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Mitchell  Duneier. Slim's Table: Race, Respectability and Masculinity.  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.)    

From Subject
dpnemtu (Daniel P. Nemtusiak) Review:Slim's Table
Raymond Albert <ralbert@cc.brynmawr.edu> Review of Duneier's SLIM'S TABLE (Albert)
"heather wileaver" <hdwilea@ilstu.edu> Review of SLIM'S TABLE (Wileaver)
"melanie marie rosiak" <mmrosia@ilstu.edu> Review of Mitchell Duneier (Rosiak)
PCB3911@ACFcluster.NYU.EDU Slim's Table
"Angel B. Johnson" <abjohns@ilstu.edu> Slim's Table review
Laurie Hartzell <ogrb@YAHOO.COM> Slim's Table review 
Laura Pranaitis <laprana@ILSTU.EDU> Rev: Slim's Table
Sharon Michele Skowron <smskowr@ILSTU.EDU> Rev: Slim's Table
David Hurn <dahurn@ILSTU.EDU> Rev: Slim's Table
Amalia Monroe <almonro@ILSTU.EDU>  **** Response to David Hurn
Deidre Meyers <dlmeyer_98@YAHOO.COM> Slim's table
From Laurie Hartzell <ogrb@YAHOO.COM> Review Slim's Table

Date: Tue, 11 Apr 1995 15:38:33 -0500 
From: Dan N 
Subject: Review:Slim's Table 

Mitchell Duneier, SLIM'S TABLE By Dan Nemtusiak Illinois State University  

  To the average person, regardless of race or gender, who takes every word that the media presents as truth, SLIM'S TABLE will present a shocking view of black ghetto residents. The majority of this book written by Mitchell Duneier revolves around a small cafe in Chicago called Valois. In this cafe are two customers that frequent the place regularly, Slim and Bart. Slim, a retired black man in his 60's, and Bart, a retired white man in his 70's, become friends and this is what Mitchell bases much of his book on.

Mitchell believes that the media has generalized black ghetto life as a culture that has no values or strengths. Yet what occurs at Valois is something completely different. The friendship that forms between Slim and Bart proves not only that racial interaction has occurred, but it illustrates the fact that a white man who has been prejudice against blacks for the majority of his life has found certain values in his black friend that he himself agrees with. Values such as being dedicated to one's job, or believing in being honest and hard working are just a few that the media has written off when describing people in the ghettos. In one of Mitchell's stories, he describes a scene in which an older black man tells Slim and Bart how he was in the hospital for surgery and the bill totaled over $3000. The old man said that he could have just left without paying because the hospital had no information of him. Instead, he paid the entire amount in full.

He also described a situation with his landlord in which he lived in a sub-standard apartment for several years, constantly asking the landlord to fix what was wrong. Several years later, when the landlord finally came to his apartment to ask what was wrong, the old man refused to tell him because the problems were so obvious it would have been an added insult to have to explain them. This shows not only integrity but also pride in urban dwellers, even though they live in a less prestigious environment than most. Another storydescribed a man who bragged about never missing a day of work in his life. These people prove that values do exist in the ghettos even though the people do not have the possessions that those in the mainstream do. Mitchell states that:

"What distinguishes the poor from other members of society is not that they are isolated from mainstream values, but that they do not have the standards of living to buffer them from the destructive effects of the permissiveness, freedom, and spontaneity of American life."

The only problem I have with this statement is what is "mainstream"? If mainstream is described as what is accepted in society, then most of what Mitchell has described could be considered mainstream. I have learned through reading this book that most of the people who live in the ghettos are, although poor, clinging to values and beliefs that I myself strive to follow. Mitchell states that it is wrong to place such an emphasis on black role models such as sports and music stars because in reality they do not carry the values that are acceptable in society. He believes that many of the stars that society has deemed as having high morals and values are actually not what we should follow. Many are uneducated and bear children out of wedlock. In his eyes, it is these distorted values that are decaying not only the ghettos but society in general. Yet if a celebrity is capable of instilling an image of dedication and the will to succeed in a young person, I see no problem with society embracing sportsand music stars and placing them in sort of a spotlight, as long as that spotlight does not highlight the worst in every star.

Mitchell explains that the mainstream society is often the focus for many ghetto dwellers and he believes that the question of why people iving in the ghettos focus on the mainstream implies that:

"...blacks are somehow deficient because they are not completely part of white society, while whites lose nothing by not participating in black society."

Mitchell explains that this is false because many of the people who attended Valois were white men who found themselves living up to standards of black men who they had met there. This proves to Mitchell that mainstream society could learn much from black men who live in the ghetto. Mitchell also believes that the decline in the lifestyle of people in the ghetto can be attributed to thehigh rate of crime and murder that exists in poor neighborhoods. He believes that although the majority of people living in these neighborhoods hold high morals and values, these are not enough to abolish what is destroying these neighborhoods. Mitchell states that:

"The decline in the ghetto of the values of restraint, family life, and social responsibility reflects cultural changes in the wider society which must transform itself before it can expect the values of the ghettos to change."

I highly agree with this statement. I think that as long as today's youth have to grow up in one parent homes, with little parental guidance, and no one instilling morals and ethics in them, there will be little change in society. The downfall in morals and ethics will only continue, leaving a bleak future with little hope for a better society. Mitchell argues that until this change in larger society occurs, there can be little hope for people living in the ghettos to follow beliefs that people such as Slim and Bart carry with them.

In addition to these changes, Mitchell believes that the media must also change the views in which they depict the ghettos. I myself could understand why people view ghetto dwellers as having low self esteem with no morals. Many movies focus around the ghettos as being the worst place to live and describe the people who live there as gang members and criminals. While many people who live in the ghettos are criminals, many are not, yet the movies fail to depict these people as who they really are; honest, hard working people trying to better themselves.

The news media also places many barriers to these attempts at a better life. Much of the nightly news revolves around crime that has taken place in the ghettos while ignoring incidents that have taken place in the mainly white suburbs. There tends to be a highlight of the amount of crime and drugs used in the ghettos and yet much of the drug dealing and using occurs in the suburbs, not in the ghettos. It is this false depiction of life in the ghettos that gives not only the general society the wrong idea, but it also places a false sense of insecurity in those who live in the ghettos as well. It is difficult to overcome the problems that exist in the ghettos if a person is unable to believe in oneself. Mitchell explains that although the condition of the ghettos is continuing to worsen, people like Slim and Bart will be replaced by younger dwellers who will carry on the beliefs that the two elders had.

Although Mitchell focuses much of his argument on blacks that live in the ghettos, I think that he should have at least addressed the problem that all ghetto dwellers face. I think that not only do blacks who live in the ghettos face these problems described above, but also Hispanics and whites as well. The poor is made up of many races, not just blacks, and much could be learned from all who live in the ghettos. The main point that I agree with Mitchell is the statement about the values of society needing reform. I agree that until these are changed, there will be little change in not only the ghettos, but society in general.

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Date: Mon, 25 Apr 1994 09:50:09 -0500 
From: Raymond Albert ralbert@cc.brynmawr.edu
Subject: Review of Duneier's SLIM'S TABLE (Albert) 

   

SLIM'S TABLE: RACE, RESPECTABILITY, AND MASCULINITY. By Mitchell Duneier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.  

Let's play a game of word association: What images come to mind when you hear the words "black urban male?" Dangerous? Unemployed? Undereducated? Irresponsible? In Slim's Table: Race, Respectability, and Masculinity, Mitchell Duneier tells us that these and other equally offensive ideas are inherent in an American psyche shaped by social scientists and popular culture. Duneier, a University of Chicago trained sociologist, offers a portrait of men who are nothing like the stereotypes suggested by these ideas. He argues for nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way we think about black inner city males. Duneier's study, based on four years of ethnographic research, effectively disputes popular conceptions of black men and provocatively challenges urban ethnography's account of them. His depiction of the close relationship among a group of black working class men is a brief against contemporary stereotypes and an argument for a vision of black men as vital, morally-grounded, responsible members of society.

