Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies

Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies

by Katherine Irwin, Karen Umemoto

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In the context of two hundred years of American colonial control in the Pacific, Katherine Irwin and Karen Umemoto shed light on the experiences of today’s inner city and rural girls and boys in Hawai‘i who face racism, sexism, poverty, and political neglect. Basing their book on nine years of ethnographic research, the authors highlight how legacies of injustice endure, prompting teens to fight for dignity and the chance to thrive in America, a nation that the youth describe as inherently “jacked up”—rigged—and “unjust.” While the story begins with the youth battling multiple contingencies, it ends on a hopeful note with many of the teens overcoming numerous hardships, often with the guidance of steadfast, caring adults.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520283022
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 08/23/2016
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Katherine Irwin is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa. She is the coauthor with Meda Chesney-Lind of Beyond Bad Girls: Gender, Violence, and Hype.

Karen Umemoto is Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa. She is the author of The Truce: Lessons from an L.A. Gang War.

Read an Excerpt

Jacked Up and Unjust

Pacific Islanders Teens Confront Violent legacies

By Katherine Irwin, Karen Umemoto


Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95888-3


Literature Review and Background

Several literatures have helped us build our view of violence in the lives of the girls and boys in this study. First, we explore how criminologists have traditionally explained youth violence. We also examine statements about masculinity and violent street codes (Anderson 1999), and review feminist explanations of the ways that girls' violence relates to male domination.

Because violence is only a part of the experiences of the teens, our second goal is to outline themes in the critical youth studies literature as a way to connect the experiences of these adolescents with common trends affecting youth from a variety of backgrounds. Third, we briefly outline the literature on punitive trends in juvenile justice and education institutions. Because our primary goal is to trace how youth violence is related to the histories of racialization, colonialism, and patriarchy in the United States, our fourth and last goal is to offer a thesis about colonial patriarchy.


The topic of youth violence has been a concern in seminal criminological work — including analyses of gangs and street corner boys — since the early- to mid-twentieth century (Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Cohen 1955; Merton 1957; Miller 1958; Shaw 1930; Shaw and McKay 1942; Thrasher 1936). To summarize a long history of youth violence scholarship, one might say that criminologists tend to view physical aggression as a reaction of youth to blocked structural opportunities. In other words, when teens and young adults sense that their chances of gainingconventional, middle-class success are limited, violence can be an individual and collective solution.

In addition to the focus on blocked structural opportunities, there are at least three other common trends in this literature. First, criminologists have been rather male-focused for decades, with delinquent boys and criminal young men consistently in researchers' spotlight. Second, criminologists have focused on urban areas, while suburban, small-town, and rural locales are often overlooked. Third, when discussing blocked opportunities for success, crime scholars often focus on middle-class status as a marker of success. Therefore, socioeconomic conditions and class inequalities that keep youth from entering America's middle class remain central in many statements.

Since the 1980s, researchers (especially urban ethnographers) have been especially attuned to shifts in the U.S. political economy as an explanation for youth violence. In terms of economic shifts, the outmigration of industries from U.S. borders is said to have left many neighborhoods and certain segments of the U.S. population without stable employment. From the later part of the nineteenth century to the 1950s, American industries (many of which were located in urban centers) offered stable, unskilled or semiskilled jobs for working-class men (and some women). Once these industries were gone, the urban working class became the urban underclass in just a few decades. Remembering that criminologists often explain violence (and many other types of crime) as reactions to blocked economic opportunities, one can see how the rampant poverty left by deindustrialization introduced seemingly insurmountable barriers to inner-city youth.

Researchers have also argued that neoliberalism has exacerbated the economic dislocations described above. Scholars (Anderson 1999; Block et al. 1987; Katz 1989; Wacquant 2014) assert that since the 1980s, politicians have espoused neoliberal ideologies and policies that have exacerbated the economic devastation in urban areas in many ways. Specifically, a neoliberal agenda has failed to connect the unemployed to jobs and has underfunded the services and institutions that could have supported those facing the brunt of deindustrialization and unemployment in the United States. Consequently, institutions such as public schools, community-based programs, and other service-centered organizations in the poorest areas of the country have been starved for funding and political support since the 1980s. Put simply, the institutions (including schools) meant to provide opportunities for young people and families were gutted.

Race-based inequalities have also been understood to influence youth violence through residential segregation and community stigma. Because of years of racial discrimination in formal policies and informal practices, the United States has been marked by severe racial residential segregation, what some have called a system of "American apartheid" (Massey and Denton 1987, 1993). De jure segregation through Jim Crow laws (beginning roughly in the 1870s) and then de facto segregation (after de jure segregation laws were dismantled in the 1950s and 1960s) meant that Black families and recent immigrants to the United States were barred from living in White neighborhoods. Instead, those designated as "racial minorities" were often restricted to living in particular urban enclaves or ghettos (Massey and Denton 1987, 1993; Wacquant 2001). Not surprisingly, many of these racial and ethnic enclaves faced the brunt of economic restructuring.

