Day 21 November 7, 2002
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” --F. Scott Fitzgerald
After Honky, we have two days for poster presentations, which we’ll do in Marbeck in two phases on Nov. 21 and 26, and then a couple of days for final discussions. WORTH Center folks will do this as well; it might be a way to plan toward your paper, as well as reflection on your tutoring experience.
For those last days, I’d like to pose this question: what are
the most important and perhaps under-publicized issues in modern
Here’s my plan, still realizing itself: ask you all to send me nominations and web sites in support. Do some combining and organizing, just to get things to a manageable level of complication, then post a list of web readings or give out some things for that last week, and have some conversations about them all.
Remember, movie and Monday night.
What is “
On Honky. On American urban life, projects, class, poverty, race, and all that. Dalton Conley is a sociologist, as we eventually learn, but what I like about this book is that it’s informed by what he knows without being written in that heavy, abstract style we often associate with sociological writing.
The challenge the book poses for us, though, is this: can we use it as a starting point to educate ourselves on these issues? Can we in effect do some sociology, based in his account but going beyond it?
How many people here grew up in a large city? Certainly for me reading this book involves learning about another culture, one that I know mostly second-hand, though I’ve made occasional and brief forays into cities, sheltered by money and my visitor status from most of what’s really going on. Also, though, prevented by my visitor status from getting a real sense of what day-to-day life there might be like.
wrote about his experiences growing up in
a few of my city stories, maybe. Julia’s apartment in
So where is it? Here’s a map. http://maps.yahoo.com/py/maps.py?Pyt=Tmap&addr=Avenue+D+At+E+14th+St&city=New+York&state=NY&slt=40.727400&sln=-73.973400&name=&zip=10009&country=us&&BFKey=&BFCat=&BFClient=&mag=9&desc=&cs=9&newmag=8&poititle=&poi=&ds=n
Let’s consider some of his stories, and their implications.
Stealing the baby, 6 ff. Awareness of race as category
the question of choices. The
Interview with Conley at http://www.africana.com/DailyArticles/index_20011015.htm he comments on the book not being a horrific tale of oppression, that it emphasizes the structural advantages and choices that remained his as a white person even in this context.
“Downward Mobility”: Social distinctions and realities. The projects were tough, so were “the slums.” People watching out for each others’ kids, 22. Jewish or goy, 25, cf. Amish or English. His mother and father, artists both: she sees things that aren’t there, he’s likely not to notice things that were (34).
“Race Lessons”: learning race, like learning a language. Sister in nursery school, white and black dolls, cornrows. Conley starts school: what privileges does he learn about? They’ll put him in whichever class. In the black one he’s the only student not beaten (46, 48-9). The place is haunted by a child molester, though nobody seems much concerned. He moves to the Chinese class.
52-3 he changes schools. By then, he says, he understood race. But class is the main category at his new school.
“Fear”: his more or less constant fear of assault, 55. The real dangers, robbers breaking into their apartment, etc. 59: the sense of being safe nowhere, not even in his bed.
The game “manhunt,” which Tony and Matt both found interesting. What about his being found by his mother?
*62: it’s a natural game for them, it teaches evasion and the posse mentality.
Rahim the karate instructor, who’s killed in a drug-related robbery/assassination.
66: The question of a larger order. Is the violence patterned, or random? If the truth can’t be found, then his sense of uncertainty and powerlessness increases.
Class”: P.S. 41.
3. Some points to consider as you read on, from online interview with Conley, http://discussions.previewport.com:8001/articles/01/11/16/1626225.shtml :
What about the future of public housing?
so much public housing has been decommisioned or even knocked down since my day. i think the best thing society could do is keep building low income housing units, but to sell them to the low income residents for a dollar each and create a new crop of homeowners like we did with suburban whites after WWII. as for how it's changed, i think some projects have gotten better, some worse and some have been bulldozed.
Why is it important to study whiteness?
Do you encounter racism?