What, and where, is Slim's table? The book's title refers to a physical setting as much as a state of mind. The physical setting is Valois -- a popular cafeteria serving home-style cuisine located on the margin of a Chicago ghetto, near Hyde Park and within the shadow of the University of Chicago. Although the restaurant caters to a racially mixed clientele, Duneier's study focuses on a group of older black males who have frequented the place for many years. Slim, an auto mechanic, has held forth for over a decade at a table that serves as the meeting place for this diverse group. Joining Slim are: a self-employed extermi- nator, a film developer for Playboy who was honorably discharged from the army after twenty years, an administrator for the Board of Education, and a retired meter inspector. Most of the men reside in the vicinity; all are disillusioned by the consequence of neighborhood changes. They are aware of the economic distress that has overwhelmed Chicago's South Side in the past twenty years, and they are intimately familiar with the implications for the employment prospects of black males. Many other black men frequent Valois and practically all the patrons take notice of the activity and camaraderie at Slim's table.

Duneier offers a portrait of men who value work and its concomitant life-affirming habits, such as independence, self- reliance, and providing for one's family. They refuse to be marginalized by a community that often views them as anachro- nisms. Duneier contends that these men eschew dependency; work is a defining masculine experience as well as the avenue to independence. Their conversations suggest that they occasionally share the prevailing unflattering assumptions about the so-called urban "underclass." That their views on this phenomenon echo sentiments not unlike those of racist whites is disturbing, but not surprising given their middle class sensibilities. What accounts for this anomaly? Duneier explains that Slim and his friends subscribe to a code of conduct drawn from an earlier era, a time when the causes and consequences of poverty differed from the conditions that presently confront the ghetto poor. "Some of the black regulars [at Valois] are themselves prone to claim that those folks who remain at the old hangouts are somehow lacking in dignity. As Ted says, 'Those who don't think like us, they stay in the ghetto and never venture out.' Some upstanding men like the regulars feel out of place in such company. Regardless of the extent to which the ghetto has been transformed, there is no doubt that these men are acting in accord- ance with the belief that it has" (p. 57).

Thus, Duneier argues that the men in Slim's Table seek to reproduce the type of intimate, face-to-face contact that once existed in the social world of the ghetto. Their conduct toward each other, their gentle protectiveness of each other, even their easy relationship with a number of white patrons is reminiscent of a vision of community attachment that, in their view, is sadly out-of-sync with contemporary reality. Duneier quickly points out that these men do not long for some nostalgic fantasy. Rather, their gathering at Valois is emblematic of their connection to a wider community and to a set of shared beliefs. More important, they congregate to fortify their self-image as morally upstanding members of a larger society.

Duneier notes other paradoxes in the conversations and conduct of the men congregated around Slim. These men feel cut off from both ghetto blacks and middle class blacks. They dismiss ghetto blacks for their ostensible lack of connection to community and their apparent repudiation of a work ethic. They feel estranged from middle class blacks -- patrons from downtown and students from nearby University of Chicago -- because they believe middle class blacks feel economically and intellectually superior to blacks in the South Side. To cast Slim and his friends as intellectual inferiors is especially hurtful, Duneier suggests, because the men clearly feel connected to all sorts of current political and social issues. Indeed, their lively debates on such matters are a self-affirming antidote to feelings of alienation.

In the course of rendering his ethnographic account, Duneier blames social scientists and journalists for our confused percep- tions of black males. He disputes several prominent commenta- tors, such as Shelby Steele, Elijah Anderson, and Nicholas Lemann for their unexamined assumptions about black men. "The danger of a literature constituted exclusively of reports [drawn from classic urban ethnography or popular journalism], derived from inaccurate inferences and selective samples," Duneier argues, "is not only that such images may lead to selective perception. No less dangerous is the manner in which we internalize the images" (147).

Duneier saves his harshest criticism for scholars who have failed to acknowledge the historical strengths of the black working and lower working classes -- the majority of American blacks. He rejects the conventional wisdom that these classes lack the requisite role models to develop a sound moral base. The poor are moral beings capable of providing their own models for moral conduct, Duneier argues. Hence, to hold out the middle class as a role model for the lower classes is ultimately a destructive, racist paradigm.

Duneier seems respectful of the men in his study. He views them as people who live complete lives. He does not evaluate their stories or their lives against some ideal standard. The men treated him with respect, and he responded in kind. Against this background, however, I note several weaknesses in his account. First, Duneier seems too surprised by what he finds. Scholarly literature and popular culture notwithstanding, he should not be amazed that honorable black men exist within the working and lower working class; indeed, many of us need look no further than our own dad. Second, his analysis of the discus- sions among Slim and his friends occasionally brought him dangerously close to a behavior-based explanation of urban poverty. Even these men would not be so harsh as to ignore certain structural economic changes and how these have complicated the lives of the "underclass" they appear to disdain. Third, Duneier seems to want to explain the bonding among the men in Slim's Table within the context of the men's movement -- an unfortunate error because this movement certainly doesn't align itself with Slim and his compatriots. Fourth, he offers a relatively superficial discussion of a central issue in the lives of Slim and his friends: Their relationship with their women and the implications for the extent to which they treat black women as equals. This is a really complex issue for the men, and Duneier's discussion falls short of a full account. Finally, a brief discourse on his methodology would have been illuminating: Did it matter to him that he was a white researcher studying a group of black men? Did it matter to the men? Did this reality put some matters beyond his understanding? I am certain he confronted these sorts of questions; no responsible ethnographer can ignore them. I wish he had shared his thinking -- and reactions -- with us. In sum, however, these flaws are not fatal.

Ultimately, Slim's Table is a satisfying portrait of positive relationships among black urban males. The care and friend- ship these men demonstrate toward each other is wonderful, and is likely to resonate for many readers. Our hunch is that the men congregating around Slim, as well as the other black men who frequent Valois, are the rule rather than the exception. And there's a bonus: Duneier urges us to "use scholarship and media to make the 'respectable' masses part of the on-going perceived reality." To the extent that scholars and journalists heed his admonition, black men -- and all the rest of us -- stand to gain.

Raymond Albert ralbert@cc.brynmawr.edu Associate Professor and Director, Law and Social Policy Program Bryn Mawr College    

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Date: Tue, 11 Apr 1995 17:25:46 -0500 
From: "heather wileaver" <hdwilea@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review of SLIM'S TABLE (Wileaver) 

Review of Mitchell Duneier, SLIM'S TABLE (University of Chicago, 1992)

Reviewed By: Heather Wileaver Illinois State University April 8, 1995  

I get the impression from reading SLIM'S TABLE that Mitchell Duneier thinks we are all idiots. Just as the Magic Bullet Theory says that we take everything in from the media as truth, Duneier suggests, repeatedly, that we shape our views of the black male in the ghetto based on what sociologists write about the black male- without questions. The majority of his book is devoted to disproving all of the generalizations that have been made by sociologists about black males by showing us a group of older, Black, working-class men who are nothing like these generalizations. He points out that what sociologists have written about black males is not representative of a black males in the ghetto. What he fails to see is that what he writes cannot be generalized to the entire black, male population either. He argues that the theories about black males have very little backing. One small group of men in a restaurant in Chicago is enough evidence to back his theory? Duneier apparently does not realize that we have minds of our own and when we read theories we do not automatically accept them as truth, just as he did not accept them as the truth. We can realize that what is written about one group will generalize to that group and that group only. He scolds sociologists, repeatedly for representing their theories with very little backing.  Whites, he claims, would be outraged if such generalizations were made about them with such little evidence. Yet he writes just a few paragraphs later that "the men's movement's ideas are often dismissed as pop psychology, and indeed they are difficult to verify empirically, but they are having a great impact upon the way many men are looking at their lives." Now it is okay to accept a theory at face value even though there is very little data to support it.

Duneier's distaste for generalizations is contradicted when he writes about the men's movement. The entire idea of the men's movement is based on changes in men in the last few centuries. Men, according to this theory, have evolved from the stable, unemotional, head of the household who was not at all in touch with his feminine side. Now they are much more in tune with their feminine side and are not afraid to show emotions. This is certainly not true of every male and can not be backed by evidence. However, since Duneier seems to subscribe to this theory it is okay for you to shape your values based on it even though this is very little backing. These men are put up on a pedestal as the model for all men. He condems the media for making extremists the model of black men, yet does the same thing with this group in Chicago. He calls for all men to look at the regulars at Valois as role models. He writes that the men's movement should look to and admire "males of this sort and attempt to comprehend how the older ghettos formed men of such character...Black men like the regulars are responsive, sensitive, and receptive, but not soft...They learn when it is time to take a risk or when to resolve is needed." Wow, the perfect man! Duneier is just as guilty of over generalizing as the sociologists he criticizes.

