Shaka Senghor, Writing My Wrongs

This is one of my favorite authethnographies. Senghor tells us how he became incarcerated, but in the context of his family, his childhood, and his environment. Below I did a little Mind Map of Senghor’s book. What do you think? Can we distill the reasons he engaged in a life of crime into one or two reasons?


  1. Jeff Lowe

    I really enjoyed reading Shaka’s Autoethnography. I got to finish the book on a picnic blanket outside of the VMFA the day before everything changes with the whole Coronavirus deal. I think trying to distill how Shaka got involved with dealing into one or two reasons might be an oversimplification. I think we can definitely pick out some core reasons that pushed him towards dealing but I think it is also important to consider the institutional structures and societal pressures at play. It was not by chance that there was an incredibly lucrative drug trade market in Shaka’s neighborhood or that he admired the lifestyle of drug dealers. I do think that Shaka’s relationship with his parents and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother were large factors that drove him out of his home and to a life of dealing. If I were making a mind map I might use the words “instability at home”.

  2. Grace Kiernan

    I agree with Jeff that trying to pinpoint one or two reasons as to what led Shaka towards a life of crime might be oversimplification. For the purposes of evaluation, though, it is definitely helpful to try and look at overarching themes and try to categorize events and experiences as best we can. I think Jeff is definitely right that “instability at home” had a major impact on the life decisions Shaka made throughout his youth. I also think that a dearth of resources, especially inadequate education, significantly affected the mindset he had when making decisions. Ultimately, I think the lack of an adequate support system at every level of his life took its toll, and taught a young boy to learn how to survive, rather than thrive. Looking to the only immediate examples he had, Shaka found the validation he was missing elsewhere through the quick money he could make on the streets. People may have let Shaka down, including himself, but structures and institutions let them all down first. This autoethnography really clued me into exactly how the way our society and institutions perpetuate the negative cycles we tend to associate with urban crime. People use what knowledge they have to make their best of the situation they are put in, and Shaka’s decision to turn to the streets and crack-dealing, in my opinion, is not all that surprising given the way he was more or less left to figure life out on his own.

  3. ProfSi

    I agree. We could make a mind map with maybe three core issues at the center: parental conflict, public school failures, and environment.

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