Gang Leader for a Day

Gang Leader for a Day Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sudhir, after speaking with his professors, learns that some of his research might require him to share his notes with law enforcement, if he’s ever subpoenaed. This is because JT and others in the BKs speak to him about events like drive-by shootings, and Sudhir has no “protection” or “privilege” in his interviews with the gang members (as would, say, a lawyer). This causes Sudhir to think more about the way he studies the BKs. He also hopes to gain a more systematic economic picture of the gang, so that his dissertation can contain a quantitative as well as descriptive component.
Sudhir realizes that there is much more to his work, as far as legal ramifications go, than he imagined initially. In particular, till now he has followed the model of “doing first, and asking for forgiveness later.” But as Bill Wilson and other professors indicate, this ethic, though effective in the field, might not stand up to institutional scrutiny if and when Sudhir publishes his results. Thus Sudhir must think beforehand about certain kinds of behaviors – such as his observation of, and very occasional participation in, acts of gang violence.
Themes
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Sudhir meets with Ms. Bailey and JT and tells them what he’s learned about the legal status of some of his research. Both Ms. Bailey and JT are not surprised to hear this. Ms. Bailey, in particular, had assumed that Sudhir would eventually be asked to show his notes to someone – another professor, a law-enforcement officer – and tells Sudhir that he’s always had a “hustle,” that he’s always been looking out for his own research while working in the projects. JT says the same thing – that Sudhir is “one of the gang” in that he’s done a good job of listening to people and letting them describe their own lives. But JT has seen, too, that Sudhir has to protect the value of the data he collects, and that he is doing it for his own professional advancement.
Sudhir is surprised to realize that Ms. Bailey and JT understand the nature of his “hustle.” That is, both Ms. Bailey and JT recognize that, if the law were to ask Sudhir about a particular event, Sudhir would be obliged to give that information to them. This implies at least two things: first, that JT and others are, at least to a degree, “editing” the parts of their lives Sudhir sees, so that he doesn’t observe anything too overtly illegal. And, second, that JT and others are willing to threaten some repercussion for Sudhir should he brazenly violate their trust. JT and Ms. Bailey hint at the latter especially in this section.
Themes
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Sudhir begins interviewing pimps and prostitutes within the buildings – the interviews are arranged by JT and Ms. Bailey, and Sudhir is surprised to hear that many pimps and prostitutes are willing to talk about their work. In general, prostitutes are either “affiliates” or “independents,” meaning they have a pimp or they do not. Affiliates are “protected” by their pimps, often from physical harm at the hands of johns, but they also make less money than “independents,” who don’t have to pay protection. Sudhir talks to an older woman named Cordella, who has run many businesses in Robert Taylor. She tells Sudhir that she used to work for Ms. Bailey’s mother, who ran a brothel in the Homes. Cordella says that the prostitution business was better “without men involved.”
This is another instance of “protection.” Of course, the kind of “protecting” that pimps do for the women working for them is a far cry from actual “protection” of their best interests. As Sudhir indicates, having a pimp means that sex workers possess an additional layer of support between them and their customers, and this in itself is a positive thing. But Sudhir also sees just how difficult the lives of these sex workers are, and just how great the potential is for them to be exploited, both by their customers, who can threaten them, and by pimps, who of course can do the same.
Themes
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Sudhir learns other interesting facts about Robert Taylor: that unemployment is listed at 96 percent, but is actually much lower, since many have under-the-table but legal jobs part-time, but do not share this income with the CHA, since they would exceed public housing limits and be forced to leave. He also learns that most side hustles are not especially lucrative (especially those selling goods and services), but that taking on tenants (“boarders”) in one’s apartment is. Further, there is “exchange economy” on top of the gray market, in which bartering is used to swap goods without money being involved at all.
This unemployment rate, which Sudhir only touches on briefly, is in fact utterly shocking, even though it’s not quite correct. But even if the unemployment rate were half what is stated here, it would still be far, far greater than any rate posted at any other place in the city. This indicates just how accustomed the Robert Taylor community is to the structural conditions leading to deeply entrenched, systemic unemployment across families.