Duneier's biggest failure is that he does not recognize that the scholars he says are reading these books by sociologists have most likely take a research methods class or two. They realize that a study on one group of people only really can be generalized to the group of people. One theory cannot be used to explain all members of a race or gender. What had been written about black males in the ghetto is not reflective of all black males, just as women are not all bad drivers, and all blondes are not dumb. Apparently, he thinks he is the only one smart enough to realize this.

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Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 11:21:25 -0500 
From: "melanie marie rosiak" <mmrosia@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review of Mitchell Duneier (Rosiak) 

Review of Mitchell Duneier, SLIM'S TABLE Reviewed by Melanie Rosiak Illinois State University 4-13-95

  WHAT is a black man? Does he act differently than a white man? How does he really carry himself, is he a bum on the corner, or the drug dealer out back? The media and sociologists reinforce these and other stereotypes of how the black male culture acts, feels, and does. The real question is WHO is the black man. Mitchell Duneier delves into the questions and presents a knowledgeable portrayal of real black men. The test location of the novel, SLIM'S TABLE, is a cafeteria actually called 'See Your Food.' Mitchell Duneier sat, observed, and became a fixture of the establishment for four years. He examined the attitudes and behaviors of the customers who frequented the restaurant, generally older black men.

Duneier found that these men were not the stereotypical images portrayed by the media and sociologists. The majority of the men were retired, but once hard working, caring and moral individuals. Duneier provides stories of the attitudes and beliefs of these men. The men felt that they were much harder workers than the younger generation and that they were very dependable. Duneier presents stories of how much more these men did according to them, and how they valued work and work ethic. One man relayed a story in which he was riding the train to work as he always had. However, on this particular day, the train crashed. people were lying all over, yet he was not injured. He did not stay to help the other passengers, he merely stepped over them and went on his way to work. He arrived a few minutes late, and his boss was there. His boss excused him from being late. He was proud of his promptness over the years, and did not want to put his record in jeopardy. When he was asked why he did not help the other passengers, he replied that he had to get to work, and surely there were trained people on the way.

The portrayal of black men is usually filled with death and crime statistics. "These statistics tell us most of what we know about what it means to be a black man in America, but they tell far to little about the black man's inner strength--his resolve, his pride, and his sincerity." p.26 The men at Valois are extremely sensitive to the way that they are perceived. They become offended and embarrassed when people of their race act in a way which is inappropriate. They know that others actions will reflect back upon them. One example of this is an incident in which the character Jackson was involved. There are some men that stand outside Valois and harass young women as they walk by. The daughter of Jackson's friend walked by, and the men bothered her. Jackson was upset. He apologized to her. "It hurt Jackson's pride to be associated with actions that testified to standards below his level of moral worth." p.27 Valois is not merely a cafeteria. For the men that frequent it, it is a "meeting place that encourages the kind of sociability found in the Old Black Metropolis." p.59 They visit Valois for companionship, and to regress to the older da that they once knew. Valois offers home cooked food, and community. "In actual practice (respectability) by a man's opposition to a number of human characteristics he disdains: wastefulness, pretension, aggressiveness, uncommunicativeness, impatience, flashiness, laziness, disrespect for elders and lack of personal responsibility." this is the way sociologists tend to classify black men. However, the men at Valois object to this kind of classification. They see themselves as moral and upstanding citizens. They point to the youth and blame them for the desecration of their neighborhoods. They feel the youths inappropriate actions have destroyed the community and replaced it with a ghetto. "Besides being criticized for their mode of dress, a general flashiness in their demeanor, and inability to communicate, younger blacks are often accused of being unwilling to work." p.69 The flaw of these men is that they do not realize that they are doing what they despise--stereotyping! There are some structural problems with Duneier's analyzation. First of all, Duneier's motive is to break down a stereotype by examining a group of black men. However his sample is extremely small. It consists of only those men who visit one particular cafeteria. These men are typically older men who no longer are in the active "heart" of society. This would prove that the general stereotype of black males being crime infested, unmoral, uncaring individuals is untrue. But, it tis a stereotype only of the older black population that frequents Valois. In this sense he tries to buils a positive stereotype of all black males, which is clearly not supported. there are two specific instances which portray negative images of black men, but Duneier tries to ignore them. The first instance is when the intoxicated black man tries to 'cause trouble' with the owner and the cashier at Valois and is thrown out. This behavior is normal for him, they say. And the second instance regards Jackson on the street with the youngsters who harass women. Duneier does not want us to see this, or associate it with the makeup of the black race. It may not be a part of the older generation, but it obviously exists, he cites it. This is unrepresentative of the role Duneier is trying to form. A second flaw in his research is the close proximity in which he recorded his information. Duneier not only studied these men, but became a part of the Valois culture. After four years of regular attendance and study, how could he not be an agent of this collective group? The members did acknowledge the fact that not all of the members actively participated in the daily discussions of the men. They noted that some merely sat and never said a work. I would have to classify Duneier as a member of this group. He even acknowledges, "The most difficult [art of writing this book was going away." p. 171 This novel has a strange twist. Not until the end of it do you discover the point of the story. And when the point is finally found, the novel ends--with a contradictory statement. The twist is that although the older black males stereotype the younger generation, Duneier says that the younger generation will take over and be even more moral than their predecessors. However, the closing statement of the novel confuses this issue. It reads, "When we stop trying to feel good about ourselves, or to increase our own power by asserting our innocence, we can begin to look for answers by searching for truth." p.168 Now, unless I am reading the conclusion to a different book, Duneier now criticizes his "moral black men," by objecting to their continual denial of guilt to make themselves feel better about their environment. In turn, he is claiming that they are in a sense, holding us back from discovering the answers to the problems. This leads me to some final questions I still have not found the answers to: What is the epitomy of the black male culture, who is to blame for its downfall and the downfall of the black male environment, and who is going to fix it?

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Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 16:46:27 -0500 
From: PCB3911@ACFcluster.NYU.EDU 
Subject: Slim's Table 

 

Mitchell Duneier, SLIM'S TABLE: RACE, RESPONSIBILITY, AND MASCULINITY (The University of Chicago Press, 1992).

Reviewd by: Paula C. Bernaschina New York University 4/12/95  

In Mitchell Duneier's book, SLIM'S TABLE, the reader is introduced to a group of men who spend time at the Valois cafeteria in the South Side of Chicago. Although the book focuses on the problems of the black male there are also snippets of interaction between the black and white male patrons of the cafeteria. Very few women are portrayed and it leads one to wonder whether they do not frequent the establishment or if they had been overlooked.

The group who occupy Slim's table vary in age and education but tend to have a common bond; they embody what they consider to be the "proper behavior for a man"(p30). The men try to live up to standards which they were raised with and have struggled to maintain all of these years. The community which the men have created at the Valois cafeteria supports and encourages their views toward life. This is a view which crosses racial boundaries as we see the men (both black and white) exchanging and debating their personal philosophies. The men all seem to long for the past and often talk about how things used to be. A constant theme which runs through the conversations of the black males is the wastefulness and laziness of young, lower- class blacks. Middle-class blacks do not escape their criticism either as they are also considered to be wasteful for throwing their money away in overpriced restaurants and on expensive cars.

Duneier seems to express surprise when he hears the views of these men. He says, "They exhibit many of the attitudes one would expect from a group of working-class white men, especially in their views about American society and government, child rearing and discipline, about the welfare system, democracy, and authority." (p70-71) What does he mean "... the attitudes one would expect from a group of working-class white men..."? Why does he make a distinction between the attitudes of blacks and whites? Does he not think it is possible for blacks and whites to share the same attitudes? Did he never consider the fact the that it is possible for blacks and whites to think in a similar way? This amazement is repeated several times throughout the book. Respectability, one of the most important aspects of a person's character for the men of SLIM'S TABLE, is an idea which transcends racial boundaries.