The racial stigma cast on communities is also seen by researchers as having played a significant role in blocking legitimate opportunities for those living in the poorest urban neighborhoods. Because inner-city neighborhoods became known as crime-ridden and violent communities, these areas, and the residents within them, were consequently "marked" by the problems brought on by deindustrialization. For example, public discourse and mass media portrayals have often painted inner-city dwellers as being welfare dependent, pathologically criminal, and dangerous to society (Wacquant 2001).

Masculinity, Violence, and the Code of the Streets

As noted, criminological explanations of youth violence are decidedly male centered; there are at least two reasons for this. First, because many criminologists focus on the deindustrialization of urban centers and the loss of working-class employment, men and boys are seen as central characters. It was men's industrial jobs that were lost and, therefore, it was boys and men who were seen as particularly "structurally vulnerable."

The second reason for male-centric bias in violence literature is due to historic discourses, ideologies, and practices surrounding masculinity in the United States (Connell 2005). Manliness and masculinity are often associated with dominance and the potential for violence. For example, Messerschmidt (1986) has argued that in the United States, "both masculinity and power are linked with aggression/violence while femininity and powerlessness are linked with nonviolence" (59). Messerschmidt also notes that "marginalized males tend to engage in more extreme forms of violence (robbery, assault, murder) than other youth." Violence, as portrayed by scholarly narratives, becomes part of the masculine repertoire, as structurally vulnerable men and boys use interpersonal violence to gain the control and dominance that they cannot obtain through legitimate avenues.

It is important to note that men with racial, economic, and political power and privilege also use violence or the threat of violence, although not generally by means of interpersonal attacks in public. State-sponsored violence in the form of militarization and heavy-handed policing provides the link between privileged masculinity and physical violence. If one ascribes to theories of structural violence (Galtung 1969, Gilligan 1997), engineering, supporting, and justifying institutional arrangements that deny large segments of the U.S. population the material and symbolic resources that would allow them to thrive is also a form of violence. In other words, structural violence comprises those inequalities that systematically block opportunities that would allow groups of people to meet their basic needs, which include, arguably, being treated with respect and dignity.

Anderson's (1999) Code of the Street has become a popular explanation linking the economic, political, and social conditions that have prevailed since deindustrialization to a violent and street-based ethos governing male social relations in urban areas. More specifically, Anderson notes that inner-city men are likely to see violence as a legitimate way to gain respect, to show their "nerve" and demonstrate that they have "juice" (i.e., the potential to harm others), thus conferring high status onto men who do not have other ways of gaining legitimacy. In a similar vein, Miller (1958, 9) notes that the lower-class boys in his study were "hard, fearless, undemonstrative, skilled in physical combat." Katz (1988, 80–81) also argues that lower-class men depict "badass" personas that combine a "measure of meanness" and a message to others that "you do not know me," but "at any moment I may ... destroy you." These and other studies document that interpersonal violence is one way that lower-class men angle for status and prestige.

Anderson, citing Black (1983, 1993), explains that violence is a form of "self help," given the neoliberal changes that have devastated institutional support systems. In inner cities, residents do not turn to the police (or other institutions) for assistance; the "law of local people and its corresponding street justice" (Anderson 1999 314) are more reliable than the law and order of the state. In this scheme, violence is more than a way to demand respect: it also allows men to gain retribution for harms, earn justice, and protect themselves.

Criminological explanations of inner-city violence are certainly plausible and help to illuminate how adolescents' life chances and choices are narrowed according to economic conditions, racial segregation, and stigma, as well as political neglect. There are, however, some significant gaps in the narratives examined above, gaps this book attempts to fill. One limitation is the emphasis, to date, on economic and political conditions after the 1950s as major factors leading to male interpersonal violence. As a result, other sources of marginalization, such as the long history of racial conflict in America, tend to be sidelined.

The roots of racism in the United States are long and deep, existing well before the outmigration of jobs from inner cities after the 1950s and influencing more than just patterns of residential segregation. Racism in the United States also comprises more than a community stigma, what Wacquant (2014, 1692) calls "territorial stigmatization." The expansive, enduring, and multifaceted effects of racism deserve more attention in our perspectives.

Girls' Violence, Patriarchy, and Multiple Oppressions

Because the youth violence literature has been male centered for decades, there are several questions about girls' and young women's place in the dislocations described above. For example, given the preceding explanations, what are we to make of structurally vulnerable girls and their violent experiences? Since many researchers have seen violence and masculinity as tightly linked, girls' place in the violent street ethos is unclear. Also, do the structural forces (i.e., economic dislocation, neoliberal politics, racial residential segregation and stigma) that deny boys and men opportunities for legitimate ways to gain status work the same way for girls?

