You are on page 1of 7

During the summer of 2012, I traveled to Memphis, Tennessee for a

mission trip with the goal of creating a bible club at a trailer park
known as Leahys and a lot on Vernon Street. Memphis is comprised of
mainly two areas: poverty stricken areas that some refer to as the
ghettos and the more wealthy neighborhoods. Street Reach, the
organization that was set-up to spread the Word to those in the poor
neighborhoods, stressed the potential dangers that can arise in these
areas and explained that many of the children had certain sociological
concepts that affected behaviors and attitudes, and therefore might
behave in an unruly fashion. We were instructed to Just love em.
These attitudes and behaviors were reflective of the communities and
population we were about to experience. Three concepts that I
seemed to notice were the strongest to affect these two sites were
race and ethnicity, social class, and deviance and social control.
One concept that seems to have a strong effect on the Leahys and
Vernon Street population is race and ethnicity. The large majority of
the Vernon Street population is made up of African Americans and
Hispanics, both of which are considered a minority in the United States.
Because I am a part of the majority, discrimination and racism do not
have a distinct impact on me. As a white person, I realized I had been
taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage
(McIntosh 2006). For others, this prejudice can come up on occasion,
and therefore suffer discrimination. Minorities are likely to have

stronger ethnic ties than the majority group. While working with Street
Reach on the Vernon Street site, one issue I found very evident was the
discrimination between the two major racial groups. As we split off
into different stations, I noticed the various ethnic groups tending to
form small cliques. At first, I did not categorize this as a form of
discrimination, however, after some disagreements, I found this
separation to be a result of racial tensions between the African
Americans and Hispanics. I believe that certain gangs and stereotypes
contribute to the discrimination between the racial groups on Vernon
Street. Although discrimination generally has a negative connotation,
the functionalists theorize that prejudice helps to create more stable
and close-knit groups. In a way, this banding together can be seen as a
type of bonding. Another supporting factor of race and ethnicity being
an important concept in this population is ethnic identity. The Leahys
trailer park population had the most notable ethnic ties. Most families
living in the area were Latino and I noticed many attributes of their
culture. All of the children spoke fluent Spanish, ate Spanish dishes,
and the children loved to play soccer; these are some characteristics of
this culture. I feel a defined culture it makes an individual appreciate
their roots. Unfortunately, having a strong ethnic identity in our
society can have a major effect on growth. Although the Latino
population is the second largest ethnic group in the United States,
obstacles such as illegal immigration, lack of education,

underrepresentation in politics, and the language barrier inhibit

success for this ethnicity (Holland 2012). One child, Nicolette, did not
even know how to speak English. She is not able to learn until she is
old enough to go to school because her mother only speaks Spanish.
This is just one example of how culture can hurt an ethnic group.
A second concept I found to have an effect on the two Street Reach
sites was social class. From my observations of the communities, the
Vernon Street site and Leahys site class structure to range from
working class to underclass, including the working poor. Within
Memphis, property, power, and prestige are not evenly distributed
among the city; this causes the poorer neighborhoods to suffer and
other aspects amongst these communities to fall below the average
level. Since the vast majority of the two sites are compiled of African
Americans and Hispanics, this data represents why the social classes I
observed fell at the lower tiers of the model. Two supporting factors of
social class are family life and education. Family life mimicked what
was learned in class; it is more common to see a higher divorce rate
and higher rate of single or unwed mothers because of financial issues
and certain mate selections. In some households, grandparents would
act as guardians; also, cousins lived together. Community members at
the sites lived in somewhat poor conditions and some members were
jobless. The people that did have jobs were usually construction
workers or worked at minimum wage jobs. Although the economy does