Some very important points are raised by the author about how the media portrays blacks yet at the same time he is part of this stereotyping group. The media does ignore the black working- class and lower middle class but Duneier should also realize that it also ignores the working-class and lower middle class of every other race and nationality living in this country. When the media decides to focus its attention on minority groups it almost always shows them in a negative way which in turn reinforces the negative stereotypes that are maintained about different races and cultures. They (the media) regard their audience as being unthinking and unfortunately, we (the audience/consumer) allow them to treat us as such. As a researcher Duneier should be well aware of this problem and disallow it from contaminating his views.

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Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 13:35:04 -0600 
From: "Angel B. Johnson" <abjohns@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Slim's Table review 

Slim's Table: Race, Respectability and Masculinity Author: Mitchell Dunier Reviewed by: Angel B. Johnson  When people usually hear the term "Black male", what usually comes to mind? Depending upon the age group, different images come into mind. It could be one of a man trying to relate to society after being confined to an institution for many years. It could also relate to the middle aged black man that is confined to doing odd jobs such as carpentry or auto repair since he lacks skills to do anything else. In the case of Slim's Table, author Mitchell Dunier paints a portrait of middle aged black men that is quite different from the stereotypes. Slim's Table provides readers with a much needed reality check on the social and psychological conditions of middle aged urban black men. > > The spectrum of social classes of middle aged black men is very diverse. At one end, you have the elite members of this society -- those that are college educated and established with a solid career. In the middle, most of the men are solidly working class. At the end of the spectrum are a significant number of men whose luck just does not seem to be running in the right direction. These are the men that have been "downwardly mobile" in their later years. Unfortunately, these men can be classified as part of the working poor. > > Centered at Valois, a restaurant on Chicago's south side, Dunier takes his time in defining and explaining the relationships of the primary members of this "forgotten society". Valois is the "home" of Slim and his friends. This older group of refined black men have been meeting at this restaurant everyday for as long as they can remember. This is the place where they come to talk about current events, news around the world but more importantly, each other and their relationships with different people in society. > > Dunier begins by discussing a relationship that has formed between Slim, a middle aged, reserved black man and Bart, an elderly white man who is very set in his ways. The relationship seems to be one that is quite simple but it is just the opposite. At first, it seemed as if Bart and Slim's relationship would go no further than occasionally speaking at the restaurant. It turns out that Slim and Bart do establish something similar to that of a relationship but it is clearly not one of great depth. Bart did not really feel that he and Slim were really friends. He thought of them more of associates whom he shared a ride with from time to time. Their relationship was rather impersonal. They did not share important pieces of information about one another's personal lives. They were cordial, however, distant at the same time. > > Bart grew up in the rural south. However, upon moving to the north, he did bring his southern attitudes with him. Slim clearly emphasized universal morality. In his eyes, no one was really different. Bart was quite the opposite. By living in the south, Bart naturally thought that whites were superior to blacks. He was very upset by the civil rights movement and other programs that have been recently implemented to insure equity. It was these differences that made the story of Slim and Bart quite interesting. How could one man so understanding of all the racial and cultural differences in the world (and especially, a city like Chicago) be friends with a man who was so pessimistic when it came to matters that included race relations? The standards by which Slim treated Bart applied equally to any elderly person, black or white. Slim truly exemplified the attitudes of most of the regulars at Valois. The power of integration over ingrained beliefs is one that is time consuming. Its life long effects could result in a better understanding of why people think the way they do or more frightening, reinforce a hatred and stereotypes that run so deep. > > Most of the patrons at Valois are respectable middle aged men. Black "ghetto dwellers" have been the topic of numerous studies and books throughout the years. Dunier does an excellent job in describing differences between these men and how they relate to the stereotypes that have been forced upon them. The majority of the black race has been stigmatized by much of society. Commonly associated with having no morals, education, strength or family values, the black man is definitely on the bottom of society's list of potential achievers in life. He is one that is often feared and rejected. Although the murder rate, poverty rate, and prison population statistics offer a staggering "look" at some of the problems that are facing black America, we must not forget to look to those that are providing a light for many to follow. Traditionally in black culture, older men have been admired and respected -- not just for their wisdom but for their abilities to provide a true insight on how things used to be. Older black men are the fathers and grandfathers of the successful (and unsuccessful) blacks in this country. They are the mentors who instill the first lessons of how to do things the right way into the minds of some of America's up and coming youth. > > Dunier points out instances in his book where this remains true. A patron in Valois was discussing how he had an extremely high medical bill and paid it although the hospital had no records on him. To this man, it was a matter of principle. He received the services and now he has to pay for it. It was not a question of skipping out or "getting over" on the system. There was also another story where a man boasted of how he never missed a day of work. The patrons were joking of how if the train had an accident, he would step over injured people to insure that his record remained unblemished. Although that sounds cruel, this man made it perfectly clear how seriously he took his job. It was more than a job. It was a responsibility that he must take seriously in order to be able to keep supporting his family. > > The author also discusses the need for contact with society that black men feel. This is not meant in a physical context but more of a psychological context. Black men often feel that they are alienated from a vast part of society. It is this alienation that often breeds hostility and negative attitudes against other members of society. The blacks at Valois feel that they are not only isolated from the mainstream but are now feeling the effects of it in the ghetto as well. What is the cause of these feeling of oppression? Knowing that they alone are taken to represent the black community (at times), how can these men be held responsible for the success or fall of members of the black community? The media plays a tremendous part in this. With constant news flashes about trouble in America's urban centers, society is receiving conflicting images of one of America's most talked about groups which only leaves them in more confusion. It is these images that only reinforce the stereotypes and who is responsible for that? Who is responsible for the dysfunction that falls upon the black race? > > Dunier seems to place the blame on sociologists. He advocates a much needed reform in society's mainstream values. It is these "traditional" values that contribute to many of society's problems. Who set the initial values that the rest of America is supposed to conform to? Assimilation into the mainstream society is far from easy for these men. They feel excluded from middle class black America and from the "ghetto life" that they have come to know. Are they to start a new class of black citizens? I do not think so. > > Dunier's analysis would draw a lot of criticism from sociologists and psychologists alike. Most of these social scientists truly believe that blacks do not have the typical values that Americans do and thus they must be treated differently. Some believe that blacks do need special programs and incentives to make them fit in. Well, it is not all about fitting in. I believe that it basically boils down to a few things. The first thing that is of the upmost importance is the need to have a mutual respect for the cultural differences. Differences are NOT dangerous. The statistics that are out now are plaguing America's minds with horrific thoughts of the black man. Yes, there are blacks committing crimes. There are also white Americans committing crimes, maybe not at the rates of black Americans but in some cases -- far more heinous (example: Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy). > > As long as the decline of the social order exists in the United States, black Americans will continue to encounter troubles, culturally and socially. It is these social differences that often account for increasing number of studies done on blacks in America. Middle class men, such as Slim and his friends, should not be scrutinized to the point where they feel that their actions reflect that of all middle aged black men. Sociologists (and all other social scientists) are so busy trying to find ways to "blame the victim" that they have completely lost sight of what is important -- finding what has contributed to the breakdown of relations among Americans. The men in Slim's Table need to be commended on not only their integrity but their determination to overcome the stereotypes. These men clearly have the "values" that so many black Americans have been accused of not having. They are strong, caring, determined, loving, responsible, hard-working and last but not least , black. So despite all the media hype, there are black Americans who "share" in those good ole values that white Americans do. You just don't hear about them.

> -- Angel B. Johnson abjohns@ilstu.edu

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Date: Date:  Wed, 16 Feb 2000
From: Laurie Hartzell <ogrb@YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Slim's Table review 

Laurie Beth Hartzell

Book Review of Slim's Table by Mitchell Duneier

 Mitchell Duneier's Slim's Table provides a sensitive portrait of the reality of the lives of working class black men. Written in the ethnographic style of urban sociology, Slim's Table is full of colorful stories and illustrations of interactions and collective ideas among the regulars of Chicago's Hyde's Park's Valois "See your Food" cafeteria.  Duneier's style allows him to provide an analysis of these men which breaks down a variety of stereotypes and misconceptions created by media and a chain or irresponsible sociologists.

 Duneier sets out to offer the reader an honest glimpse of the social rules guiding the lives of working class black men. He upholds the belief that a tremendous portion of classic studies of black life have been misguided in their motives, and detrimental in their effects. "What is most surprising about these studies is that the elevation of innocence over evidence as an entitlement to generalize has not even led to a more positive image of blacks."-p.139 He is claiming that many sociologists assume that they're writing is innocent of bias, and therefore does not need to be supported by the kind of concrete data which might usually be expected of studies of this type. Ethnographers often write with this idea in mind.

