," stress a hyperinflated sense of manhood through verbal boasts, drug selling, sexual prowess, and--ultimately--violence and death. "At the heart of the code is the issue of respect," Anderson writes, "loosely defined as being treated 'right' or being granted one's 'props' (or proper due) or the deference one deserves." Anderson reveals a world where unemployment is rampant, teenage pregnancy is common, and social and educational achievement is viewed as "acting white." Although Anderson states that racism is a major factor for this condition, he notes that this type of behavior is further exacerbated by modern economic and political forces, and that it has existed as far back as ancient Rome.

As an African American himself, Anderson moves through the middle- and lower-class Philadelphia neighborhoods with ease, interviewing a variety of subjects, all of whom deal daily with consequences of urban decay--from the high-achieving young woman who had to reject her poorer relatives to better herself, to the former delinquent who tries to go straight after returning from prison. For Anderson, these are the true heroes of Code of the Street: people who overcome the temptations of the streets to help create a better space for the next generation. --Eugene Holley Jr.

About the Author:

Elijah Anderson is the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

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