Professor speaks out about violence

Sociology professor Elijah Andersonshared firsthand reports on social isolation and the cycle of violence in the inner city in William L. Harkness Hall on Friday.

At the talk, Anderson shared observations from over 30 years of work observing inner-city life.

“Not a day goes by [that you can’t]pick up the paper and see four or five young black men slaughteredby other black men,” Anderson said, addingthat Yalies should understand the sociological factors behind violence in American cities.

For over 30 years, Anderson’s observations in the Philadelphia ghetto focused on recognizing the systemic failures that lead to the cycle of suffering, alienation and inequality in urban environments. Speaking to 25 attendees, Anderson explained the cycle of alienation.

The “code of the street” replaces government law in areas without strong police enforcement, Anderson said, adding thatcityresidents must constantly display toughness to protect themselvesand thatpeople who appear weak are quickly taken advantage of.

“[Subscribers to the code must] show in no uncertain terms that [they’re] not having it,” he said. Protecting their reputation or “street cred” is a constant battle which creates a cycle of violence.

Specifically, Anderson’s work has put him in direct contact with residents in Philadelphia.

“I’m an ethnographer.What that means is I spend time with real people,I get to know people, their neighbors, their ministers,” Anderson said.

Ethnography is a scientific research strategy used to gather data on human societies and aims to describe the subjects through writing. Ethnography usually studies people, ethnic groups and their formation.

He said he tries to understand individuals’problems from their perspective and how they meet the demands of everyday life.

Anderson said he believes these killings define the black community to outsiders.Most peopleviewDixwell Avenue as a typical ghetto, likethose described in mainstream rap music, Anderson said.But this perspective is too simplified, and ignores the presence of “decent people” in the inner city,he said.

“Most peoplego to church, believe in the Lord, or have some notion of fate or religiosity,” Anderson said. “But the decent people are under pressure […]when you step outside your door, you have to present that you are capable of dealing with the street.”

But there is an upside, Anderson said, as there are many concrete steps society can take to break the cycle of violence.

“These people need mentors. They need help with homeworkthis works against the alienation,” Anderson said, challenging the audience to speak out.

Nia Holston’14, who attended the talk, said she hopes itwill help Yalies see New Haven in a different light. “It’s not a monolithic community,” she said.

In addition, astable urban environment is not an impossibility, Anderson said. “Most people are decent, trying to be decent,” Andersonsaid. “If people weren’t decent, it would be chaotic, and it’s not chaotic … I know it’s not.”

Andersonhas written and edited over seven books on the black experience in the inner city, most notably, “The Code of the Street: Race, Decency and Moral Life in the Inner City.”

Anderson will publish “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life” in March2011.

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