Stereotypes of economically marginalized black and brown youth focus on drugs, gangs, violence, and teen parenthood. Families, schools, nonprofit organizations, and institutions in poor urban neighborhoods emphasize preventing such "risk behaviors." In The Making of a Teenage Service Class, Ranita Ray uncovers the pernicious consequences of concentrating on risk behaviors as key to targeting poverty. Having spent three years among sixteen black and Latina/o youth, Ray shares their stories of trying to beat the odds of living in poverty. Their struggles of hunger, homelessness, and untreated illnesses are juxtaposed with the perseverance of completing homework, finding jobs, and spending long hours traveling from work to school to home. By focusing on the lives of youth who largely avoid drugs, gangs, violence, and teen parenthood, the book challenges the idea that targeting these “risk behaviors” is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Ray compellingly demonstrates how the disproportionate emphasis on risk behaviors reinforces class and race hierarchies and diverts resources that could support marginalized youth’s basic necessities and educational and occupational goals.
Ranita Ray is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"A rich, vivid ethnographic account of the barriers young people from a low-income community face; excellent for teaching. Highly recommended."—Annette Lareau, author of Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
"This ethnography of the cruel illusion of upward mobility in the context of growing social inequality in America follows marginalized black and Latino youth who are 'playing by the rules.' They avoid drugs, gangs, and teenage parenthood and even apply to college, only to find themselves putting in 'mad hours' at underpaid, insecure, dead-end service sector jobs, scrambling to survive. The contemporary lie of the American dream comes alive in the everyday struggles and splintering hopes of the youths before they even have a chance to transition into adulthood."—Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio and coauthor of Righteous Dopefiend