Response #5 Krissy
Honky is a book that is easy and enjoyable to read, and very informative on how it is to grow up in a community where one who is usually a majority, is a minority. The childhood experiences that Dalton Conley shares are quite fascinating. He almost seems to feel that he never belongs to one certain group; perhaps he feels that he is part of each group. The website that I found highlights this idea, saying that he “was too poor to be fully accepted into white middle-class circles and too white to be a member of the gangs that populated his neighborhood.” Conley touches on this idea all throughout the first third of the novel. He always seems to be torn on how he should view his situation. He has his advantages and his disadvantages. He is at an advantage because he is white, and escapes corporal punishment in school because it would just be “wrong” for a teacher of minority background to strike a white child. In this situation, Conley admits that he felt left out. He wanted to be treated the same way as all of the other kids in his class; he did not like to be singled out. He experienced a disadvantage when he attended the school where most of the children were white. In this situation, Conley was not able to live up to the classification of being middle-class because his parents were so poor. He tried his best to fit in, always listening to the conversations the other children were having, and then jumping in after he felt he had heard enough to be able to talk about it. With these two previous struggles, Conley was not able to find a “set” place to be in his life. It seemed like he was constantly going back and forth from each of the groups, always depending on where he was. Another aspect that I found to be interesting was also highlighted in the website that I found. It dealt with the choices that Conley’s parents made. It refers to “downward mobility” in which they chose a lower-class world to live in because of their dedication to art. I have two opinions about this choice. One is that I am impressed that they chose to live such a hard life in order to do what they loved. From this viewpoint, doing something they love is more important than having a good class standing in society. However, my other viewpoint concerns Conley and his sister. Did his parents really make the right decisions on how to live when it came to their children? Conley and his sister did not really have a good atmosphere while growing up. However, maybe it was not so bad considering that Conley is a successful person. He is a sociologist and of course, an author. So maybe his background was good for him. After all, it did make him look back on how it affected him.
Leuzzi, Tony. 2001. <http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/0520215869.asp>.
The first several chapters of Honky were interesting, although in a very different way that War Memorials and The Color Purple were. This is not so much a "story" like those were, but a non-fiction essay. The sociologist comes out in the writing, interestingly usually at the end of a paragraph. But that is just a random observation.
understood what Conley was writing about in the chapter called Race Lessons
where he describes being a minority and yet privileged in the
"ghetto." When I went to
thing I learned from my
Well this is a bit of a ramble, but this book brings back many memories of my Cross Cultural experience because it is a very similar kind of setting.
I just realized I forgot to attach an internet site to my response. Here's one on what to call a "minority" since that is becoming a catchall word.
It's interesting that in these contexts whites as a minority are only called that because of sheer numbers. In actuality, whites will not be a minority for a long time, if ever because we still have all the power.
Poverty in the
After reading approximately the first six chapters of this book, I can say that I am finding it harder to read than War Memorials. Overall, it has not kept my attention very well. There are a few parts, though that I have found interesting. The first part that I found interesting was the part where he kidnapped another child. Not only did he want a sister real bad, but he wanted a black sister. This really drove home a good point, racism isn’t inherited; it is taught. Little kids don’t care who is of what color until someone tells them that they can’t do this or that because they are of a certain race. Even the teacher taught him different while he was in the black class. He wanted to be treated the same, but it didn’t happen.
Another part that I found was interesting was where his sister received a white Barbie because she was white while the black kids got black dolls. Race didn’t matter to her. She just wanted a doll; any color would have served the purpose. Separation of race was taught again.
These two instances make me wonder how much of racism is actually taught this way. I made the assumption that part of racism occurs from a bad experience with someone of an opposite race, but now I am not so sure. Now that I am thinking about it more, I think people are only racist because that is the way they were taught.
This issue isn’t going away either. The website http://www.arc.org/erase/pts_factsheet.html tells of how are schools have been re-segregating. White kids are attending schools that are mostly white and black kids are attending schools that are mostly black. This is just teaching the children that the opposite race is bad. Even in the book, the author began to attend a predominately white school. Racism isn’t going to be eliminated this way.
The stages of Dalton Conley’s life are drawn out as he tackles very big issues. He describes his growth as he works through and comes to an understanding (if not at least a recognition) of poverty, then race, and then class issues. He begins by telling the reader about his grandparents, parents, and how they ended up in the area that they are. They seem to be like outcasts that haphazardly landed there and seem to cope well enough. He himself is blind to just about everything (in the beginning) that divides societies and communities from the beginning, just as children are immune to prejudices and differences amongst each other.
