Re-Visioning Violence: How Black Youth Advance Critical Understandings of Violence in Climates of Criminalization

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While Black youth are often framed as the perpetrators of violence in the mainstream media and other sites, they are rarely consulted for their views on violence. This dissertation examines how Black youth and other young people of color have used hip hop music and community organizing to publicly articulate their analysis of violence and shape public discourses, ideologies and policies. The project is principally framed by Black feminist theory and Critical Race Theory, and uses discourse analysis, cultural criticism, and historical analysis as its primary methods of analysis. I examine hip hop lyrics and materials produced during community organizing campaigns, alongside a range of sources that reflect dominant frameworks on youth and violence such as television programs and sociological scholarship. This study argues firstly, that there is a discourse of "youth violence"; secondly, that this discourse is central to the criminalization of young people of color; and thirdly, that criminalization facilitates epistemic violence, harm and injury that results from the production of hegemonic knowledge. Finally, I draw on youths' perspectives and social change practices to theorize the concept of epistemic resistance, and show how youth have engaged in epistemic resistance in various ways. Youth have used hip hop music to redefine what counts as violence, who is involved in violence, and why violence among youth occurs; conducted participatory action research projects to influence and change the content of mainstream media; and developed and promoted the discourse of a "war on youth" in organizing campaigns that challenge punitive policy proposals introduced as solutions to "youth violence." This dissertation provides a re-theorized framing of and knowledge about the intellect and agency of marginalized youth. It also provides youth studies scholars with conceptual and methodological approaches for future scholarship on youth, violence, and safety. Lastly, this dissertation informs urban youth policy and grassroots organizing for transformative justice, a vision and practice of attaining safety and justice through personal and social transformation, rather than reliance on the criminal legal system.