Group membership is something that we as humans yearn for. We crave to be accepted and acknowledged by others. Once we gain this approval we experience intense feelings of belonging. It is important that I mention group membership is something that is not concrete like kinship, instead it is flexible and our situations and placement determine it. In regards to gang membership there many factors that contribute to upholding their status as participants. I will discuss the experiences of both men and women and explain the reasons as to why individuals choose to be a part of gang life. It is clear that gender, race, and sexuality are strong components that shape how an individual will end up participating in gang activity and these attributes will also determine how one will experience gang life.
Image 1: (http://american3rdposition.com/?p=10127)
As our world continued to develop with colonialism and capitalism, many ethnic groups suffered. Today contemporary minority groups are still suffering in terms of geographical displacement, economic disparity and lack of resources and education opportunities. In a country such as Canada and the United States of America we often find these groups of people located spatially on “reservations” or “ghettos.” It is not a coincidence that specific ethnic groups are marginalized. Due to discrimination in a colonial society where patriarchy and ethnocentricity are prominent, there was a dramatic decrease in employment and these “high unemployment rates were mainly concentrated in specific geographic areas” (Howell, Decker 3). These factors of discrimination in the past and current society give off sensations of powerlessness for the minority groups. This ultimately influences individuals’ choices to join a gang in a search for security and solidarity.
After reading the two sources for module 9, I made connections to gang membership and other organizations that I experience on campus. Many gang members join these groups because they are searching for a place of belonging and community. Gangs offer support that individuals may have been lacking in familial relations or school life. Gang participants speak of how gangs offer social networking opportunities in regards to economics and furthermore, they offer more informal ways of social gathering such as parties and other interactions. At UBC we see groups of students searching for this same type of solidarity that offers social involvement. Gangs can be related to the Greek system of fraternities and sororities. Members of these groups speak of sisterhood and brotherhood. However, standards and values of a fraternity or sorority vary from a gang’s perception of normal behaviour. The stigmas of gangs often include talk about the amount of violence and drugs that correspond to their groups. Scholars have stated that “gangs and drugs must be treated as separate evils” (Howell, Decker 3). Mainly because drug dealers who are associated with gangs are usually selling these products privately (Joe-Laidler, Hunt 3).
A members participation in a gang varies and intersectional factors shape their involvement and how they will experience this membership. Men will inevitably undergo different ideas of what it is to be a gang member. Studies have shown that “drinking affirms masculinity in culturally defined ways” (Joe- Laidler, Hunt 6). Alcohol consumption represents toughness and this a test of strength. The effects of alcohol bring forward aggression and this characteristic is something that dictates maleness. Alcohol is often associated with intergenerational social issues that are experienced by these marginalized ethnic groups. Many users of alcohol are trying to mask the pain of their past and finding that “liquid courage” is the best coping mechanism. Alcohol among gang activity is usually consumed when the “brothers” are “hanging out” (Joe-laidler, Hunt 6). Young men stay involved with gangs for the need of protection in their unsafe neighborhoods as well as non-existent work and education opportunities
Females will experience their gang life a little differently than men. It is clear that in countries such as Canada and United States, females are combatting gender discrimination. When we look at the struggles of a minority woman, she is undergoing both racism and sexism. In the “Moving Beyond Gang Drugs Violence” article, the scholars spoke of female’s sexuality and I found it interesting that women join gangs for the same reasons as men but the article only spoke of women’s sexuality and not male sexuality. This point was mentioned because of the “patriarchal nature of gang culture” (Joe Laidler, Hunt 8). In a patriarchal world, women’s sexuality is viewed as something that doesn’t belong to her; women are created for men’s pleasure. Female gang membership combats the stereotyped gender roles framed by patriarchal views. Women gang members are free agents who are fearless and not afraid to confront dangerous scenarios and this challenges the normative behaviour of traditional women in society. However, as we look the biological differences of men versus women, it is evident that women need to take a step back from this lifestyle as they reproduce babies. Pregnancy often influences women to reduce their time hanging around gangs as the social aspects include drinking and often smoking.
Before reading these two articles, I myself had specific ideas regarding gangs and their activities. With my gained knowledge I am aware that violence among gangs is often motivated by intergenerational trauma triggers and the power of alcohol. I also understand the reasons as to why individuals join gangs and many of these reasons are similar to other clubs such as fraternities and sororities. Furthermore, I recognize that men and women experience gang life differently because of the values our country was founded on. Canada and USA have successfully displaced those who don’t benefit from white privilege and this interferes with minority group’s education, economic status and geographical location and these are three reasons why minority representation in gangs is higher.
James Howell & Scott Decker, The Youth Gangs, Drugs, Violence Connection, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/93920.pdf
Karen Joe-Laidler & Geoffrey Hunt, Moving Beyond the Gang Drugs Violence Connection, Drugs 19 (6): 442-452. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774146/pdf/nihms510651.pdf