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Dome Pondering Classic - "Living Life Uphill: The Battle of America's Inner City Children"

A recent discussion with a close and loved one over different surroundings and upbringings reminded me of this piece. After searching through the vault, it was found, and a post was inevitable. The long read (And I mean long) was written in 2003 for a introductory writing course. So without any further due, here it is...

Living Life Uphill: The Battle of America's Inner City Children

Manifesto
Throughout history, there have been many forms of life and culture. Dating as far back as the origin of this great nation, many have lead different lives. From those that made their living in the open plains farming to the others who manned factories and industrialization plants in the cities, life has given everyone different cards to play with. Nonetheless, everyone worked with what they had to make life and society better for the entire population. People were people. No matter where they grew up, or resided, a man from the outskirts of Chicago was looked at the same as a man from the mid-west. However, over the years, certain stereotypes began to settle in about different people and their background or residency.

These stereotypes began to develop as our society began to develop and life became more complicated. Lives have become so different, that a person from urban America has no understanding about rural life, and vice versa. This is the root of the ignorance that drives these stereotypes to existence. Our understanding of opposing living and the little truths that we know about them has developed into many myths and lies which label another person.

As an individual that was born and raised in the heart of New York City, I understand how ignorant one can get on another person’s lifestyle or background. Before entering college, I was pretty oblivious to other forms of culture beside city life. Hearing about farming, cattle, cows and especially equine was something that was new to me and something that I had to understand. On the other hand, as I introduced myself to others as the year went on, I found a startling response on nearly everyone’s faces as I responded to their question of “where are you from?” with a simple response of , “Brooklyn, NY”. It seems I was not what they expected of a kid from the “inner city”. A statement which got me thinking about how much inner city kids are stereotyped, and how often these stereotypes are turned in to discriminating fallacies of our lives. My goal here is to analyze these truths and the mythology that falls from them and focus in on how they create a difficult life for inner city youth.

Critical Article

For many Americans, the inner city is a place that is perceived by many based on media, statistics and “hear-say”, rather than on a personal perception. The lack of an understanding of what the inner city is all about as opposed to what is reported is a major cause of this. In the book The Inner City-A Handbook for Renewal, Roger Kemp agrees by stating, “Empty Stores? Gang graffiti spray-painted on walls? Idle men on street corners? Driving in to such a neighborhood, middle-class, suburban dwellers promptly lock their car doors. Right or wrong, this reflects a sense that they have entered a world separate from, and threatening to, ‘mainstream’ America” (Kemp 29).

Such a misunderstanding has made it hard on those who reside or whose roots are in the inner city, especially on the youth. The inner city youth of today are the ones who are feeling the backlash of these myths and stereotypes. The truths that are evident within inner cities have grown into mythological shams that are used to describe the products of the inner city. These myths have caused a strong stereotype which has altered the thoughts of many regarding inner city kids. There are specific stereotypes which have made it very difficult on inner city kids due to the constant labeling of “who and what they are”.

Education

The first and probably the most important of all the stereotypes of an inner city kid is their education. The inner cities are obviously filled with many people, which have caused schools to be overcrowded. Due to this, many schools have short changed their students on receiving a proper education. This is the truth. In a recent study taken in 2000, it reveals high schools within the New York City area graduated just over 66 percent of their students (Kemp 140). This a very startling fact, as the production of tomorrow’s lawyers, doctors and businessmen begin with a good education. Roger Kemp also brings up another good point when he states, “In some inner-city high schools, negative social capital develops, in which dropping out is the norm and peer pressure and community sanctions work against academic achievement” (Kemp 33). Due to most of the budget being occupied to meet the needs of the overcrowded school as well as other things such as metal detectors and security, children are not given a fair shot at a proper educational experience. Roger Kemp follows this up when he states, “…most school buildings are underutilized outside of school hours and could offer valuable recreational, educational and meeting space” (Kemp 90). Education is a real issue across the cities of America, and its lack of producing college bound individuals is the focal point of all these statements and statistics.

