A rare, 15-year ethnography, this book follows the lives of individual, low-income African American youth from the beginning of high school into their early adult years. Levine shows how their interaction and experience with multiple institutions (family, school, community) and individuals (parents, friends, teachers, coaches, strangers) shape their hopes, fears, aspirations, and worldviews. The intersectionality of their social identities—how race, class, and gender come together to influence how they come to think about who they are—influences many behaviors that directly contradict their stated aspirations. Affected, too, by limited access to resources, these youths often take a path profoundly different from their stated values and life goals. Levine explores the volatility and constraints underlying their decision-making and behaviors. The book reveals the critical junctures and turning points shaping life trajectories, challenging many long-held assumptions about the persistence of racial inequality by offering new insights on the educational and occupational barriers facing young African Americans.
In the best tradition of classic ethnographies like Learning to Labor or Ain’t No Makin It, Rhonda Levine’s magnificent new book offers a compelling portrait of the lives of low-income African American adolescents growing up in a small Northeastern city that helps us to understand more about them but also much, much more about the society we live in. Intensely intersectional, When Race Meets Class offers a sophisticated empirical study of race, class, and gender dynamics, as they play out in the lives of the young people she follows, in the institutions they navigate, and within the larger structural arrangements of today’s United States. We are reminded not only that coming of age is hard but also that while some navigate adolescence with a wide range of developmentally appropriate supports—room to explore, grow, mess up, take risks, and figure things out—many do not. In fact, the young people Levine writes about not only seldom receive this kind of consistent support but also must traverse a number of additional constraints. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of today’s persistent racial inequality.
Amanda Lewis, Professor and Director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of Race in the School Yard
When Race Meets Class provides a much-needed contribution to the understanding of how race, class, and gender reproduce inequality. The rich qualitative analyses show us in ways that few have done since Stack’s All Our Kin that the disadvantages of race, class, and gender are not individual. Moreover, one has to look over the long run to understand what happens when race, class, and gender intersect. Understanding these dynamics is necessary in order to understand how inequality works.
Nancy DiTomaso, Distinguished Professor, Rutgers Business School, and author of The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism
When Race Meets Class is a powerful ethnographic account that illuminates America’s racial divide. It notes, documents, and explains the peculiar manner in which race and class become conflated, and form a conundrum that exacerbates the everyday lives of black people, while underscoring the nation’s racial divide. Levine’s narrative shines a brilliant and provocative light on these circumstances, revealing the peculiar everyday challenges black people face as they bear the burden of race and persistent poverty simultaneously. This is a work of importance, and one that should be read far beyond the academy.
Elijah Anderson, William K. Lanman Professor of Sociology, Yale University, and author of Code of the Street and, most recently, The Cosmopolitan Canopy
In a rare study, Levine vividly conveys African American students' experiences of racial marking by high school educators and other pivotal moments in their life paths. Poignant, illuminating, and very readable—an extraordinary longitudinal portrait of the power of race and class in a small city.
Annette Lareau, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Unequal Childhoods
Strengthened by rare insight from her 15-year study, Levine links life history with the present in her provocative commentary on the experiences of young African Americans coming of age in a small city. By reflecting on their attitudes, opinions, and stories of struggle—with subtle and not so subtle forms of racism—Levine helps us to understand both the power of racial marking and the ways in which African American bodies are marked as problematic or threatening in schools, community institutions, and public spaces. And because of the unique duration of her analysis, she is able to reveal how the choices made by young African Americans, often in response to this form of marking, leave them facing disadvantage and despair as young adults.
Alford Young, Jr., Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, University of Michigan, and author of Are Black Men Doomed?
Preface. Chapter 1. Introduction. Chapter 2. Hoveys’ Porch. Chapter 3. School Daze. Chapter 4. Sports and a Caring Coach. Chapter 5. The Gender Factor: Bad Black Girls Who Are Not All Bad. Chapter 6. From Teenagers to Adulthood: Revisiting Hoveys’ Porch. Chapter 7. Conclusion. Appendix: A Note On Methodology. References. Index.