A selection of scholarship from Project MUSE publishers on the history of structural racism in the United States and how the country can realize anti-racist reform.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others at the hands of structural racism have shone a spotlight on racial violence, police brutality, and the deep systemic issues that enable it. Recent protests are calling not only for justice in individual cases of brutality, but for total reform of a system built on decades of racism and inequity. For real change to occur, it is essential to consult the deep corpus of existing evidence-based scholarship on race, history, and public policy to help chart a path toward an anti-racist future.
“MUSE in Focus: Confronting Structural Racism” is a selection of scholarly books and articles from a wide range of publishers and perspectives about the history of racism in America, its endurance throughout society, and how the country can respond now to enact meaningful and lasting reform. We hope that this selection of research can help inform the necessary conversations and actions around this topic.
In July 1919, an explosive race riot forever changed Chicago. For years, black southerners had been leaving the South as part of the Great Migration. Their arrival in Chicago drew the ire and scorn of many local whites, including members of the city’s political leadership and police department, who generally sympathized with white Chicagoans and viewed black migrants as a problem population. During Chicago’s Red Summer riot, patterns of extraordinary brutality, negligence, and discriminatory policing emerged to shocking effect. Those patterns shifted in subsequent decades, but the overall realities of a racially discriminatory police system persisted. In this history of Chicago from 1919 to the rise and fall of Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s, Simon Balto narrates the evolution of racially repressive policing in black neighborhoods as well as how black citizen-activists challenged that repression. Balto demonstrates that punitive practices by and inadequate protection from the police were central to black Chicagoans’ lives long before the late-century “wars” on crime and drugs. By exploring the deeper origins of this toxic system, Balto reveals how modern mass incarceration, built upon racialized police practices, emerged as a fully formed machine of profoundly anti-black subjugation.
Not all racial incidents are racist incidents, Lawrence Blum says. “We need a more varied and nuanced moral vocabulary for talking about the arena of race. We should not be faced with a choice of ‘racism’ or nothing.” Use of the word “racism” is pervasive: An article about the NAACP’s criticism of television networks for casting too few “minority” actors in lead roles asks, “Is television a racist institution?” A white girl in Virginia says it is racist for her African-American teacher to wear African attire. Blum argues that a growing tendency to castigate as “racism” everything that goes wrong in the racial domain reduces the term’s power to evoke moral outrage. In “I’m Not a Racist, But...”, Blum develops a historically grounded account of “racism” as the deeply morally charged notion it has become. He addresses the question whether people of color can be racist, defines types of racism, and identifies debased and inappropriate usages of the term. Though racial insensitivity, racial anxiety, racial ignorance and racial injustice are, in his view, not “racism,” they are racial ills that should elicit moral concern. Blum argues that “race” itself, even when not serving distinct racial malfeasance, is a morally destructive idea, implying moral distance and unequal worth. History and genetic science reveal both the avoid-ability and the falsity of the idea of race. Blum argues that we can give up the idea of race, but must recognize that racial groups’ historical and social experience has been shaped by having been treated as if they were races.
Among the 154 medical schools in the United States, Morehouse School of Medicine stands out for its formidable success in improving its surrounding communities. Over its history, Morehouse has become known as an institution committed to community engagement with an interest in closing the health equity gap between people of color and the white majority population. In The Morehouse Model, Ronald L. Braithwaite and his coauthors reveal the lessons learned over the decades since the school’s founding—lessons that other medical schools and health systems will be eager to learn in the hope of replicating Morehouse’s success. Describing the philosophical, cultural, and contextual grounding of the Morehouse Model, they give concrete examples of it in action before explaining how to foster the collaboration between community-based organizations and university faculty that is essential to making this model of care and research work. Arguing that establishing ongoing collaborative projects requires genuineness, transparency, and trust from everyone involved, the authors offer a theory of citizen participation as a critical element for facilitating behavioral change. Drawing on case studies, exploratory research, surveys, interventions, and secondary analysis, they extrapolate lessons to advance the field of community-based participatory research alongside community health. Written by well-respected leaders in the effort to reduce health inequities, The Morehouse Model is rooted in social action and social justice constructs. It will be a touchstone for anyone conducting community-based participatory research, as well as any institution that wants to have a positive effect on its local community.