However, this truth has created a huge stereotype about the educational experience of an inner city youth. The stereotype is the common saying that inner city youths are not college material. In a news release from the University of Guelph it supports this by stating “Teachers and counselors are looking at where these kids come from and are thinking, ‘No one from that neighborhood can succeed in college.’ So they tell these kids, ‘You must be good with your hands. Why don’t you become an auto mechanic rather than a doctor’…The public perception is that people from these areas cannot succeed in the labor market or the educational system” (What Should you be…). This myth derives from the truth of only 66 percent of inner city kids earning a high school diploma. Although the numbers are shocking, graduates from the inner city are more “battle tested” than most kids. A study in the book The Truly Disadvantaged, William Julius Wilson reports that graduates from inner cities who attend college are less likely to drop out of college than kids from other areas. This proves that children who are from the inner city are indeed college material! As a matter of fact, in some cases, the inner city kid that graduated in a class that saw 50% receive diplomas is fit for college more than a suburban kid that graduated with his entire class. The myth questions the motivation and ambitions of the urban youth. This raises another issue which inner city kids deal with on a constant basis.

Violence

According Roger Kemp, “Two crime problems plague America’s cities: crime itself and the fear of crime. The two are only partly related, in that fear may reflect an atmosphere of decline and indifference as much as the risk of victimization. However, both devastate community life” (Kemp 87). Devastation of community life is exactly what crime does in the cities of America. It is no secret that crime is very high in urban areas. In fact, the inner cities of America are responsible for over 70 percent of crime throughout the nation. Of that 70 percent, the majority are individuals under the age of 21 who are responsible for the crimes (Kemp 88). This is the reality of the inner city. Crime is high, and juvenile involvements are “said to be” at all-time highs.

However, with such statistics floating around, many once again have drawn a huge conclusion about inner-city kids. Their thoughts on such a fact has created a myth that all inner city kids are either violent or trouble-makers in the waiting. One has to question, are these reasons justifiable enough to label inner-city kids as trouble makers? In the book Disorder and Decline, Wesley Skogan presents a very good counter argument when he mentions how children who are raised in rural areas take part in underage drinking far more than any other upbringing environment; yet, children from these areas are not stereotyped as drunks (Skogan 98). Why the label on the urban youth? Nonetheless such a stereotype is unsubstantiated. How can you make such a judgment without taking into consideration that the inner city has a greater population of youth than the suburbs or any rural areas? Of course, the inner-city’s rates of juvenile crime will be highest. Also, how do you validate the other part of the percentage that does not have infractions on their record? Is it fair to them? No.

On the other hand, according to a survey taken in the counties of California regarding Inner city youth, it shows that youth arrests have indeed decreased every year since 1991.
www.cjcj.org/jjic/myths_facts.php

This presents the issue of “are we receiving all the facts?” According to Dean Askew, a youth advisor for several inner city organizations, positive images of the inner city are “against our mindset, our beliefs, and our conformity” (Kurtz). Askew follows up by using the unfortunate Columbine high school situation as an example by stating, “[I] was saddened by the killings- but doubted such a summit would have taken place had the shootings struck an urban school, where many students were less affluent or representatives of minorities…we live in the cycle of violence everyday. Nobody cares. As long as it stays in the inner city, its fine” (Hurtz). Could the inner-cities be the scapegoat for the violence across America? Askew definitely thinks so and feels that this may be an initial root of the stereotype against the inner city and its youth.

Personality & Characteristics
The final and probably the most passionate stereotype in which inner-city kids become heated about is the labeling of their personality. This is usually a result of the constant fascination with the negativity of inner-city education and violence. The reality of this situation is very tough to analyze or pin point as the character of any individual is complex and intricate. However, it is fair to say that the characteristic and personality of an inner-city kid is abrasive, aggressive, and loyal. These are qualities of their personality that are inherited tendencies as they live and grow in the urban areas of America. Such personas are established because of the nature of the environment. With violence and low education rates, inner-city kids are always on their guard and defensive about potential opportunities for negative occasions. They are experienced to the randomness that occurs in their environment. They have seen the worst that can happen and being prepared and on guard is an essential part of city life.