The school systems that he is taken through seem to be about the opposite of what my area is. I think there were maybe 2-3 black individuals in the entire school, elementary through high school. I don’t think there were as many issues in our schools as Conley faced, being 20+ years later may make a big difference though. Or maybe there were issues that I didn’t see; I was part of the majority of course I could have been oblivious to any biases those individuals may have went through.
I also thought it was interesting how Conley refers over and over to his use of the word “they” to refer to the “collective other” (p 46) At first he separates the “they” who commit crimes from the “they” who directly interact with such as the school and the food stamp individuals. I still use “they” collectively when I’m talking and often times “they” is always some individual or group with a higher power over “us”. Generalizations are kind of silly, but they work. Conley goes on to change difference in opinions of the “they’s” characters, and says that maybe they aren’t so different after all. “Beneath the surface, however, these state behemoths were no different in nature than those who stole; they were just arbitrary, random and mysterious.” (p 51)
Conley keeps going back to how
unsafe the area that they lived in really was.
There were muggings and even rapes in the stairwell of the apartment
building. There were little children
within the school that were getting violated and castrated in the restroom!
(This is totally crazy to me, I never would have EVER
heard thought of something like that coming out of my school. Wow) They had a
double-steel door and they were on the 21st floor, and yet they were
still broken into. They were forced to
install bars on the windows (p 56) which allowed him to feel some sense of
security in his home then. I don’t think
that I even realized that people have to do this until I took my cross-cultural
It interested me to see just what
kind of information and sites I could find on home security, mainly because
there’s never seemed to be an urgent need for my particular area of such
precautions. I didn’t realize the amount
of different security services that are available, and actually these websites
are rather convincing. One site even had
First of all, I feel that this book is a lot more
interesting to read and keeps my attention better than
the previous books in this class. I would like to
comment on the part of the book found on page 8 where
he says, "I even felt culturally more similar to my
darker-hued peers than to the previous generatoins of
my own family..." This probably was an advantage to
him as he fit in more with the people surrounding him.
He talked like all of the other kids on the
playground and that probably helped in the other kids
accepting him. If he had just moved to this
neighborhood and he had an accent, his being accepted
by the other kids might of been more difficult.
It is also interesting how he states that he was
surrounded by people of all different colors, and he
realized this at such a young age. It is funny that
young kids might recognize the difference in skin
color, but that does not matter to them at all. As
they grow older though, sometimes this can be a
determining factor of who they like or dislike, and
that can be sad.
I found a website
that talks about different
City and other things in the city taken a couple of
years ago. It talks about how NYC is to live in and
things like that. It is neat to see how these
different preceptions vary.
Just about every type of community, city, and town in
I was surprised to read about the unfamiliarities
This book is very interesting. It seems as if he is at the bottom of the barrel. He is living in the slums because he is poor. As he grows up, and racial differences that are held onto by his parents are taught to him, and likewise to the other kids he is growing up with, he is looked upon as different by the other kids in his neighborhood. They seem to be almost jealous of him for him being white. They think he gets privialages. This however does not seem to be the case in these first five chapters. It seems more like his family is looked down upon for being white in the slums. I don't know if I could live with bars on my windows, that would cause me some problems too I think. The picture on this website, which sells window bars, http://www.micronsecurityproducts.com/ remind me of a prison like atmosphere. Not exactly a homey look to me. It makes me wonder, if people growing up there don't feel like they even have any hope, or a chance of getting out of there. I am looking forward to finishing the book, even though I already know he makes it out of the slums.