With the development of the first skyscrapers in the 1880s, urban built environments could expand vertically as well as horizontally. Cities were now able to house and manage the large populations of newly freed blacks and immigrants flocking to their centers following Reconstruction. Beginning with Chicago’s early 10-story towers and concluding with the 1931 erection of the 110-story Empire State Building, Adrienne Brown’s The Black Skyscraper provides a detailed account of how scale and proximity shape our understanding of race. Over the next half-century, as city skylines grew, American writers imagined the new urban backdrop as an obstacle to racial differentiation. Examining works produced by writers, painters, architects, and laborers who grappled with the early skyscraper’s outsized and disorienting dimensions, Brown explores this architecture’s effects on how race was seen, read, and sensed at the turn of the twentieth century. In lesser-known works of apocalyptic science fiction, light romance, and Jazz Age melodrama, as well as in more canonical works by W. E. B. Du Bois, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aaron Douglas, and Nella Larsen, the skyscraper mediates the process of seeing and being seen as a racialized subject. From its distancing apex—reducing bodies to specks—to the shadowy mega-blocks it formed at street level, Brown argues that the skyscraper called attention to the malleable nature of perception. A highly interdisciplinary work, The Black Skyscraper reclaims the influence of race on modern architectural design as well as the less-well-understood effects these designs had on the experience and perception of race.
Richard Theodore Greener (1844–1922) was a renowned black activist and scholar. In 1870, he was the first black graduate of Harvard College. During Reconstruction, he was the first black faculty member at a southern white college, the University of South Carolina. He was even the first black US diplomat to a white country, serving in Vladivostok, Russia. A notable speaker and writer for racial equality, he also served as a dean of the Howard University School of Law and as the administrative head of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument Association. Yet he died in obscurity, his name barely remembered. His black friends and colleagues often looked askance at the light-skinned Greener’s ease among whites and sometimes wrongfully accused him of trying to “pass.” While he was overseas on a diplomatic mission, Greener’s wife and five children stayed in New York City, changed their names, and vanished into white society. Greener never saw them again. At a time when Americans viewed themselves simply as either white or not, Greener lost not only his family but also his sense of clarity about race. Richard Greener’s story demonstrates the human realities of racial politics throughout the fight for abolition, the struggle for equal rights, and the backslide into legal segregation. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock has written a long overdue narrative biography about a man, fascinating in his own right, who also exemplified America’s discomfiting perspectives on race and skin color. Uncompromising Activist is a lively tale that will interest anyone curious about the human elements of the equal rights struggle.
This volume considers the interconnection of racial oppression in the U.S. South and West, presenting thirteen case studies that explore the ways in which citizens and migrants alike have been caged, detained, deported, and incarcerated, and what these practices tell us about state building, converging and coercive legal powers, and national sovereignty. As these studies depict the institutional development and state scaffolding of overlapping carceral regimes, they also consider how prisoners and immigrants resisted such oppression and violence by drawing on the transnational politics of human rights and liberation, transcending the isolation of incarceration, detention, deportation and the boundaries of domestic law. Contributors: Dan Berger, Ethan Blue, George T. Diaz, David Hernandez, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Pippa Holloway, Volker Janssen, Talitha L. LeFlouria, Heather McCarty, Douglas K. Miller, Vivien Miller, Donna Murch, and Keramet Ann Reiter.
