Renegade Dreams: Living through Injury in Gangland Chicago (Paperback)
Anyone familiar with Kehinde Wiley’s art will readily grasp the core message of Laurence Ralph’s ethnography, which draws inspiration from Wiley’s work in seeking to restage urban African American men within fields of power from which they are often presumed to be excluded. Taking up residence in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods, Ralph chronicles the daily struggles of a familiar cast of characters—gangsters and grandmothers, pastors and activists—in painterly prose. This intimate portrait of race, place and pain vitally complicates the debate on urban violence, sketching its many guises and the 'resilience it takes for black Chicagoans to keep dreaming anyway.' Empathetic, timely, and superbly written, Ralph’s account is ethnography at its best—a testament to hope and a work of art.— From Cate
Going deep into a West Side neighborhood most Chicagoans only know from news reports—a place where children have been shot just for crossing the wrong street—Ralph unearths the fragile humanity that fights to stay alive there, to thrive, against all odds. He talks to mothers, grandmothers, and pastors, to activists and gang leaders, to the maimed and the hopeful, to aspiring rappers, athletes, or those who simply want safe passage to school or a steady job. Gangland Chicago, he shows, is as complicated as ever. It’s not just a warzone but a community, a place where people’s dreams are projected against the backdrop of unemployment, dilapidated housing, incarceration, addiction, and disease, the many hallmarks of urban poverty that harden like so many scars in their lives. Recounting their stories, he wrestles with what it means to be an outsider in a place like this, whether or not his attempt to understand, to help, might not in fact inflict its own damage. Ultimately he shows that the many injuries these people carry—like dreams—are a crucial form of resilience, and that we should all think about the ghetto differently, not as an abandoned island of unmitigated violence and its helpless victims but as a neighborhood, full of homes, as a part of the larger society in which we all live, together, among one another.
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— Times Higher Education