 Duneier argues throughout this text that the regulars of Valois (specifically the black male working class regulars, as well as a handful of white working class men) adhere to a collective set of social and moral rules pertaining to work ethic, respectability, relations with the wider society, responsibility, mutual concern, and masculinity which conflict with stereotypes and historical images of black men. Ironically, the men at Valois  often reinforce these stereotypes in a different way though, by categorizing younger black males as lazy, materialistic and spoiled.

  The relations of the Valois' regulars to one another demonstrates the mutual concern which is established among members of this subculture. Bart's illness clearly strikes concern within the other regulars. In several instances of such mutual regards, the men in these stories come to establish kinships ties, such as the father-son relationship established between Slim and Bart. While Duneier refers to these substitute kinships ties and traditional family ties as disorganized, Carol Stack's All Our Kin asserts the practically and strategy of these kinship ties. All Our Kin is an urban ethnography analyzing the strategies for survival in a black community. Much like Duneier, stack begins her study as an outsider, as she is a white academic, attempting to observe the intricate details of the black urban poor. Unlike Duneier, Stack becomes integrated into the black community sharing residence as well as established kinship ties of her own with many subjects of her study. Perhaps it is the fact that Stack was able to become so fully ingrained in the lives of her subjects that allows her to point out religious beliefs, economic situations, and family relations of those in her study, topics which Duneier fails to elaborate on in his study. Duneier is careful to establish the model of respectability these men share. "By living in accordance with principles such as pride, civility, sincerity, and discretion, these men confirm for themselves, rather than proving to others, that they possess some of the most important human virtues" - p.45

 Masculinity is a dominant and pervading theme throughout Slim's Table. Duneier seeks to demonstrate that these men are aware of the stereotypes surrounding them, and wish to represent a more respectful and even vulnerable image of black men. "They share a readiness to acknowledge that they have been victims rather than exploiters"-p.45 In one instance Ozzie is making special notes of Slim's honesty when discussing the occasions when women have treated him poorly. Duneier draws a parallel between the feelings of sensitivity and misunderstanding associated with the masculinity of these working class black men and the emergence of the men's movement in the 1990's associated with Robert Bly's Iron John. While Bly argues that contemporary men have lost touch with the deep masculine side of their psyches because fathers are less prominent in the lives of their sons and women are incapable of initiating young men into society (p.163), this hardly makes sense when applied to the lives of men who grew up many generations ago with a variety of family types, many of which may have lacked a biological father figure. The men never mention their own responsibilities as fathers, or any relationships with a nuclear family.Of all of the men's movements today, the million man march seems to have been the most successful in terms of reaching black men, though even within this group many working class black men were not reached.

Furthering the discussion of masculinity and gender leads to one of the most notable voids in this book, women. Duneier does no more than mention the mere presence of several female cooks and patrons. Even in his analysis of sociology and journalism Duneier mentions no female writers. While the intentional focus of the book is clearly black men, it seems that this portrait is incomplete without any mention or conversation with the women they define their masculinity against.

Because the regulars at Valois are of an older generation, they see themselves as a category that is separate from African American Youth. The men resent these youth and accuse them of being unwilling to work, flashy, materialistic, and unable to communicate. Al states "The younger ones don't  come into Valois because they don't know how to communicate. They have never been exposed to shooting the shit in barbershops like the older generation". These men feel like they share a collective and unique perception of the world. Even middle class blacks are seen as different and  as men who have not had to work hard in their lives. Interestingly Duneier basis the premise of the book on the fact that working class black men have moral and social orders which are not represented in sociology and journalism. However on page 145, Duneier is refuting Elijah Anderson's perception of young black males saying "To be sure, I heard such an opinion expressed by some of the men at Slim's table as well, but before sociologists can make generalizations based upon such assertions, some better data would be necessary". This seems to refute the very purpose of ethnography.

 Slim's Table seems likely to be subject to critique in terms of the narrow scope of his study. In reality, Ethnograghy is based on qualitative studies of a smaller group over a long period of time. By limiting the number of men studied, Duneier was able to learn more about them, allowing him to base his conclusions on more thorough research. The consequences of Duneier's style of urban sociology, as well as his writing is that he falls into the trap of stereotyping his subjects due to preconceived views and agenda, while frequently mentioning the danger of doing just that.

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Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2000 21:17:50 -0600 From: Laura Pranaitis <laprana@ILSTU.EDU> Subject: Review of Slim's Table

There is a common image that comes to the minds of most Americans when the words "black man" are uttered: a young gang member who is selling drugs, living in a single-parent family with little or no male influence, and dependent upon a welfare system that perpetuates a constant cycle of poverty. This common, though inaccurate, image is continuously portrayed to the masses through different studies, ethnographies, and the media. There is a group of black men that is often left out of these studies, however - the older generation. Slim's Table is a unique ethnography in the fact that it does not overlook this group.

In fact, the main focus of the book is on a certain group of older black men who's daily lives are centered around a visit to Valois Cafeteria on the South Side of Chicago where they reflect on the way things were when they were young and analyze the way things are today.

Mitchell Duneier uses Slim's Table to break away from what he deems to be the typical studies of African Americans that often focus only on the younger, more noticeable members. With this book, Duneier emphasizes that most of the ethnographies about African Americans generalize the entire race and leave only a negative image of blacks. He sets out to change this, however, by studying the Valois regulars and recording the findings in his book.

The constant theme throughout Slim's Table is based in the morals and social norms that these men live by. There is an emphasis on responsibility, masculinity, and respect among the men portrayed in the book. Duneier shows the importance of these three characteristics to the men he studied through various stories that touch upon the individual lives of his subjects. Most, if not all, of the Valois regulars display a keen sense of responsibility to work, to each other, and every other aspect of their lives.

Duneier tells the story of Bart, an elderly white man that is often at Valois, and the dedication he had to his work. Bart held the responsibility of his job so high that he was never late to work one day in his life. The importance of being responsible enough to get to work on time even prompted Bart to pass by the victims of a train wreck. He knew that there were many people who were hurt and needed help, but Bart could not risk getting to work late by taking the time to help them.

Responsibility to one another was also important among the men at Valois. Duneier told the story of Slim, who took it upon himself to make sure that Bart made it home every night. The neighborhood that Valois was located in was not the best, especially for an old man walking alone. Slim knew this and made sure that Bart was taken care of. Bart was a white man and would not let it show that he was friends with Slim because he was black. He would not sit with Slim in the cafeteria and hardly ever greeted Slim when the two met. Nonetheless, Slim saw it as his responsibility to take care of Bart. The others in Valois began to refer to Bart as Slim's "daddy" because Slim took care of Bart as if he were his own father. He would give Bart a ride home every night, visit him in the hospital when he was sick, and was even the one to find Bart after he had died. Slim did not do all of this because he and Bart were such good friends or because Bart gave Slim the same treatment in return. He saw it as his responsibility to a fellow man to see that Bart was taken care of.

Much of the book is focused on masculinity among the Valois regulars. There is very little mention of women in the book, aside from a mention of a few female workers at the cafeteria or the occasional date of one of the men. The Valois men are very aware of the stereotypes that are associated with being not only black, but a man as well. They are quick to show that they are not part of the "exploiter" stereotype of men that is commonly found in society today. Some of the men even try to make themselves seem like the victim of a relationship, the recipients of poor treatment from the women they were involved with. Duneier tells the story of a man named Ozzie and his relationship in which he was the victim of exploitation - in the end, the woman only wanted him so she could get cocaine. "The story illustrates the clash in values that sometimes occurs between black cafeteria men and the women they meet." (p. 41)

The Valois men are also concerned about their masculinity in terms of being "tough-skinned." Duneier writes about a conversation between three men one night in the cafeteria in which the men discuss fighting and how men should act toward women. The men agree that fighting is just a part of life and is "the only way to iron out your disagreements." (p. 44) Harold, one of the men involved in the conversation, went on to explain the way men should handle women by dominating or controlling women. Billy Black, another participant in the conversation, agreed with Harold, but stressed the importance of never hitting a woman. It is the common feeling of these men that the man in a relationship should be in charge, but should still treat the woman with respect. This is their version of masculinity, a very important value to the Valois regulars.

