Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Bunker Mentality Among Inner-City Chicago Youth

Miller McCune reports on a study by Mario Small about Chicago youth, arguing that the violence of these neighborhoods destroys trust on a very basic level. Youth have "associates" not friends.

What does this do to any even minimal hope for collective empowerment in these areas?

[See Small's website for links to a range of other really important work.]
Small said they were floored when they found that a kind of “bunker mentality” held sway at both schools, even to the point that the children, both boys and girls, routinely tested their peers and were conducting “background checks” to see whether they could be trusted, cross-checking their dependability with classmates and watching them for months and years.

“It sounded like a warlike situation,” Small said. “I really don’t want to sensationalize this. But, frankly, it is so pervasive among our interviewees and so powerful that I don’t think the analogy is inappropriate. Violence is pervasive in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago. There are lots of pretty serious beatings, and the 13- and 14-year-olds are already starting to become victims. At this age, the children are still learning how to negotiate their neighborhoods on their own.”

One girl said she invited a classmate to a party and staged a fight with someone else to see if the classmate would intervene to defend her. Another girl, a seventh-grader, said she planted false gossip with people she was “watching” in order to test them. If she heard the gossip going around, then she knew those people were not her true friends.

You “start knowing you don’t need many friends,” a 15-year-old said. “You have friends but don’t let them in too close, unless you’ve been with them forever. Somebody you just met two years ago, nn-mm, don’t let them in too close…”