In class Professor Pok briefly mentioned the “Culture of Poverty” and I instantly thought back to my second semester at Hunter College, where my English professor presented this article in New York Magazine to the class from Feburary 2009:

Sometimes he likes to perform what he calls “the Outfit Check.” Coral J. Crew cashmere V-neck sweater—check. Gucci charcoal skinny jeans—check. Gucci double-G logo belt—check.

Spotless brand-new cream-and-gold Louis Vuitton Damier checkerboard- pattern sneakers—check. Blue Fendi glasses frames with the FENDI sticker still stuck on the lower corner of the lens—check. When he’s dressed like this, he says, “I feel high-class—like nobody can tell me nothing.” But the outfit loses its protective aura when Kevahn Thorpe is wearing it, as he is on this June morning, before Judge Gregory Carro in State Supreme Court in downtown Manhattan. And Carro is, in fact, about to tell Kevahn something. At a word from the judge, the court officers can step forward to handcuff Kevahn, in all his finery, right there in the courtroom, shouting, “One comin’ in!” as they escort him to the holding cells and eventually to Rikers Island. Kevahn is a slight 17-year-old standing no more than five foot seven, but if this is what Carro decides to do, it won’t be his first trip to the Island. This arrest is the latest in a long series of thefts of high fashion from Gucci and Prada to Bergdorf and Barneys, and even though he has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of stolen goods, a misdemeanor, Kevahn is now facing a one-to-three-year sentence in prison upstate for repeated offenses.

The link to the rest of the article is here:

But what does this have to the “Culture of Poverty” you may ask, first let me define Oscar Lewis’ theory. The Culture of Poverty states that the poor have a unique way of thinking that promotes fatalism, helplessness, and present minded thinking that prevents them from getting out of poverty and into mainstream society. Fatalism here refers to the fact that people who face poverty become socialized to believe everything is inevitable, it is “supposed to” exist this way there is no free will to combat what is supposed to happen. Fatalism almost goes hand in hand with helplessness. If there is no free will to combat against what is supposed to happen that means there is nothing positive you can do to improve your situation. So the youth are almost forced to believe in fatalism and remain helpless because they do not see a lot of realistic success. There are those rappers and actors who have come from similar situations but no one they know personally to become a role model. As a result they often to succumb to “neighborhood pressures.” The last component to this theory is present minded thinking, which can be thought of as living for the day or in the moment and not thinking about future consequences or actions. You aren’t thinking about what you are going to do, what happened in the past. You aren’t thinking about how you are doing things, you are just doing them.

Kevahn, then an honors student at Long Island City High School lives with his mother and brother in the Queensbridge Projects. He claims, in his interview, that he has been tested and found to have an IQ of 127. He says that he doesn’t shoplift because of peer pressure but because he wants to be “the best dressed.” And whats the worst thing he says about being locked up.

There’s no respect,” he says. “I’m used to walking into any luxury store and being greeted at the door.” He quotes the refrain from the song “Glamorous” by Fergie and Ludacris: “If you don’t have no money, take your broke ass home,” and adds, “I say the opposite: If you can pay … ” Then you can stay. Even if you only appear to have paid.

Is this a case of the Culture of Poverty? Institutional Racism? or “ignorant teenager” doing illegal things for the cheap thrills?


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