Through out reading this first section in Dalton Conley's book, Honky,
one thought kept popping back into my mind..."This poor kid!" Through out
majority of us have either never been exposed to or have never even thought
about. I have really enjoyed reading this book so far and have remained
amazed how well he dealt with his fears, his insecurities, unsureness, and
new realizations at such a young age. From my experience, most of the
children I know are years behind his level at those ages (1st through 3rd
grade)and with having such a keen sense of awareness. In fact, a lot of
adults are as well! Of course this
book is written completley from
hindsight on his memories, feelings and situations from growing up...but no
matter how he describes now how he felt then, he still went through all of
Perhaps I do not give kids enough credit though, given the situation in
how they are brought up, they learn to deal with life's day to day
situations (just like we learn to adapt). Growing up in such a neighborhood
such as with trying to fit in. How sad is it he developed tics in school
from stress and trying to fit in? School is suppose to be fun, a place to go
he was trying too hard to not stand out and fit in, on the way home he was
conscious of everything going on around him, in his building he was not even
completely safe in the elevator or stairwell, and even behind their locked
door of their apartment proved to not be completely safe until they but the
bars up on the windows. Perhaps it is just me but I don't think these are
issues such a young child should have to deal with! Sure it gives them a
degree of awareness which is really important but it also takes so much away
from their childhood! Kids can't be kids when they are constantly looking
over their shoulder.
Aside from that issue, the racial and ethnic barriers is also such a
terrible thing for a child to deal with. Children do not see or know
barriers, they only know what they have been taught and even the book
acknowledges that it was "they, not the students, who made my skin color an
issue. The kids had only picked up on the adult cues and reinterpreted them
It was this issue that led me to find a website on trying to eliminate
these racial barriers in communities. I found a website for the National
Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) www.ncbi.org which is a non-profit
organization and has branches set up all over the world. Their mission is
to eliminate prejudice and intergroup conflict in communities through out
the world. They offer training programs in which they bring community
leaders and a local leadership team together to work to offer
prevention-oriented programs to deal and try to eliminate these racial
barriers and tensions. I think this is a great program becuase you have to
start somewhere and where else is better to start than in you own community
led by people you know and respect.
book has an interesting twist. It’s about a white boy who grew up in a
predominately black and Hispanic neighborhood. But, it brought up the point
that being a minority was something that wasn’t obvious to him at first.
“Learning race is like learning a language. First we try mouthing all sounds.
Then we learn which are not words and which have
meaning to the people around is. Likewise, for my sister and
me, the first step in our socialization was being taught that we weren’t black”
(37). This fact was made clear in the beginning of the book when
The website that I found to go along with this book describes the “white minority”:
on The Recessive Race by H. Millard on the site: http://www.newnation.org/
This book starts off with Conley stealing a black baby, from the supermarket, and yelling into the manager’s microphone, “I want a baby sister.” This struck me as funny because I can just imagine a three year old boy doing this in front of hundreds of people.
I enjoyed the first six chapters of this book. I always hear how it is hard for a black person to grow up in a white neighborhood but this book takes a white boy growing up in a black neighborhood. It was interesting to hear of the things he went through in school and how he was oblivious to race. I liked the quote in the prologue that says, “There’s an old saying that you never really know your own language until you study another. It’s the same with race and class.” That quote makes a lot of sense as I read further in this book. The fact that race never crossed his mind because he grew up with minorities. Also that he never knew he was not part of the minority. I grew up in a predominately white community and it is interesting to hear the view of someone who grew up opposite my community. I felt bad for him when he first went to school and the principal told his mother there was no class for him. There is only Black, Puerto Rican and Chinese classes so his mother ! chose the black class for him. Now that I think about it I don’t know how I would react in that situation but for him it was no big deal because he was born into that fixed community.
Even when his mother moved him to the all white school he still felt out of place because of his social class. He wasn’t high up in the social hierarchy.
Norma L. Flores
Response to Honky
"I've studied whiteness the way I would a foreign language (xiii)." What a great line. Dalton Conley writes with such honestly that the reader cannot resist paying attention a bit more. Dalton's handle and understanding of what it's like to be a minority is appealing to a generation that has more often than not read about the "black man's" struggle to fit into a "white man's world." This is a refreshing new twist to an age-old race struggle of fitting in.
I can, to a
certain extent, understand and relate to
I like the comments he makes in regards to skin color. Especially using the his mentality as a child when he wrote, "In the projects people seemed to come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and I was not yet aware which were the important ones that divided up the world (8)." I think that this is a great point. He didn't move to the projects as a teenager from the suburbs, he was at home just like everyone else how moved into the apartment complex. There was such a mix and mingle of races and cultures, that he was exposed to the idea of "melting pot" America, before most "Americans" realize that not everyone lives like the Jones'. That is such a valid point on the authors part to understand the opportunity that he had as a child and the experiences that he gains from looking in from the outside.
