Mon 2 Jul, 2012 10:47 am
Bill Moyers brought this book to my attemption. Highly recommended. Topics for Sunday, July 1, 2012:
"The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America" by Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
Credit: Courtesy of Harvard University Press
Above: "The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America" by Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
Bill opens this weekend’s "Moyers & Company" with thoughts about the origins and lessons of Independence Day. We should remember, he says, that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings, like Thomas Jefferson, who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired, who espoused great humanistic ideals while behaving with reprehensible racial discrimination. That conflict -- between what we know and how we live -- is still a struggle in contemporary politics and society.
No stranger to the contradictions of history and their racial touchpoints is Bill’s studio guest Khalil Muhammad. Head of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Muhammad is the author of "The Condemnation of Blackness," which connects American histories of race, crime and the making of urban America to modern headlines.
Muhammad and Moyers discuss the importance of confronting the contradictions of America’s past
The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
by Khalil Gibran Muhammad
Publication Date: November 30, 2011
Lynch mobs, chain gangs, and popular views of black southern criminals that defined the Jim Crow South are well known. We know less about the role of the urban North in shaping views of race and crime in American society.
Following the 1890 census, the first to measure the generation of African Americans born after slavery, crime statistics, new migration and immigration trends, and symbolic references to America as the promised land of opportunity were woven into a cautionary tale about the exceptional threat black people posed to modern urban society. Excessive arrest rates and overrepresentation in northern prisons were seen by many whites—liberals and conservatives, northerners and southerners—as indisputable proof of blacks’ inferiority. In the heyday of “separate but equal,” what else but pathology could explain black failure in the “land of opportunity”?
The idea of black criminality was crucial to the making of modern urban America, as were African Americans’ own ideas about race and crime. Chronicling the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working-class whites and European immigrants, this fascinating book reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.
A dazzling study that illuminates a great deal about the social construction of black criminality. Muhammad does a superb job of explicating the role that social scientists, journalists, and reformers played in creating the idea of the black criminal and sustaining racial inequality. This important book is a vital contribution to our understanding of the role of racism in American society.
--Aldon D. Morris, author of The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement
Muhammad simultaneously captures, both in the realm of ideas and in the lived experiences of urban African Americans, the oppressive weight of enduring racialized crime scares and of social policies based on benign neglect. A brilliant, critically important study.
--David R. Roediger, author of How Race Survived U.S. History
This rich and absorbing history forcefully reveals how putatively objective social knowledge created tight links between color and criminality. Thoughtfully comparing representations of white immigrants and African Americans, Muhammad vividly establishes how a racial, and racist, 'scientific' discourse combined with the misuse of statistics to influence the patterning of blame, promote white fear, justify uneven policing and discriminatory justice, and block recognition of the deep structural roots of poverty and crime.
--Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
An impressive and important book that could not have appeared at a better time. The mass incarceration of poorly educated black and Hispanic men has become a principal instrument of social policy in the United States in recent decades. In this exquisitely argued book, Muhammad illuminates the social, political, and cultural roots of this phenomenon. In my opinion, this is the most significant work in the study of race and American society to have appeared in the past decade.
--Glenn C. Loury, author of The Anatomy of Racial Inequality
Muhammad's book renders an incalculable service to civil rights scholarship by disrupting one of the nation's most insidious, convenient, and resilient explanatory loops: whites commit crimes, but black males are criminals. With uncommon interpretive clarity and resourceful accumulation of data, the author disentangles crime as a fact of the urban experience from crime as a theory of race in American history. This is a mandatory read.
--David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of W.E.B. Du Bois
A brilliant work that tells us how directly the past has formed us.
--Darryl Pinckney (New York Review of Books )
About the Author
Khalil Gibran Muhammad is Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library and Associate Professor of History, Indiana University.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By Alan D. Brazil CPA
The Condemnation of Blackness is a painstakingly researched narrative on the formation of social policy in the urban north rooted in a double-standard applied to African-Americans as opposed to immigrants of European descent, which attributed challenges faced by African Americans to their so-called innate traits to the exclusion of other factors such as employment opportunities, educational disparities and housing segregation rooted in racism.
Khalil Muhammad presents a compelling discourse on the historical roots of this policy which appeared to rely more on the racial bias of its progenitors than careful analysis of the other factors contributing to then-named "Negro Problem". Dr. Muhammad's assessment beginning from the 1890 census, the inception of the Progressive Era , through the 1940s, is rooted in factual presentation of the ideas and to a certain extent the biases of the influencers of social policy with respect to African Americans. He highlights the extent to which effort was made to integrate foreign-born immigrants into society while simultaneously excluding black Americans, often rationalizing such behavior by attributing the "waste" in investing resources such as education in African Americans. These same framers of public policy decreed that the challenges of urban life for European immigrants could be addressed through social intervention, placing the blame for rampant crime, unemployment and out of wedlock births on the inherent ills of overcrowded metropolises such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia as a result of mass migrations to these population hubs. Interestingly, Professor Muhammad points out the fact that those same conditions existed in large cities in Europe from which the immigrants originated without those similar patterns of migration, though no policy formers took the leap of thought that these immigrants brought these problems with them.
Considering the large-scale criminalization of African Americans in northern urban areas, the eventual concentration of white criminal activity in predominantly black areas, the exclusion of black Americans from access to social services and education, it is a testament to strength of character of these individuals who were able to survive (and in subsequent generations thrive) in such an openly hostile environment.
The author carefully and accurately links the roots of the current issues urban areas face today, particularly in regards to crime, with the policies set in place in the 19th century. The Condemnation of Blackness is a must read for anyone who is interested in the roots of the issue of disproportionately high incarceration rates of African Americans and for those who seek understanding of this issue through the lens of critical analysis of data rather than merely using data to implement flawed decision making . In this sense, The Condemnation of Blackness serves as both a sociological study as well as a historical reference.