Reconstituting Race in Youth Studies

By Bethan Harries, Sumi Hollingworth, Malcolm James and Katrine Fangen

Nordic Journal of Youth Research

Nordic Journal of Youth Research


Young, August 2016 vol. 24 no. 3 177-184.

DOI: 10.1177/1103308816641010


‘Hamid’, a young British-Somali living in Manchester, explains how he routinely negotiates his identity. At work, he passes as Caribbean rather than Somali because he is black and walks with the so-called ‘Moss Side limp’. This assumption is made based on where he lives and how he acts but, in spite of the fact that he has a Muslim name. Indeed, his passing is so successful that when fasting during Ramadan, people think he is joking. He recognises an advantage to being associated with a Caribbean identity these days because, ‘[Racism is] more of a religious thing [now]. So, the emphasis has been taken away from black people onto Asians—from one brown to a lighter brown. People are not so interested in the gangbangers, they’re looking for more religious terrorists, so that kind of helps you out.’ In contrast, Hamid describes himself as classless and raceless but conscious of various ‘codes’ that he has picked up from living in different parts of Manchester and mixing with people from different racial, class and religious backgrounds. He explains how he has to keep these ‘lives’ separate in order to maintain an effective blurring. In order to pass effectively in each space, he must change the way in which he interacts with it by meeting some in certain spaces but not others. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans’, he jokes.

Routine instances, such as that illustrated by Hamid, highlight the interplay between youth and race in young people’s lives and their situation in increasingly diversifying urbanscapes. They require us to attend to changing processes of racialization in particular locations and to the transformation of the, often paradoxical, nature of their conviviality. It is not, however, simply a question of increased diversity that produces changes to the way in which race is made and lived by young people. As important are the malleable contours of youth culture, its globalizing and commercial forces and its local and historical contexts. These forces and their interconnections have implications for modes of expression and especially for how struggles, solidarities and power vectors can be conveyed in social encounters.

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Published Aug. 19, 2016 4:19 PM - Last modified June 21, 2018 1:45 PM