Gang Leader for a Day


Sudhir Venkatesh

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Themes and Colors
Hustling Theme Icon
Teaching and Learning Theme Icon
Objectivity and Empathy Theme Icon
Crime and the Police Theme Icon
Poverty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Gang Leader for a Day, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Poverty Theme Icon

Underlying all the above themes are the material conditions of those living in the projects. Put simply, essentially everyone in the Robert Taylor Homes is poor—that is, lacking in some of the basic needs of human life, and having difficulty securing those needs regularly. Some need food and clean water, others need clothing, others need medicine, shelter, heat, or electricity. When Sudhir encounters the depth of the need in the community, he wonders there is anything he or anyone can do to help, and much of his research focuses on how the money that does circulate in the projects collects—where it goes, and who supplies it; how smaller economies form as residents need certain goods or services.

Sudhir pushes back against one of the theories prominent among some social scientists, that there is such a thing as a “culture of poverty” that can keep certain populations trapped in bleak conditions. For Sudhir, this “culture of poverty” appears too much like an active choice on the part of these imagined community-members. Instead, what he sees is a series of situation-specific responses to problems as they arise. Because poor black communities are underserved by the police, by hospital staff, and indeed by most mechanisms that white and/or wealthier parts of society take for granted, the Robert Taylor Homes are often forced to “make do” with whatever they have. This could seem, from the outside, as a “choice” to remain impoverished, or to live lives of crime or off-the-books work.

But Sudhir’s study is a long description leading to a different explanation: that poverty is no more a choice than blackness, but is itself a social construct, a set of things imposed and reflected by members of society at all levels. This means that a “solution” to poverty could not be exclusively, or even primarily, a cultural one, although increased awareness and education do play a role in helping people out of dire conditions. Instead, Sudhir seems to believe that a “solution” to poverty would address people in the projects as enlightened, rational agents, as people who respond to the world as they see it, and who try to do as best for themselves and for others that their circumstances allow.

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Poverty ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Poverty appears in each chapter of Gang Leader for a Day. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Poverty Quotes in Gang Leader for a Day

Below you will find the important quotes in Gang Leader for a Day related to the theme of Poverty.
Preface Quotes

I hadn’t come for the crack; I was here on a different mission. I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and for my research I had taken to hanging out with the Black Kings, the local crack-selling gang.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: xiv
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

You got blacks who are beating their heads trying to figure out a way to live where you live! Don’t ask me why. And then you got a whole lot of black folk who realize it ain’t no use. Like us. We just spend our time trying to get by, and we live around here, where it ain’t so pretty, but at least you won’t get your ass beat. At least not by the police.

Related Characters: Charlie and Old Time (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Go back to where you came from ... and be more careful when you walk around the city. ... You shouldn’t go around asking them silly-ass questions. ... With people like us, you should hang out, get to know what they do, how they do it. No one is going to answer questions like that. You need to understand how young people live on the streets.

Related Characters: JT (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

We stepped inside an apartment furnished with couches and a few reclining chairs that faced a big TV. There was a Christian show playing. ... The domestic scene surprised me a bit, for I had read so much about the poverty and danger in Robert Taylor, how children ran around without parents and how drugs had overtaken the community.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), Ms. Mae
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Regulars like me, we hustle to make our money, but we only go with guys we know. We don’t do it full-time, but if we have to feed our kids, we may make a little money on the side.

Related Characters: Clarisse (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Shorty-Lee was puzzled. He looked over to the three other BKs. They were toting spiral-bound notebooks in which they “signed up” potential votes. But it seemed that neither Lenny nor JT had told them there was an actual registration form and that registrars had to be licensed.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT, Lenny Duster, Shorty-Lee
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

... the man was sleeping with Coco, but he was giving her diapers and shit for Coco’s baby.

Related Characters: Price (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh, Coco
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

For now, be careful when you help the women. They’ll take advantage of you, and you won’t know what hit you. And I can’t be there to protect you.

Related Characters: Ms. Bailey (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Do you want to write me another essay? Do you want to write about what just happened?

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), Catrina
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The women wrote and spoke openly about their struggles. Each of them had at least a couple of children, which generally meant at least one “baby daddy” who wasn’t in the picture. Each of them had a man in her life who’d been either jailed or killed...

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

You need to understand that the Black Kings are not a gang; we are a community organization, responding to people’s needs.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis: