Respect Economies

Posted on March 7, 2011 by


The road to thesis-writing.  Long, arduous, mostly, trying.

Every once in a while in there’s a treat.

Mine came in the form of the book: Who do you claim?  Performing Gang Identity in School and on the Street by Robert Garot.

In the gang literature I’ve surveyed so far, one important driver in the motivation to commit homicide has been rooted in the need to establish respect.

Why is respect so valued?

So you don’t get fucked with over and over.

What happens if you get fucked with over and over?  You get stuff taken from you, no one will want to hang with you, no access to desired objects and/or females.  You might be excluded from the social rituals in the playgrounds and streets where people look like they’re having a better time than you are.

So establishing your reputation for not being a “punk” is important if you’re going to participate in other advantageous activities.

How can you establish your reputation?

In terms of a purely physical nature, it’s by showing that you could beat someone up or show that you have the ability to.

But even before things escalate to physical violence, there is some kind of interaction that had to have taken place.

A basic element of that interaction is the interrogation of an individual by a gang member.

Garot talks about the nuances to answering the question “Where you from?” within the context of urban-dwelling black and Latino youth in Los Angeles.

The question is often posed by gang members to ask about what gang an individual might be affiliated with.  If the individual is affiliated with a rival, it’s probably not good.  If the individual is not, the best answer is usually “nowhere” or “I don’t bang” (83). But even then, gang members still reacted adversely either just to prove respect or to steal something.

The response from the youth Garot interviewed said that this interaction was all just so normal and typical.  “Normal and typical” to the point where they’d gotten tired of the question.

It was like they got “flooded” with the question.

Me imagining these youths being “flooded” with the question reminded me of the experience in high school of being so limited to the school context and having to see assholes every day.  I’d feel like a punk if I ever reported anything.  Just being trapped in this context kinda depressed me during high school.

Can’t imagine what it feels like going throught that, likely NOT having money, NOT having a relatively supportive fam.

Going through this ritual everyday, with the same people, the same environment earning “respect” becomes something that takes on importance.  Respect will keep people off of you.  Respect will get you some money.  Respect will get you some women.  Respect is a currency in itself that you can trade to get either of the above.

It appears that what is created is this “arms race” for respect.  And some youth inevitably join a group, a category built on respect, the gang, an entity that cannot be so easily dismissed.