Since at least the 1970s, feminist researchers have addressed girls' place in what was often portrayed as the masculine world of youth violence. Feminist criminologists use patriarchy (i.e., systematic male domination) as their central framework to understand girls' violence. Chesney-Lind and Morash (2013) argue that systems of male domination comprise what is called the patriarchal sex/gender system, which "exists globally and in countries, cultures, regions, communities, organizations, families, and other groups. It affects individuals by impacting their identities, imposing gendered expectations, and prohibiting and sanctioning 'gender inappropriate' behavior. Patriarchal sex/gender systems are characterized by males' exercise of power and control to oppress women (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994)" (290).

Feminist researchers have noted that systems of and beliefs supporting male domination have particular consequences for girls. For example, scholars argue that in every institution and sphere of girls' lives, such as families, schools, communities, and work worlds, girls are exposed to ideologies and practices that maintain the subservience and dependence of girls and the dominance and autonomy of boys (Artz 1998, 2004, 2005; Campbell 1984).

Girls' violence has been explained as a response to patriarchal conditions. As Brown (2003) notes, girls have many reasons to be angry, and their fights stem from their anger about "the range of injustices and indignities girls experience in their everyday lives" (17). Morash and Chesney-Lind (2009) note that girls' battles occur when gender-specific and demoralizing labels such as "slut," "bitch," or "dyke" are thrown at them by other girls (see also Campbell 1984; Batchelor, Burman, and Brown 2001; Burman, Brown, and Batchelor 2003). Girls often fight other girls and not boys. Therefore, girls are seen as enacting horizontal violence (Freire [1970] 1993). The central thesis in this literature is that girls are not able to target or change the gender inequalities that place them at a disadvantage compared with boys and, as a result, they take out their anger on other girls.

While the above explanations position girls' violence as a response to gender inequalities (i.e., patriarchy), others have wondered whether and how economic distress, political alienation, and racism also influence female violence and crime. For example, Miller (2001, 10) notes that gender's "significance is variable," meaning that some female crime (including violence) is motivated by gender and some "likely results from the same factors that motivate men," including racial, political, and economic alienation (see also Simpson 1989, 1991). Because scholars acknowledge that gender is not the only system of oppression faced by working and lower-class women and girls of color, critical criminologists and legal scholars (Belknap 2015; Burgess-Proctor 2006; Crenshaw 1991; Chesney-Lind and Morash 2013; Pyke and Johnson 2003; Richie 2012) have called for "multiple oppressions" explanations of female crime and violence.

Multiple oppressions theories articulate how gender operates in relation with other systematic inequalities like racism and classism. It is important to note that age, nationality, sexuality, and cognitive and physical abilities (to name a few) are also important vectors of inequalities in the lives of youth. When writing about multiple inequalities, scholars often use the terms "in relation" or "relational oppressions." Here, scholars often mean that systems of inequalities are linked, with one dimension of inequality (like gender) depending on and working in relation with other systems (like race, class, or sexuality) to distribute power, resources, advantages, and privileges (Burgess-Proctor 2006). Also, all systems are linked within structural, political, ideological, institutional, and interpersonal social systems. Making the image even more complex, these multiple oppressions operate on individual, interpersonal, community, state, and national levels (see Richie 2012, 133). One can also say that they are global, as they are forces that are not contained within national boundaries.

Girls' violence researchers have used the multiple oppressions framework in particular ways. For example, Jones (2004, 2008, 2010), Leitz (2003), and Ness (2004, 2010) advance an "alternative femininities" argument to explain girls' violence. Ness (2004, 37) argues that poor girls of color living in the inner city can "selectively appropriate" middle-class and White femininity norms (which eschew violence) and place them "alongside values that more closely fit their lives." In this view, how femininity is enacted is flexible, and violent girls can enact their own brand of tough and formidable femininity in the face of multiple forms of injustice.

Richie's (2012) work on Black women, violence, and the criminal justice system advances two important ideas that help theorize multiple oppressions and women's experiences. First, she notes that "White patriarchy imparts racial hierarchy on Black bodies" (128). For Black women, the outcome is "uniquely disparaging images of Black women's sexuality." Here, racism functions through the control of "othered" bodies and especially through the regulation of female sexuality. Richie also notes that distance from hegemonic ideals of sexuality, age, class, race, and gender translates into a set of complicated realities in everyday life. In other words, the more distant one is from the dominant hegemonic norms, the more complicated and contingent a person's life and life chances become.


Excerpted from Jacked Up and Unjust by Katherine Irwin, Karen Umemoto. Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


1. Literature Review and Background
2. The Caring Adult Role and Youth Research
3. “Us Girls Get the Second Half ”: Girls’ Early Socialization and Outspoken Femininity v 4. Fighting for Her Honor: High School Girls’ Struggles for Respect
5. Boys’ Fights and the Jacked-Up System
6. Sea of Good Intentions: Juvenile Protection in the Shadow of Punishment
7. Youth Prepare for Adulthood
8. Theoretical Conclusions
9. Compassionate and Constructive Policy and Practice

Appendix 1. Data Sources and Participant Demographics
Appendix 2. Demographics of Quoted Teens

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