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GeoBooks: Elijah Anderson,
Code of The Street
Reviewed By Courtney Williams

The book Code of The Street describes in detail the many issues that are prevalent within the inner city today. These issues included morality, teen pregnancy, the campaign for respect and the absence of economic opportunity.
Anderson used the research he obtained from an ethnography conducted in Philadelphia during the 1990’s to compose the book. The ethnography entailed studying African Americans in certain sections of the city, and reflecting on information obtained from informants and his observation.

Anderson described families in the inner city as either decent families with middle class mainstream values, or street oriented families that do not identify with the broader society. Regardless of a families values people interact continuously on the street. This is done at schools, in playgrounds, or in the open public.

Depending on what a families values were that dictated how young people carried themselves as they moved about the streets. For individuals being raised in decent homes it was essential for them to become street-smart and recognize that the street’s code was in effect. The children of street oriented families were described as those engaged in the drug trade and the perpetrators of all that is negative in the neighborhood. Some of these negative actions included drug dealing, stick-ups, and murder.

While seeking respect in the streets people presented themselves in a manner that suggests they were not to be tested. People did various things to acquire respect, which included fighting, jumping people, and in extreme situations shooting others. For if one did not have respect they would be tried or tested by both members of their peer group and strangers who viewed them as vulnerable.

Without respect or a reputation that demanded it, one’s street credibility was questionable. Actions that were respectable included everything opposite of mainstream society, which normally includes an appreciation of religion, hard work ethic, and academics.

Concerning teen pregnancy Anderson noted that teens begin having sex at young ages, and they are not aware of the long-term complications that they subject themselves to. When adolescents engage in such activities they sometimes do become pregnant whether expectedly or unexpectedly. Teenage males were referred to as not wanting a stable relationship, but they viewed having children as a sign of manhood. Most often women were left with the overwhelming task of raising children themselves, or with the help of their family.

Anderson explained that the “decent daddy” was scarce in the inner city. He gave examples of how males denied the legitimacy of their children. For instance if one was skeptical about a female’s faithfulness, or character then they would deny the child. Sometimes this would also be the scenario if the male knew that he was indeed the father.

There are many reasons why the issues mentioned are prevalent in the inner city. The author argues that some of the reasons include the lack of role models, and an insufficient economy. Decades ago there were many economic opportunities available in the inner city until companies relocated overseas and computers began to make a revolutionary impact.

Overall Anderson produced a very unique book, it was quite similar to The Philadelphia Negro that was written by W.E.B. DuBois in 1899 while he was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. DuBois’ ethnography was more extensive than Anderson’s, for he focused on all aspects of life in the African American community, and during that period these issues were not as prevalent as they are today.

The Code of The Street gets 4 out of 5 globes. This accounts for Anderson’s effort and passion in the field of sociology. He could have been surveying the amount of people that ride public transportation, after all that’s sociology! Nonetheless he chose to focus on an issue that needs immediate intervention.

For future reference drive from Chestnut Hill to North Philly via Germantown Ave. and take notice of the socio-economic differences from street to street.

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