hold some responsibility for jobs being sparse, education is key to the
no jobs situation. Due to location, education opportunities are
limited. At a time when education matters more than ever, success in
school remains linked tightly to class (Scott and Leonhardt 2005).
Ricardo, a Hispanic child that lived near the Vernon Street site, was in
summer school. He told me he had trouble with school, and his mother
could not help him with his homework because she did not finish high
school. What if the cycle continues? Then Ricardo could be in the
same place his mother is, working a minimum wage job trying to
support her and her two kids. Because equal opportunities do not
always exist between classes, structural mobility can be restricted.
The last concept observed was deviance and social control. Before
our group could be let out onto the streets of Memphis, we were given
certain rules to help keep the kids and us safe. Gangs, robberies,
drugs, shootings, and attacks were not uncommon in these
neighborhoods. Random shots would fire, but remaining calm was
extremely important, so the children would not be alarmed. Each
night, the pastor would share stories about situations he had come
across. He had stories about child abuse, drug raids, and murder.
These are examples of deviance. This concept is supported by the
differential association theory. This theory can easily be applied to
when children group together and misbehave. One example that I
came across was when a girl by the name of Kerecia was being

disrespectful and one of her friends, Angel, was acting the same way
because they were together and were influencing each other. Another
theory that adds support to the concept of deviance is the labeling
theory. Oftentimes, an adult will label a child good or bad and
share these characteristics with other adults as a warning. However,
this may have a negative effect on those children and then cause a
certain behavior to occur that may or may not be accurate. Also,
children labeled as good may not actually be true to their label. This
labeling idea is seen in The Saints and the Roughnecks. The
Roughnecks were constantly in trouble with police and community
even though their rate of delinquency was about equal with that of the
Saints (Chambliss 131). Because the Saints were labeled as good
kids, the trouble they got into was overlooked; however, because the
Roughnecks were labeled as bad, their troublemaking activities were
always harshly documented. During a break at the Vernon Street site,
some of the older women were talking and I heard them discussing the
incident that happened earlier in the day. This was only the first day,
and Kerecia had not gone to crafts yet, so the craft leaders labeled
Kerecia as disrespectful. In crafts, discipline was more directed toward
her because of her label. One of Kerecias friends said she always gets
in trouble at school and that people call her bad. For Kerecias
situation, two of the symbolic interactionist theories proved an ill-fated
truth. To resolve the deviant acts of the children on each site, the

leaders had to use social control or discipline. In the United States,

social control includes imprisonment, capital punishment, and
medicalization of deviance, but these examples are more geared
toward those who break laws. In the case of misbehavior committed
by children, discipline such as suspension or time-out sufficed as social
With both Street Reach sites, three concepts such as race and
ethnicity, social class, and deviance and social control were observed.
Throughout the two communities, these concepts strongly affect the
development of the people and the neighborhoods. Race and
ethnicity, while allowing bonds between similar groups to develop, can
cause a wall to come between minority and majority groups. Social
class for these areas is geared at the lower end of the tiered model,
causing difficult situations with family life and education. Lastly,
deviance is sometimes expressed with people dealing with tougher
conditions and situations, making it necessary for social control.
Although experiencing these different populations tend to be trying,
this allowed me to understand a bigger picture and to grow as a
person and student. Even with the sadness of seeing what these
children have to deal with on a daily basis, I am thankful for the
opportunity to see how life is not always as easy as it may seem.

Works Cited

Chambliss, William J. The Saints and the Roughnecks. The Spirit of

Sociology: A Reader. 3rd ed. Ron
Matson. 2005. Pearson/Allyn & Bacon. Boston. 131-145. Print.
Holland, J. (2012, Fall). Race and Ethnicity. SOC 201: Clemson
McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
Tri-County Domestic & Sexual
Violence Intervention Network Anti-Oppression Training for
Trainers. Carol Cheney, Jeannie
LaFrance, and Terrie Quinteros. Wellesley College Center for
Research on Women. 2006. Print.
Scott, Janny, and David Leonhardt. "Shadowy Lines That Still Divide."
The New York
Times. The New York Times Company, 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.