In his autobiography, Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, Geoffrey Canada exposes the reader to numerous types of violence witnessed while growing up in South Bronx, a subaltern community in New York. The slum is full of lower class individuals who are in a constant struggle for power, acceptance and safety. The book begins by discussing his childhood and how he had to learn the codes and behaviors accepted in his neighborhood and his place in the hierarchy of the street. Each block had different leaders, and each was just as dangerous as the next.
Geoffrey Canada’s book accounts his personal experiences that constitutes as important parts of his upbringing. For example, when he got his friends’ basketball taken, his friend showed him the correct response and taught him how he needed to “dominate [his] emotions” and learn to always be a man (Canada, 1995, p. 42). Canada was a bright young boy who was placed in the “special progress” classes for his academic success (p. 149). Because of this opportunity he was able to do what minimal kids from his neighborhood accomplishes, going to college.
After college, Canada begins working for programs to help poor communities because of his “passion and commitment to poor children” (p. 108). He starts to work on a community center program and becomes an inspiration and role model to the children surrounding him; which is what the hopeless children need. He works to create an intervention and prevention program aimed at stopping violence in poor communities, especially around youth by helping the youth and their families, with the ultimate goal of bettering the community as a whole.
Geoffrey Canada’s story is about a constant struggle against the endless violence while working to reduce potential threats and dangers within the community. He points on how the ways of the street have changed drastically in the last 50 years; weapons used to be sparingly, but now a handgun is a common possession and has resulted in countless unnecessary deaths. The violence exhibited in these poor communities are a result of a combination of several violence theories. The major theory, social learning theories, is created because of external motivations.
It occurs when “contextual and situational factors combine to create a situation conducive to violent behavior. Growing up in these situations creates an environment conducive to violent behavior because children learn to replicate this violence” (lecture, September 16, 2010). The young boys are exposed to the violent behavior from the moment they step onto the sidewalk and “learn about the structure of the block” (Canada, p 18). Throughout their learning experience, they watch others and learn how to act, how to fight, and ultimately the correct ways of expressing violence in order to survive the street.
The boys know the only way to survive is to follow the rules. Geoffrey Canada also discusses inequality theories. This theory focuses “on the way those with external motivations abuse, exploit, and take advantage of those labeled as socially inferior, which internally motivates those labeled socially inferior to resist and rebel violently against their inferior status” (lecture, September 16, 2010). It contains internal and external motivations because the stronger people need to pick on the weak, who then work to overcome their insecurities and need to become stronger.
Unfortunately, the inferior people commonly turn to forms of violence to gain status and some power. Inequality theories lead to socially learned behaviors, which creates a violent cycle and feelings of hopelessness. Hopelessness can be viewed in terms of the nihilistic threat. In the article “Nihilism in Black America,” Cornel West defines nihilistic threat as “the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair” that is “widespread in black America” (West, p. 178).
Geoffrey Canada makes his purpose to fight against this threat and help the Harlem community work against this ideology. The slums are filled with children growing up with the self fulfilling prophecy that there is no hope and “without hope there is no future,” reestablishing their sense of despair and hopelessness (West, p. 179). Nihilistic threat is a major problem in the United States and has been unfortunately under looked. Canada argues that “poverty, drugs, [and] hopelessness” are the real enemy and that there must be improved made in order to stop the commonality of violence (Canada, p 120).
Too many children are growing up with ideas that the only way to survive and thrive is through illegal activities or violence; they see no future and are then reinforced into the idea of having to fend for themselves in a dangerous and dark world. These ideas are similar to the idea of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when people have learned to behave helplessly, even when given the opportunity (Bloom and Reichert). This helps to reinforce the cycle of helplessness and discourages youth to stand up.
It hurts their abilities to succeed when everyday poor youth see generations, neighbors and friends die, get hurt, or continue struggling to survive and flourish. The youth growing up in poor communities around the country are embedded with the idea that they “live in a world where danger lurks all around them” (Canada, p. 178). They are constantly on edge are always keeping an eye out for danger because it can blind-side them. This is similar to the ideology of Diana Nelson, a transsexual (lecture, October 12, 2010).
One night Diana kindly gave two strangers a ride, and she never expected to get physically assaulted so brutally that she almost died because of her gender/sexual orientation. Currently, Diana is on a constant watch for predators and potential threats of another hate crime. She also had people walk by and not say anything or try to help because of fear. When it came time to investigate the assault, the police did not want to waste time with the investigation. The judicial system’s job is to create a safe community and make people feel comfortable.
This is all similar to ideologies from South Bronx. The youth were too scared to help people if they were not part of their ‘family’ because of fear of potential consequences and they saw police as enemies. After teaching his tae kwon do classes, Geoffrey Canada is escorted to ensure his safety, even though he is “a third degree black belt;” this just reveals how nobody feels safe in these poor communities no matter how skilled they are, how old they are, or who they with (Canada, p. 78). Power is a goal for many of the youth growing up on the streets, unfortunately power is directly linked to violence. Power is the way young children, especially young boys in subaltern communities, feel like there is some kind of hope. “Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert” (Arendt, p. 6). The most powerful men in South Bronx are those that exuberate strength, power, intimidation, and most commonly violence.
Coincidentally, violence “is the ultimate kind of power;” however, even though “violence can destroy power,” “it is utterly incapable of creating it” (Arendt, p. 3, p. 11). In today’s society many violence is acceptable because viewing violence has become a part of our daily lives; it is evident through television, movies, news and the media in general. Television violence has become a part of daily life. Television shows have glamorized violence to be more accepted than society actually allows. Audiences are ore vulnerable to becoming violent because TV “cultivates the tastes, values and predispositions” of its viewers (Gerbner, p. 550). These television shows create several misconceptions about violence for its viewers and has increased the acceptance of violence, more so in low socioeconomic areas such as Harlem. Geoffrey Canada discusses the need to reduce the amount of violence because “violence in the media is ever more graphic and the justification for acting violently is implanted more deeply into young people’s minds” (Canada, p. 64). Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun forces people to realize the war that is constantly going on in the poor areas of our country. The war against violence should be a top priority in the United States, but it is too commonly overlooked. Geoffrey Canada discusses how people must work towards helping the youth and communities to work together to get out of the cycle even though it is very difficult and almost impossible.
There is an ongoing cycle of violence that is becoming more dangerous and insecure, and people need to band together to start making a difference. Ideologies must change and the sense of helplessness and hopelessness need to diminish. Geoffrey Canada demonstrates how a few people can make a huge difference in an area, and start to improve one community. Eventually, a domino effect would occur and hopefully help reduce the violence and some of the struggles poor youth must overcome in order to be successful or even get out alive.