Jay MacLeod wandered his way into the Clarendon Heights public housing development for the first time in 1981. A sophomore in college at the time, MacLeod and two other students arranged a meeting with the Tenant Council to form a summer youth program. (preface) The council approved his idea for a youth program after much discussion as to motives behind the program and possible funding. MacLeod claims he gained more insight to life and learned more lounging around the hallways of Clarendon Heights than he did studying in the dorms at his local University.
He was inspired by the youths he worked with to write his undergraduate thesis on the contrast between two strikingly different groups of teenagers who lived in this poor neighborhood. MacLeod focused his research on the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. He submerged himself in their lifestyle and culture for a year in order to get a firm grip on their reality. Jay MacLeod’s ability to delve right into their peer culture gave him the opportunity to scrutinize and observe their true aspirations, values, and social issues.
Over a period of twelve years, MacLeod, slowly found harsh economic inequality and a lack of social mobility for people born in low-income neighborhoods. It seemed as if America, the land of opportunity, should change their motto to a more appropriate and honest catchphrase! In order to analyze the teenage male population of this low-income neighborhood, MacLeod chooses to focus on two peer groups, the hallway hangers and the brothers. Therefore, he selected a sample within the Clarendon Heights. The Hallway Hangers consisted of primarily white males that tended to hang out in a specific hallway in the project(pg. ).
These eight young men had low aspirations and almost zero confidence in social mobility. The second group was made up of almost all black males who called themselves the Brothers (pg. 6). These men spoke with high expectations for their future and much hope for opportunity. Aspirations arbitrate the hopes and dreams of an individual and what society can both provide and offer to the individual. Therefore, MacLeod was highly interested in discovering the link between the youth’s goals and what could accomplish with the lack of opportunities accessible to them.
The Hallway Hangers show extreme lack of faith in the American education system. They have no desire to attain success through educational opportunity. In addition, they posses a high degree of racism in their viewpoints and attitudes. Furthermore, their racist beliefs hinder their ability to be optimistic and lead to increased aggression and violent behavior. The young men have negative attitudes towards their futures, ” Out here, there’s not the opportunity to make money. That’s how you get into stealin’ and all that shit… All right, to get a job, first of all, this is a handicap, out here.
If you say you’re from the projects or anywhere in this area, that can hurt you. Right off the bat: reputation. ” The Hallway Hangers display a strong example of how Americans believe that residence in public housing shall be viewed as utter failure. Moreover, the Hallway Hangers are a perfect example of how many people that do reside in such projects are ashamed to admit where they reside. When the Hallway Hangers think of social mobility they view such high barriers and their pessimism overrides their ability to even see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Therefore, the Hallway Hangers opt to be chauvinistic and hostile instead of holding high expectations for occupational achievement. The seven Brothers consist of six black males and one white male who reside in the Clarendon Heights. These youths truly believe American is a land of opportunity and they refuse to give up their belief. The Brothers do not see such high societal barriers, therefore; tend to set higher goals and achieve occupational status because they believe there is hope for social mobility.
One brother comments, ” If you put your mind to it, if you want to make a future for yourself, there’s no reason why you can’t. It’s a question of attitude. ” The Brothers attempt to excel in school because they believe that education will help them surpass the hardships and struggles that go hand-in-hand with growing up in poor American neighborhoods. The Brothers seem to follow the ideals and norms of teenage American society ,”In contrast to the Hallway Hangers, the Brothers accommodate themselves to accepted standards of behavior and strive to fulfill social approved roles(pg. 43)”.
The brothers value the education that is available to them and continue to participate in dominant American activities such as playing sports. Furthermore, the each member of the Brothers holds a strong desire to attain employment in the near future. They do not believe in the theory that the United States merely is a land where the “rich get richer and the poor stay poor”. Although it is breathtaking how optimistic the Brothers are towards social mobility in America, it is actually a hallucination for some people who may never have the chance to achieve their dreams in the “land of opportunity. ”
In order to understand the hopes of these two peer groups, MacLeod, examines the resistance that lower-class individuals must undergo that hinder their opportunity in attaining aspirations. The Social reproduction theory identifies barriers to social mobility. Pierre Bourdrieu’s theory on social reproduction focuses mainly on cultural capital. Bourdrieu says that upper-class children are given benefits towards achieving a better education and therefore achieve a higher level of success in school and employment. Students of upper-class households are more familiar to the dominant American culture.
In addition, they engage in activities that a lower-class student would not have the opportunity to engage in. For example, upper-class children attend concerts, museums, speak with highly educated adults both in the home and outside the home while with their parents. In addition, students residing in upper-class towns or suburbs tend to visit the library more often or own their own books. Boudreiu’s theory of cultural capital has four main points. First, schools reward children with opportunities who embody the upper-class while looking down upon students of lower class.
Second, he argues that even if parents have high occupational status there educational status places more emphasis on academic performance in their child. Third, Bourdieu demonstrates how school reinforces social inequality by reproducing class privilege and inducing inequality. Finally, he says that success or failure in American schools is determined by social class. Although these may seem like bold or extreme statements, there is much truth to Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital. His theory can be seen in the Hallway Hangers, the Brothers, and there are cases such as these all over the United States.
The truth may be hard to swallow but social mobility is extremely lacking in the United States and many Americans are just beginning to realize this frightening and ugly truth. Most Americans are aware of social class and its effect on students. The achievement ideology states that if you work hard and are smart enough, you will make it in America. MacLeod looks at these two groups and ponders why two distinctive groups can suffer from the same horrible fate. It is obvious that the Hallway Hangers have rejected the achievement ideology.
The Hallway Hangers show minor appreciation for education but do value its importance to an extent. Given the status and conditions of their low-income neighborhood they merely toss the idea that the achievement ideology is promising. The Brothers accept the perception that if an individual works hard, they will attain their goals despite any lingering barriers. Unfortunately, the Brothers hard work, values and good ethic does not surpass the structural forces of class and race in America that oppose their goals. Eight years later the outcomes of these peer groups is not exceptionally different.
With the exception of a few, none have moved towards attaining a higher education. Most have experienced long spells of unemployment or are stuck at the bottom of the totem pole with jobs that hold not only no prestige but pay minimum wage. Quite a few have been locked up in jail or found themselves addicted to drugs whether they engaged in such deviant behavior in the past or not. The Hallway brothers continue to resort to blaming their social location and tend to utilize excuses to make themselves feel better about their social status.
The Hallway Hangers feel victimized by their status of white men and find comfort in being both racist and sexist. Therefore, they throw racial and sexist remarks around as if it is appropriate or apart of their everyday vocabulary. In contrast, the Brothers only blame themselves for their the gap between their aspirations and their actual achievement. “Ain’t no makin’ it” vividly demonstrates that the United States has an extremely stable class structure. The myth that America is the land of opportunity withholds just enough to preserve that social mobility does not exist.
Meager social mobility also allows the thought that social barriers that hinder success are merely personal to withhold (pg. 240). Poverty is viewed in America as being an individual problem so that it is not obvious that poverty is structurally evident. The results from the Hallway Hanger and Brothers study are discouraging and disheartening. Class structure is unyielding in American Society. One’s intelligence, ambition, and hard work often fail to break through structural inequality. Although not impossible, moving up in social class is difficult, unusual, and highly impressive when done.