J.T. once asked me what sociologists had to say about gangs and inner-city poverty. I told him that some sociologists believed in a “culture of poverty”—that is, poor blacks didn’t work because they didn’t value employment as highly as other ethnic groups did, and they transmitted this attitude across generations.
“So you want me to take pride in the job, and you’re only paying me minimum wage?” J.T. countered. “It don’t sound like you think much about the job yourself.” His tone was more realistic than defensive. In fact, his rejoinder echoed the very criticisms that some sociologists applied to the “culture of poverty” view.