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Updated 2:00 PM January 13, 2004



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Panelists to discuss race, poverty affecting various communities

Despite their economic status, not all low-income Black men are angry, frustrated or prone to react with violence or hostility, says a professor who will speak during the MLK Symposium.

Alford Young Jr. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

Instead, they think carefully about their lives, but often don't realize that having a "good life" requires more than a high school degree, and relies on expanding one's horizons, says Alford Young Jr., associate professor in the Department of Sociology and in the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies.

"These men ... don't have the same experiences [as more-privileged Americans] to understand the world because they don't leave poor environments. Their lives could be enriched, in some cases, by obtaining a college education and interacting in an environment that exposes them to a richer, more diverse way to pursue mobility," he says.

Young, author of the newly released book "The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity, and Future Life Chances," is one of three social scientists scheduled to speak at the National Poverty Center's MLK event, "Qualitative Research to Unravel the Race/Ethnicity and Poverty Relationship," 3:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in the Michigan League's Henderson Room.

In his book, Young examines how 26 poverty-stricken Black men in Chicago understand their social position and relationship to the American dream. He documents their definitions of good jobs and the good life, as well as their beliefs about whether and how these can be attained.

The poorest and most socially isolated are most likely to believe that individuals can improve their own lot, Young writes. By contrast, men who leave their neighborhood regularly tend to have a wider range of opportunities but also have met with more racism, hostility and institutional obstacles—making them less likely to believe in the American dream, he says.

"Demonstrating how these men interpret their social world, this book seeks to de-pathologize them without ignoring their experiences with chronic unemployment, prison and substance abuse," he says.

The book's premise originated in the 1990s when Young did his dissertation at the University of Chicago. He grew up in a middle-income family residing in a low-income neighborhood in New York. While interacting with other Black men in the neighborhood, Young developed a strong interest in their experiences and compared them with his own.

During his research interviews, Young learned that some of these men incorrectly assumed that either getting a high school diploma or having a well-paid job was the ticket for success, rather than a college degree.

The other speakers are Mario Luis Small of Princeton University, who wrote "Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in an Urban Barrio," and John Hartigan Jr. of the University of Texas at Austin, who authored "Racial Situations: Class Predicaments of Whiteness in Detroit."

Each panelist conducted ethnographic research within an ethnically and racially specific poor community. They will describe their research and discuss the ways in which racial/ethnic identity and poverty inter-relate in the communities they studied.

Small's book examines a neglected Puerto Rican enclave in Boston to consider the pros and cons of social scientific thinking about the true nature of ghettos in America. Hartigan challenges claims that race is culturally constructed and, hence, simply false and distorting. He asserts the need to explain how race is experienced by people as a daily reality.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

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