However, those characteristics are blown way out of proportion. From the truth of inner-city kids being abrasive, aggressive and loyal, many stereotypes were formed and have stuck. The first stereotype is that all inner-city kids are “thugs”. This was brought on because inner-city kids are tough. The mentality of being aggressive is taken wrong and looked at as being used harmfully. Another stereotype is that the loyalty that an inner-city child expresses for his or her home city is associated with gang warfare. Other stereotypes include the appearance and interests of an inner-city kid. First and foremost, inner-city kids are expected to wear baggy clothes, with fitted hats, sneakers and expensive jewelry better known as “bling bling” or “ice”. They are interested in hip-hop and rap music and are usually close minded to any other forms of musical expression. Their language is filled with vulgarity and boldness. Their confidence and optimistic attitudes are constantly being mistaken for arrogance.

These are all myths about the “average” inner-city kid. How can you label the personality of an individual? People are people and they all have different personalities. Is a kid who is from the inner-city and is nice and polite any different than one that is rude and bold? If he wears fitting clothing and talks cleanly, is he less “urbanized” than a kid who wears baggy clothing and uses vulgarity? To place a stamp on personality and characteristic is ridiculous and insane. We all know what and where we came from. There is always a sense of that no matter what you like, listen to or wear.

My Thoughts
The culture of the inner-city life is one that is often mistaken and misunderstood. The truths about the inner-cities of America are plenty, filled with statistics, facts and results. With so many people residing there, the inner-cities are typical and easier for studies and such survey work to be done. Results are accurate and closer to the likeness of the people. However as seen, these truths often lead to many myths which stereotype inner-city kids. I often feel that these stereotypes make life on an inner-city kid difficult. Not only are the truths of low high school graduation rates, violence and being constantly on-guard enough for a child to deal with, but add the constant stereotypes of not being college material, fighting off labels of being violent and trying to stay “true to the hood” and you’ve got a lot for a child to deal with. A child in the inner-city faces the evils of his environment, along with the odds of his reality and the marker of a society.

It is pretty interesting how the stereotypes of the inner city are mostly negative. Of the truths presented in this article, not one positive stereotype stemmed from them. In fact this cloud of negativity over the entire inner-city puts a stress on kids. When everything is always against them, of course there will be a feeling of hopelessness. In fact, kids of other childhood backgrounds think of their peers in negative ways. I conducted a survey asking college students of suburbia and rural childhoods asking them about five thoughts of an inner-city child. The most popular responses were:

1. Street Smart
2. Poor Education
3. Loyal
4. Poor
5. Aggressive
6. Thug
7. Not Respectful to Authority
8. Criminal

Notice, of all the responses on that list, two of them are positive. This does not fair well for the life of an inner-city child who has to prove that he is not one of those highly stereotypical myths. First encounters for inner city youth are usually spent breaking down stereotypes instead of building impressions.

As a product of the inner-city, I understand what it is like to go through such a thing. I am of a few that graduated from high school and went on to college. I do not swear or use vulgarity. I listen to other forms of music along with hip-hop and rap. I do not consider myself violent. I wear baggy clothing, but my pants do not sag down off my rear end and I do not wear jewelry. But I am from the inner-city. This is my life. This is who I am. Being from the inner-city has nothing to do with “being something”. It’s about being something. Being from the inner-city is about surviving the surroundings, making something out of nothing and beating the odds. It’s about heart. It’s about courage. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about life. In an article written by an unknown author about the inner city life, he or she states, “This is an attempt to open your eyes, to let you see and understand this segment of the world. I need you to be conscious of not only what is going on, but what the root causes of these problems are. Nothing is given to the inner-city youth. Not an adequate education, not a safe living environment. Nothing” (Inner City Life). But, this is the life we were given, an uphill battle full of statistics, facts, reports, surveys, stereotype, judgment, and myth.

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