Respect is another value that is of great importance to these men. They often spoke of the black youth of today and how the younger blacks have no respect for work, family, or themselves. It is odd that these men are so concerned with proving that they do not fall into the stereotypes that are often associated with black males, and are so concerned with ending these stereotypes, but they, themselves, perpetrate the stereotypes when they are applied to the younger black males. These men often portray the younger generation as lazy, disrespectful, and materialistic, and often discuss how it could possibly be that these young blacks could be on welfare and out of work when they had jobs since they were children. These men see themselves as a separate group in one race. They not only separate themselves from the young blacks, but also from the middle class blacks. The men see the middle class blacks as trying to be white by buying fancy cars and big houses in the suburbs. The men see themselves as a dying breed, the only ones left who know the real meaning of hard work, responsibility, respect, and being a man.

It seems that the idea behind Slim's Table - to create a new kind of ethnography that does not focus on and perpetrate the common stereotypes of blacks - was a good one. What Duneier set out to do, however, and what he actually accomplished are two different things. Duneier dedicates a number of chapters to explaining what is wrong with other ethnographies and what is lacking in other sociologists' work. He criticizes other sociologists, such as Elijah Anderson, for making generalizations and basing their work on little research and a lot of stereotypes. Duneier claims to have done the opposite, but he actually just creates more of the same with this book. Back to top...


Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 00:49:45 -0600 From: Sharon Michele Skowron <smskowr@ILSTU.EDU> Subject: Slim's Table Book Review

Book Review of Slim’s Table > Sharon Skowron > Mitchell Duneier’s, “Slim’s Table” is an ethnography based on working-class black men. Duneier’s intentions are to breakthrough stereotypes that other sociologists have only solidified in their research and explore the relationships among the regular visitors at the Valois cafeteria in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. While observing the men at “Slim’s Table” for a period of four years, Duneier draws some interesting conclusions.

Hardwork, pride, and honesty are values that are highlighted among this group of older, working-class black men. Several examples of the meaning of hardwork and pride that goes into it define many of these men. This is a generation of men who dedicated their lives to a certain trade or career and never missed a day in forty years. An extreme example of this is demonstrated during a train wreck one morning. One of the men at the coffee shop explained that he climbed out, not helping any others, because that would’ve made him even later for work. The classic discussion amongst an older generation of men describing the difference in today’s youth is key. They see the younger generation as lazy and disrespectful. There is general agreement that they had to work ten times harder to earn what they did.

Honesty is another prevailing theme that characterizes this group of men. “Saying it like it is”, is a popular phrase that describes many of the regulars and how their friendships are formed. Harold said, “As far as Slim goes, I like his honesty. Slim sits up there and tells me about people, about what is happening to him. He won’t cover up what’s happened to him. I like that.” -p.40 Although many never engage in conversation, they simply enjoy the regularity and familiarity of the faces, others disclose rather personal information with one another. Duneier explains that black men are often portrayed as exploiters and users of women. The black regulars, however, are quite sensitive to these images and know that they are often stereotypes as such. In contrast, Duneier explains that these aren’t the types of men who sit around and speak of their conquests, but rather of their own vulnerability.

Although the black men that gather at Valois cafeteria are quite accepting of eachother, they do possess many prejudices towards other groups. Certainly, as mentioned before, there are strong feelings towards the younger, “lazy”, generation. Many of the men are embarrassed by other black men that crave the attention of others by dressing more flashy and speaking out in a domineering fashion. The “man in the pink suit” that frequented Valois in the past, was often used as an example of one that tried desperately to make himself standout. He eventually was kicked out and never returned out of his own pride and embarrassment. The general perception towards the students at the University of Chicago was that they were rich, rude, and ignorant. Often the students portrayed clearly a sense of fear towards the surrounding ghetto. Perhaps this relates to Elijah Anderson’s “Streetwise”, and the norms that are practiced on the streets. Often the students’ blatant actions to avoid ghetto dwellers was offensive to those who are perfectly harmless. The author criticizes other sociologists and the stereotypical portrayal of black men.

Although Duneier’s goal is to analyze the men’s actions and relations with one another to break previous stereotypes, he does the same by basing his study on such a limited number of men. This is often a limitation of qualitative research. However, most of the author’s conclusions seemed to be based on single instances, individual anecdotes or stories, and personal preconceived notions. It’s as if his conclusions were already drawn before the study began.

These men may be hardworking and value honesty and pride. However, they are also gathering at a coffee shop sometimes more than once a day to create their own sense of community or family. So, the question is then, where are their families? There is virtually no mention of women or children of their own. Certainly, many of the men are retired. But, being retired doesn’t automatically erase family ties. As these men sit and criticize the younger generation and how hard they’ve worked all their lives, it seems possible that the younger generation had an absence of role models at home.

Personally, I think the author’s conclusions are interesting. However, due to the limitations that qualitative research presents and the lack of evidence provided, I doubt the validity of these statements. There is a great deal of contradiction present in this book. There are certainly many stratifications within every group of people. From our different backgrounds and experiences we form prejudices against other groups. It is therefore, each individual’s ability to greet others with open-mindedness to break through past stereotypical borders in our society. I don't feel that Duneier’s goals to breakthrough past stereotypes of black men are met. However, there were several enjoyable stories and his intentions for the study is thought provoking.

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Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 15:43:58 -0600 From: David Hurn <dahurn@ILSTU.EDU> Subject: Review: "Slim's Table"

Chicago, ethnically called "Tha City" , a metropolis of every social order and human being. Not born in "Tha City" but have visited it countless times, I can mentally see the area and the people Dundee writes in his book "Slim's Table" Race, Respectability, and Masculinity". I can picture the dilapidated building that have been there for sixty years, the continuos flow of patron's of Valois restaurant, I can smell and here the sizzling food which smells of high cholesterol and sounds of added saturated fat that only a person of acquired taste could really appreciate. Valois has estimated, 1200 daily patrons ordering their food daily, only to be repeated by the thick Greek accent of the owners Spiro and Gus. The restaurant motto "Food you can see." Over in the corner of the restaurant is a group of men, which are a symbol of the old guards of the neighborhood. These men sit at this particular table at a particular time everyday, a group of men society, ethnologist find intriguing enough to study and spend four years to study. This table is Slim's.

Mitchell Duneier, does an adequate study into the lives of these men who are African American, a study that attempts to explain a culture that is plagued with stereotypes, prejudices and myths. Duneier has a conversation with Willie, a slender retired blue collar worker one of the men that sits at the table. They are talking about how the invasion of drugs high crime and deviate youth , have destroyed the neighborhood on 47th street ,"Mitch, don't accept nothing over there. Don't go over there unless you have police and bodyguards with you"! Duneier, "Not to worry, that I'd be afraid to walk by myself. "I'm white and I'm white and I"I'm not known in the neighborhood, " but what do you have to worry about,Willie?" Willie responds, "It don't make no difference! They look at your pocket! They don't give a damn if you black or white! If they think you got money and your just a black ass gone! Duneier only thinking he would only be violated just because he is white, asserting his stereotype of an area and the people who live in the area.

Slim, a sixty-five year old lifelong Chicagoan who has a "unimposing but self-assured and dignified presence" (p.9) becomes friends with a older white male, Bart. Bart, a seventy -five year old white male that carried himself with smirk of disdainment and a presence of loneliness always wore a Dobbs hat, a sign of a gentlemen with some social etiquette, was raised in the South. Bart believed in the old Southern traditions and values of separation of the races, but accepted these men on their values of treating them as associates but never crossing that fine line of acceptance. This was a unspoken, agreement between the patrons at Valois.

The relationship that developed between Bart and Slim was relationship of common courtesy and a relationship between cultures that only one could know of ,only if they was raised in the South, and understanding the traditions of respect of older people either black or white. Duneier, gives a definition of respectability according to the men that sit at Slim's table, " If respectability can be defined by the sociologist as a mode of life embodying conceptions of moral worth, it is defined rather more loosely in actual practice by man's opposition to a number uncommunicative, impatience , flashiness, laziness, disrespect for elders, and perhaps most important a lack of personal responsibly-all of which are taken by Slim and his sitting buddies to be features of a social disorganization that has ruined the ghettos of their youth. This pattern of values is "unrespectable". It is beneath the level of moral worth that they associate with their own existence."(p.66)

The fact of this issue is obvious, and Duneier should recognized, the issue of the generation gap and simply the historical obstacles of discrimination and prejudice the middle-class black had to conquer. Slim's table despises the arrogance of the middle class with their consent spending and buying.The buying power of the middle-class can only be given true credit to the struggles of the fight for equality years ago during the time of Civil Rights.