The first thing that hit me in this book was the word separatist. I guess i'm just behind but i didn't know what it meant. i found that it meant advocating for a separation. i think it interesting that the author would mention this in the book. it makes very much sense however in what i've read of the book so far to talk about someone advocating for separation between blacks and whites.
i found this site that has to do with how the american races separated. it talks about how in the future the races will be separated and by 2090 there will be four new nations, each suited to its majority's race and culture. i guess i'm not exactly sure how i feel about this because i feel as though there has been more inclusion between blacks and whites in the past years.
another word i was not familiar with was the word honky. someone saw me reading and said "a book about racism?" i asked them how they knew. they said by the title it's a slang word for white. then as i read more it made sense when it was used in the book. it's funny because i probaby wouldn't have ever questioned the title of the book, i'm sure you will say something in class and that's when i would've heard it, ha!
This book turned out to be quite readable despite the fact
that it has a lot of details and it jumps around quite often. The book tells us
a story of a very uncommon family in
First chapter talks about the perception of race and
ethnicity that the young kids have (or don’t have yet). “… a
young child has not yet learned the determinants of skin color, much less the
fact that in
Second chapter tells the story why they ended up living in the inner city. “… I could sense her guilt at having moved the family to an unsafe neighborhood – and perhaps for having taken an apartment slot from some more deserving family.” I think that everybody would agree with the first part of this statement, but I doubt that a lot of people would think about the second one. This is a very good point.
Third chapter gives an idea about
The next chapter introduces us into Alexandra’s “long-hair”
world. All she needed is a doll that had a long hair so she could comb it, and
she was happy no matter what color is the doll. Alexandra’s answer to her
grandmother about the King Solomon story was built on her experience with a
broken doll. She kept the top half of it just to stay happy by playing with
hair. The changing point in this chapter is when Alexandra says that cornrows
are stupid and all she wants is straight blond hair. She does not want to be
like all the rest of the kids any more, she forms her very own character. The
chapter goes on telling the story of
The very beginning of the fifth chapter reminded me of Russian expression “My home — my fortress”. Well, later the text proves this statement wrong, even twice. “Crime and violence were not uncommon in our area, but they always seemed to happen elsewhere and, I believed, could be avoided…” This is the way that the most people think, including me.
And a couple of websites:
http://www.saxakali.com/CommunityLinkups/racism.htm#USA - a lot of recourses on rasizm issues;
http://www.prisonactivist.org/pubs/ttt/youth-org.html - WHITE YOUTH ORGANIZING TO OPPOSE RACISM
Integration of the
http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0455_Operation_Rescue__Ci.html - Operation Rescue & Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s
I don't know what it is, but I think I'm just a big fan of really cool
literary descriptions/adjectives. There was one on page eight I really
liked. He was talking about the kids of the tenant housing speaking on the
playground. He said "... our way of talking was like layered cake; it had
many distinctly rich flavors, but in our mouths they all got mixed up
I would also tend to agree with his assessment of community in the
government housing sectors. I have personal experience that backs up exactly
what he said. When I visited my friend for the first time (before I knew his
mothers economic status) I went to a housing project near my home. There I
found his mother living in the mmidst of all these other people, and they
worked together to get things done. There really was a sense of "you watch
my back, I'll watch yours" which should not be confused with "you scratch my
back I'll scratch yours" since people wilingly worked together to get things
done and help each other out.
One thing that he illuded to was the way in which their government housing
was run pg 23 " In it's
impersonal operation, the Con
a too perfect metaphor for the institutions of society that both ran our
community and demarcated it from the rest of the world." This reminded me of
the way that LBJ passed all those reforms in his time in office for kids to
get cheaper (or free) school lunches, and Medicaid for the poor, and all
these things that it seemed to me the goverment did just so they could say
"hey, look, we're working on the poverty thing", however, it's obvious to me
that LBJ (and many of the people after him, have done little in their
attempt to keep up with the problem, after all I'm almost sure LBJ never ate
my government provide lunch when I was in High School, or he may have
thought of our plight more :-)
I found the following web site on poverty, just in the spirit of that
It has commmon questions and answers about poverty (among other things)