The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America

Reply Mon 20 Aug, 2012 11:57 am
The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
by Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Book Description
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.

Editorial Reviews

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

5.0 out of 5 stars A Groundbreaking Analysis of Urban Policy May 14, 2010
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.

5.0 out of 5 stars Condemnation of Blackness July 28, 2010
By ChuckSproull

"Condemnation of Blackness" is a well-documented book and a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the separate and combined influences that Afro-Americans and Whites had in making of present day urban America. Dr Muhammad is very objective and analytical in his ability to scan back and forth across the broad array of positive and negative influences, and describe all the many factors during each decade since the abolition of slavery. He shows how on one hand, initial limitations made blacks seem inferior, and various forms of white prejudice made things worse. But on the other hand, when given the same education and opportunities, there are no differences between black and white achievements and positive contributions to society. Indiana University students are very fortunate to have Dr Muhammad as a History Professor.

5.0 out of 5 stars High regard for "The Condemnation of Blackness" March 10, 2011
By yusuf

Dear Amazon and readers, The book entitled "The Condemnation of Blackness" is by far the book of the year for me. Nothing else need be read during these trying times. It is awakening, informative and true. All you need to do is look at the source material used if you doubt what he says and look at the historical results / effects politically and socially and economically. The history review of past leaders was an amazing breath of fresh air as well.

Thank you to the author..!!!!!!!
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Reply Mon 20 Aug, 2012 12:08 pm
Bill Moyers conversation with Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Especially see about Stop and Frisk:

Khalil Muhammad on Facing Our Racial Past
June 29, 2012

Bill and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, head of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and author of The Condemnation of Blackness, discuss the importance of confronting the contradictions of America’s past to better understand the present.

Muhammad describes the New York City Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” program as “an old and enduring form of surveillance and racial control”:

“If we think about the moment immediately following the Civil War, there was the invention of something called ‘the Black Codes’ in every Southern state. And those codes were intended to use the criminal justice system to restrict the freedom and mobility of black people. And if you crossed any line that they prescribed, you could be sold back to your former slave owner, not as a slave, but as a prisoner to work off your fine after an auction where you were resold to the highest bidder. It tells you something about the invention of the criminal justice system as a repressive tool to keep black people in their place,” Muhammad tells Moyers. “And it’s still with us. It’s still with us, because ultimately, as a social problem, crime has become like it was in the Jim Crow South, a mechanism to control black people’s movement in cities.”


Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad is the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, one of the world’s leading research facilities dedicated to the history of the African diaspora.

Prior to joining the Schomburg Center in 2011, Dr. Muhammad was an assistant professor of history at Indiana University for five years. While there, he wrote the book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America, in which he explored the roots of the popular conception of black criminality in America. Prior to his time working as a professor, Muhammad completed a fellowship at the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice reform agency in New York City. Recently, he wrote an op-ed about the Trayvon Martin case for The New York Times .

Khalil Muhammad is a native of Chicago’s South Side. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s degree in economics. After college, he worked for a time at the financial advisory firm Deloitte & Touche LLP. In 2004 he earned his Ph.D. in American history from Rutgers University, specializing in 20th century and African-American history. Muhammad is the great-grandson of Elijah Muhammad, and son of Ozier Muhammad, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer.
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