The talking of the lack of a "work ethic" is like comparing apples and oranges. Most of the people they are talking about is starting to be employed and not even half Slim's age ,so it humorist to compare a forty-year work ethic on a person who is only thirty-years old.

These men should be proud that they have paved away for this type of middle class to even exist. The poor that happen to be black, the high crime rate that happens to occur in black neighborhoods due to high unemployment and drugs doesn't men these people lack moral values mainstream America, have put this stigma on African-Americans . Duneier briefly touches this issue but never gives a solution or a credible answer to these stereotypes. Morality is a discussion of opinions and occurrences that may or may not be in a person favor, sometimes the "means justify the ends".

I applaud Mitchell Duneier, for his refreshing research of the group of men who happen to be African-American and try to disavow the myths and stereotypes that White America has about a group of Americans simply based on the color of their skin. Of course he couldn't write about everything, but in some cultures it is essential discussions that must be addressed to explain a groups culture and their community.

Duneier, doesn't discuss the Black Church which is the grassroots of the African-American experience, he doesn't talk about the Civil Rights Movement or food which is sociology 101 in understanding a culture.

Shelby Steele, the author of "The Content of Our Character"', wrote "The human animal almost never pursues power without first convincing himself that he is entitled to it.

And this feeling of entitlement has its own precondition: to be entitled least in the area where . By innocence I mean a feeling of essential goodness in relation to others and , therefore, superiority to others. Our innocence always inflates us and deflates those we seek power over. Once inflated we are entitled: we are in fact licensed to go after the power our innocence tells we deserve. In this sense, innocence is power... Its only test is whether or not we can convince ourselves of it."(p.138) I agree with Steel's comment, but I like Duneier response "When we stop trying to feel good about ourselves, or to increase our own power by asserting our innocence, we can begin to look for answers by searching for truth."

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Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2000 15:51:11 -0600 From: Amalia Monroe <almonro@ILSTU.EDU> Subject: Response to David Hurn

David Hurm composed an interesting critique of Slim's Table. In his essay Hurn has a much more positive opinion of the book and its accomplishments of goals then others who have reviewed the book. The points brought about the lack of discussion about church and, the relationship between Slim and Bart have definite merit. Often times people reading this book may not know, or forget, about the different backgrounds Slim and Bart come from. By this I mean, it is easy to judge their relationship in a rather romantic light or rather harshly, but the fact any sort of relationship exists is an important fact to note, and a significant story in the book. Also, Hurn's comments on the lack of mention of the black church were interesting and insightful as well. As he stated, the church was the conerstone of the black commuinity, and Duneier fails to discuss this significant aspect of the culture.

Even with these good criticisms I think that Hurn failed to dig deep into the problems with Slim's Table. He glosses over them, with brief sentences, and implies that the flaws are overshadowed by the intentions of the book. I agree that Slim's Table is an important step in breaking through stereotypes of black men in the United States, however, this does not mean that it is exempt from serious critism, which I think it deserves.

What I think Hurn failed to recognize is the siginificance of Duneier's own opinion constantly flowing through out the book. This was an extremely distracting element, and takes away from what this book could have done with breaking through stereotypes. If the author of Slim's Table had spent more time developing the story, and giving the audience a feel for what really makes these men tick, the book would have been much more effective. This cannot be ignored, but Hurn seems to think that it does not matter because, in some ways, the subject was ground breaking, and I do not agree with this viewpoint. Overall, Hurn brought up some good points in his critique, but, in my opinion, he failed to get to the heart of Slim's Table and all of it's failures.

Amalia Monroe


Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2000 08:57:52 -0800 
From: Deidre Meyers <dlmeyer_98@YAHOO.COM
Subject: Review Of Slim's Table

Duneier, Mitchell. Slim’s Table. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1992 Reviewed by Deidre Meyers

Masculinity, respect for elders, routine, a sense of community, and a keen work ethic, were some of the values expressed by the main characters in Mitchell Duneier’s SLIM’S TABLE. Duneier tries to distinguish himself from other sociologists by providing insight into the subculture of poor-working class black male. In order to observe this particular subculture of in American society, Duneier began frequenting a cafeteria known as Valois. Valois was a well-renowned restaurant that catered to the needs of the poor-working class. Valois was located between what was considered the Ghetto and middle class neighborhoods of Hype park, Illinois. Through narration, Duneier introduces us to characters such as: Bart, Slim- whom the title originates from, Hughes, etc. Duneier observe the men as they venture into the cafeteria for their daily coffee and conversation. While listening to their conversations (Slim and his companions), Duneier discovers their opinions on women, race, and the lack of work ethic on the behalf of the youth, and use them to construct his conclusions.

In critiquing the book I felt the author set forth to write this book with noble intentions. I classify the authors' intentions as noble, because he wanted to explore the under represented subculture of poor-working class black males, in a non-bias way. It is my belief that Duneier set out to construct the definitive work on poor-working class black males, but fell short of his goal. Some weak areas I found within the book were: Did Duneier participate in the study or did he observe the men, The lack of a female voice/ presence, the one-sidedness of the characters, The men’s value’s and whether they were really responsible, and finally how Duneier contradicts himself.

One major problem I had with the book is the fact that at times it became hard to decipher whether Duneier was interacting with the characters, just sitting at the table listening, of simply listening from a nearby table. Toward the end of the book Duneier actually mentions Slim asking him a question while he was sitting at the table. However, in the beginning much of what we learn about the men seems to come from information gained while listening to conversation between the men.

The book lacks a female voice and presence. The only mention of women was through personal anecdotes from the men about lost loves. As Duneier wrote, Social life in the cafeteria is not typical of the wider society in that there is sometimes an almost total absence of women there. But a compelling feature of life at Valois is that, for these men, the wider society is embodied there in fundamental ways. Sociability is not simply a precarious, artificial contrivance of human beings muting uncomfortable dimensions of stratification. More important, the cafeteria life offers its regulars the opportunity to participate in the reality of the wider world itself (106).

It is my opinion that Duneier commits a an error in reasoning when he dismisses the lack of women in the book, and that the men are in touch with a wider world because of the cafeteria. It is my belief that they become cut off from the outside world, due to the homogeneousness that exists within their group. The individual characters congregate together in their own personal groups. They very seldom interact with other tables. How does one derive cultural diversity from others who have the same background and experiences? Duneier tries to make the characters one-sided, when he doesn’t acknowledge their personal lives outside of the cafeteria. One may presume that women play a big role in the males lives. Lack of female representation within the cafeteria may suggest that this sample group is incapable of speaking for the wider demographic as a whole. Having discussed the lack of female presence within the book I will now discuss the men’s values, and whether they were really responsible.

Slim often criticizes the younger generations for having a lack of work ethic. According to Duneier, "It seems to Slim and his buddies that younger middle-class blacks have achieve their lot without having to struggle and without developing any character"( 68). In their (the characters) opinions, nothing in life can be achieved without hard work and struggle. In their opinion, hard work is just one of the values lost between their generation, and that of today’s youth. They often criticize the black middle class and those whom they see as flashy, for being successful. The strong commitment to a hard days work was so strong within them that, even the individuals in the book who were retired, still felt the need to maintain purpose in their day. Through a series of systematic daily rituals however trivial they were, the men still felt they were being productive citizens. I must raise the question of the nature of the characters home lives. I suspect most if not all the men had children, however, instead of being at home to instill their work ethic and values into their children, they would rather sit in the cafeteria during their free time. Yes these men provided for their families financially, but they were absent from their children’s upbringing. How responsible could they really have been if they were willing to neglect their families to socialize? It is any wonder why today’s youth has not patterned itself after the preceding generations. Even if they themselves did not have children, they could mentor children from their perspective neighbor hoods. I find it rather ironic that the men have a stronger sense of community for those within the cafeteria than outside of it. How can they expect their values to pass on to the next generation, if they are not their to mold them and teach them. It is my belief that the true motivation behind the men’s pessimistic view of today’s youth is they are jealous that they had a harder life, and less opportunities than the youth. In the beginning of the book, it seems as if Duneier does not agree with the characters pessimistic view of today’s youth, but toward the end of the book Duneier seems to defend their viewpoints. Finally I will discuss how I feel Duneier contradicted himself. I feel Duneier contradicted himself while trying refute stereotypes found often in ethnographies .