Themes
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Sudhir continues his research. He interviews C-Note and some of the other “hustlers,” finding out that a lot of their “manual working,” like the automotive repairs they did in the lots of the Homes, was fairly lucrative. One day, Sudhir meets with Ms. Bailey to catch up, and finds JT with her in her office. Sudhir, unthinking, shares a good deal of information with both of them about the economic exploits of the “hustlers” and other gray marketeers in the Homes, not worrying about this information-sharing one bit.
This is one of Sudhir’s greatest blunders during his time in Robert Taylor. He will realize very soon just how inevitable Ms. Bailey’s and JT’s response is to this material – and the money they will extract from residents as a result. And Sudhir will similarly realize just how difficult it will be for others to talk to him in the aftermath of this information “leak.”
Themes
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But after a few days, Sudhir realizes that he’s angered nearly everyone he normally speaks to in the homes. JT and Ms. Bailey have gone around to tenants with boarders, to people like C-Note, and to prostitutes like Clarisse, asking them for more money, since they’re apparently making more (according to Sudhir’s notes) than they’d been reporting to the Black Kings and to Ms. Bailey’s office. Sudhir apologizes to C-Note and Clarisse in person, and they grudgingly accept that he’s sorry. But C-Note says that Sudhir was only “thinking about his own work” and not about other people’s lives in the Homes. Sudhir realizes this is at least partially true.
C-Note is, in truth, not wrong in this section. He realizes that Sudhir’s greatest drive, as he works in Robert Taylor, is his own research – his dissertation and academic career. Sudhir doesn’t want to hurt people, or make them pay more to people like JT – he does not want to interrupt their businesses. But in this particular case, when he saw an opportunity to learn about Robert Taylor, he took it – without spending time to consider who would be impacted, and in what way.
Themes
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Sudhir attends a funeral later that summer for Catrina, Ms. Bailey’s assistant. Sudhir, like many in the buildings, is deeply upset at her death; she was killed by accident in the middle of a fight between her estranged father and other family members. Sudhir decides that, based on Catrina’s love of writing, he can perhaps use her death to do some good in the community, by starting an essay-writing and discussion group for women in the homes. Sudhir begins having these events in a diner nearby.
Perhaps the most pathos-inducing section in the book. Sudhir has built up a friendly and mutually-caring relationship with Catrina, who, as Sudhir notes, imagined a life for herself beyond her present conditions. Her death affects a very large number of people in the project, and Sudhir implies that this is so because many recognized her desire to expand her life’s horizons.
Themes
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In the group, young women talk about a great deal of material difficulty. They describe the violence they experience at the hands of men in their lives, and worry, too, about how their children will deal with cycles of poverty. They also talk about, in writing and in discussion, the compromises they must make in negotiating with authority figures like the CHA and Ms. Bailey – some women, for example, have had to “let” their boyfriends or husbands sleep with Ms. Bailey or others in the Homes in order to keep their apartments or gain other material advantages. Sudhir is upset to hear this, and he wonders how the women have managed to “get by” in their lives making these sorts of difficult choices each day.
One of the interesting by-products of this writing group is what Sudhir learns about Ms. Bailey’s behavior from the women who have to petition her for the items necessary for life. On Ms. Bailey’s side, she only says she’s doing what needs to be done – as above, she wishes she could be finished with her job, that her position weren’t necessary. But in these cases, Ms. Bailey is very clearly taking advantage of the power she has over other women – and at times very much enjoying the exercise of that power.
Themes
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Finally, Ms. Bailey tells Sudhir to come to another community meeting, where angry residents ask Sudhir why he’s meeting with the women. He tells them all that they’re engaged in a writing group, but notes that, until clearing the air, many assumed he was having sex with people in the group, or “pimping them out.” Ms. Bailey confirms that Sudhir is “helping the girls with their homework,” and community members seem to accept this as plausible. Sudhir wonders whether, even in his attempts to do good, he doesn’t just wind up angering people, as when he accidentally caused others in the Homes to be “taxed” by JT and Ms. Bailey.
As previously, when Sudhir attempted to help Clarisse, there are many in the projects who are simply not willing to accept that Sudhir could be doing this out of charity, since, charity here usually involves a kind of mutual benefit, even when one appears to be giving out of the goodness of one’s own heart. In this case, the residents assume that Sudhir must be receiving sexual favors from the women, although Sudhir notes that this was the furthest thing from his mind during the time of the writing group meetings.
Themes
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