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Structure and Culture in African-American Adolescent Violence: A Partial Test of the "Code of the Street" Thesis

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 23 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 1-33
Date Published
March 2006
33 pages

This study drew on Elijah Anderson's (1999) "code of the street" thesis to explain the high rates of violence among African-American adolescents.


The findings suggest that family characteristics, racial discrimination, and neighborhood context are significant predictors of the "street code," which Anderson defines as a powerful informal system that governs the use of violence, especially among young African-American males. The code of the street emphasizes maintaining the respect of others through a violent identity, toughness, and exacting retribution when someone disrespects ("disses") you. Thus, the code regulates the use of violence and provides a rationale that allows those inclined toward aggression to initiate violent encounters in ways approved by the code of the street. Findings of this study confirm Anderson's argument that "street" families engage in a style of parenting in which they socialize their children to conform to the code of the street as a normative process. The findings also showed that the "decent family" variable (families that sought to defuse the influence of the street code) had little influence on the strength and prevalence of the street code, but they did exert social control over their children's use of violence. The data also suggest that neighborhood structural conditions influence violent delinquency primarily through links with the street code. The study was based on the first 2 waves of data from the Family and Community Health Study, which obtained data from 720 African-American adolescents from 259 neighborhoods. The study examined whether neighborhood context, family type, and racial discrimination influenced adoption of the street code. It also assessed whether the street code mediated the effects of neighborhood context, family characteristics, and racial discrimination on violent delinquency. 3 tables and 120 references

Date Published: March 1, 2006