According to Duneier,

The collective ethnographic portrait of ghetto-specific masculinity is so one-sided that one would think any positive characteristics men in the ghetto have derive from mainstream modes of behavior. Because the samples of black men consulted in these studies have been so limited, generations of students have been taught that ghetto-specific masculinity is constituted of, to quote Hannerz. "strong overt concerns with sexual exploits, toughness and ability to command respect, personal appearance with emphasis on male clothing fashions, liquor consumption, and verbal ability" But an open- minded observer might just as easily entertain the hypothesis that ghetto-specific masculinity is constituted of extraordinary "caring behavior" characterized by the substitute kinship tie illustrated by the relationship of slim and Bart, as well as resolve, pride, and sincerity, as embodied in the other stories of the men at Valois (148).

Within this quote I feel Duneier unconsciously attack his own self. Duneier never says why he chose to perform the study at this particular cafeteria. Although I suspect it was out of convenience, because he lived somewhere near it. Duneier helps perpetuate the stereotypes, he is so desperately trying to refute. It seems as if he picked the same demographic of men to conduct a study on, hoping to receive different results. The characters within his book embody almost, if not all the stereotypes listed. An example of one of the stereotypes present in the book is the men’s preoccupation with clothing and appearance.

In the beginning of the book the author discusses how Bart always wore a suit and a Dob’s hat. The Dob’s hat was a symbol of respectability, and class status. Similarly, Slim was know to wear Stacy Adam’s shoe, which where also a sign of respectability among the poor-working class males.

Duneier also contradicts himself on the stereotype of toughness and the ability to command respect. A character within the book, only known as the cat in the pink suit, boasts about how he stopped a group of hooligans from robbing him, by pulling a gun/knife on them. The men also constantly complained how the younger generation had no respect for the elders. Also a reoccurring topic of conversation between the men is women. Although Duneier does not go deep into details of their discussions on women, one would infer, that there was some emphasis placed on their sexual exploits. One instance in the book that I can recall stems from an anecdote one man tells about a promiscuous woman he dated, that was into drugs. After having sexual intercourse with her a few times he decided to "part company with her."

How can Duneier state that an open- minded observer might just as easily entertain the hypothesis that ghetto-specific masculinity is constituted of extraordinary "caring behavior," when he constantly reinforces the negative stereotypes, through his portrayal of the men. Duneier tries to attack the views of the misinformed social analysts by conducting an in-depth study of this culture. However, Duneier ends up perpetuating preexisting stereotypes held by preceding sociologists, whether he wishes to acknowledge it or not.


Date Wed, 16 Feb 2000
From Laurie Hartzell <ogrb@YAHOO.COM>
Subject Review Slim's Table

Laurie Beth Hartzell

Book Review of Slim's Table by Mitchell Duneier

Mitchell Duneier's Slim's Table provides a sensitive portrait of the reality of the lives of working class black men. Written in the ethnographic style of urban sociology, Slim's Table is full of colorful stories and illustrations of interactions and collective ideas among the regulars of Chicago's Hyde's Park's Valois "See your Food" cafeteria. Duneier's style allows him to provide an analysis of these men which breaks down a variety of stereotypes and misconceptions created by media and a chain or irresponsible sociologists.

Duneier sets out to offer the reader an honest glimpse of the social rules guiding the lives of working class black men. He upholds the belief that a tremendous portion of classic studies of black life have been misguided in their motives, and detrimental in their effects. "What is most surprising about these studies is that the elevation of innocence over evidence as an entitlement to generalize has not even led to a more positive image of blacks."-p.139 He is claiming that many sociologists assume that they're writing is innocent of bias, and therefore does not need to be supported by the kind of concrete data which might usually be expected of studies of this type. Ethnographers often write with this idea in mind.

Duneier argues throughout this text that the regulars of Valois (specifically the black male working class regulars, as well as a handful of white working class men) adhere to a collective set of social and moral rules pertaining to work ethic, respectability, relations with the wider society, responsibility, mutual concern, and masculinity which conflict with stereotypes and historical images of black men. Ironically, the men at Valois often reinforce these stereotypes in a different way though, by categorizing younger black males as lazy, materialistic and spoiled.

 

The relations of the Valois' regulars to one another demonstrates the mutual concern which is established among members of this subculture. Bart's illness clearly strikes concern within the other regulars. In several instances of such mutual regards, the men in these stories come to establish kinships ties, such as the father-son relationship established between Slim and Bart. While Duneier refers to these substitute kinships ties and traditional family ties as disorganized, Carol Stack's All Our Kin asserts the practically and strategy of these kinship ties. All Our Kin is an urban ethnography analyzing the strategies for survival in a black community. Much like Duneier, stack begins her study as an outsider, as she is a white academic, attempting to observe the intricate details of the black urban poor. Unlike Duneier, Stack becomes integrated into the black community sharing residence as well as established kinship ties of her own with many subjects of her study. Perhaps it is the fact that Stack was able to become so fully ingrained in the lives of her subjects that allows her to point out religious beliefs, economic situations, and family relations of those in her study, topics which Duneier fails to elaborate on in his study. Duneier is careful to establish the model of respectability these men share. "By living in accordance with principles such as pride, civility, sincerity, and discretion, these men confirm for themselves, rather than proving to others, that they possess some of the most important human virtues" - p.45

Masculinity is a dominant and pervading theme throughout Slim's Table. Duneier seeks to demonstrate that these men are aware of the stereotypes surrounding them, and wish to represent a more respectful and even vulnerable image of black men. "They share a readiness to acknowledge that they have been victims rather than exploiters"-p.45 In one instance Ozzie is making special notes of Slim's honesty when discussing the occasions when women have treated him poorly. Duneier draws a parallel between the feelings of sensitivity and misunderstanding associated with the masculinity of these working class black men and the emergence of the men's movement in the 1990's associated with Robert Bly's Iron John. While Bly argues that contemporary men have lost touch with the deep masculine side of their psyches because fathers are less prominent in the lives of their sons and women are incapable of initiating young men into society (p.163), this hardly makes sense when applied to the lives of men who grew up many generations ago with a variety of family types, many of which may have lacked a biological father figure. The men never mention their own responsibilities as fathers, or any relationships with a nuclear family.Of all of the men's movements today, the million man march seems to have been the most successful in terms of reaching black men, though even within this group many working class black men were not reached.

Furthering the discussion of masculinity and gender leads to one of the most notable voids in this book, women. Duneier does no more than mention the mere presence of several female cooks and patrons. Even in his analysis of sociology and journalism Duneier mentions no female writers. While the intentional focus of the book is clearly black men, it seems that this portrait is incomplete without any mention or conversation with the women they define their masculinity against.

Because the regulars at Valois are of an older generation, they see themselves as a category that is separate from African American Youth. The men resent these youth and accuse them of being unwilling to work, flashy, materialistic, and unable to communicate. Al states "The younger ones don't come into Valois because they don't know how to communicate. They have never been exposed to shooting the shit in barbershops like the older generation". These men feel like they share a collective and unique perception of the world. Even middle class blacks are seen as different and as men who have not had to work hard in their lives. Interestingly Duneier basis the premise of the book on the fact that working class black men have moral and social orders which are not represented in sociology and journalism. However on page 145, Duneier is refuting Elijah Anderson's perception of young black males saying "To be sure, I heard such an opinion expressed by some of the men at Slim's table as well, but before sociologists can make generalizations based upon such assertions, some better data would be necessary". This seems to refute the very purpose of ethnography.

Slim's Table seems likely to be subject to critique in terms of the narrow scope of his study. In reality, Ethnograghy is based on qualitative studies of a smaller group over a long period of time. By limiting the number of men studied, Duneier was able to learn more about them, allowing him to base his conclusions on more thorough research. The consequences of Duneier's style of urban sociology, as well as his writing is that he falls into the trap of stereotyping his subjects due to preconceived views and agenda, while frequently mentioning the danger of doing just that.