Excessive police violence and its disproportionate targeting of minority communities has existed in the United States since police forces first formed in the colonial period. A personal tragedy for its victims, for the people who love them, and for their broader communities, excessive police violence is also a profound violation of human and civil rights. Most public discourse about excessive police violence focuses, understandably, on the horrors of civilian deaths. In From Enforcers to Guardians, Hannah L. F. Cooper and Mindy Thompson Fullilove approach the issue from a radically different angle: as a public health problem. By using a public health framing, this book challenges readers to recognize that the suffering created by excessive police violence extends far outside of death to include sexual, psychological, neglectful, and nonfatal physical violence as well. Arguing that excessive police violence has been deliberately used to marginalize working-class and minority communities, Cooper and Fullilove describe what we know about the history, distribution, and health impacts of police violence, from slave patrols in colonial times to war on drugs policing in the present-day United States. Finally, the book surveys efforts, including Barack Obama’s 2015 creation of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, to eliminate police violence, and proposes a multisystem, multilevel strategy to end marginality and police violence and to achieve guardian policing. Aimed at anyone seeking to understand the causes and distributions of excessive police violence—and to develop interventions to end it—From Enforcers to Guardians frames excessive police violence so that it can be understood, researched, and taught about through a public health lens.
The burgeoning terrain of Martin Luther King Jr. studies is leading to a new appreciation of his thought and its meaningfulness for the emergence and shaping of the twenty-first-century world. This volume brings together an impressive array of scholars from various backgrounds and disciplines to explore the global significance of King—then, now, and in the future. Employing King’s metaphor of “the great world house,” the major focus is on King’s appraisal of the global-human struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, his relevance for today’s world, and how future generations might constructively apply or appropriate his key ideas and values in addressing racism, poverty and economic injustice, militarism, sexism, homophobia, the environmental crisis, globalization, and other challenges confronting humanity today. The contributors treat King in context and beyond context, taking seriously the historical King while also exploring how his name, activities, contributions, and legacy are still associated with a globalized rights culture.
The Lost Cause ideology that emerged after the Civil War and flourished in the early twentieth century in essence sought to recast a struggle to perpetuate slavery as a heroic defense of the South. As Adam Domby reveals here, this was not only an insidious goal; it was founded on falsehoods. The False Cause focuses on North Carolina to examine the role of lies and exaggeration in the creation of the Lost Cause narrative. In the process the book shows how these lies have long obscured the past and been used to buttress white supremacy in ways that resonate to this day. Domby explores how fabricated narratives about the war’s cause, Reconstruction, and slavery—as expounded at monument dedications and political rallies—were crucial to Jim Crow. He questions the persistent myth of the Confederate army as one of history’s greatest, revealing a convenient disregard of deserters, dissent, and Unionism, and exposes how pension fraud facilitated a myth of unwavering support of the Confederacy among nearly all white Southerners. Domby shows how the dubious concept of “black Confederates” was spun from a small number of elderly and indigent African American North Carolinians who got pensions by presenting themselves as “loyal slaves.” The book concludes with a penetrating examination of how the Lost Cause narrative and the lies on which it is based continue to haunt the country today and still work to maintain racial inequality.
Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the postwar Black Freedom Movement. In this bold new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, Garrett Felber centers the Nation in the Civil Rights Era and the making of the modern carceral state. In doing so, he reveals a multifaceted freedom struggle that focused as much on policing and prisons as on school desegregation and voting rights. The book examines efforts to build broad-based grassroots coalitions among liberals, radicals, and nationalists to oppose the carceral state and struggle for local Black self-determination. It captures the ambiguous place of the Nation of Islam specifically, and Black nationalist organizing more broadly, during an era which has come to be defined by nonviolent resistance, desegregation campaigns, and racial liberalism. By provocatively documenting the interplay between law enforcement and Muslim communities, Felber decisively shows how state repression and Muslim organizing laid the groundwork for the modern carceral state and the contemporary prison abolition movement which opposes it. Exhaustively researched, the book illuminates new sites and forms of political struggle as Muslims prayed under surveillance in prison yards and used courtroom political theater to put the state on trial. This history captures familiar figures in new ways--Malcolm X the courtroom lawyer and A. Philip Randolph the Harlem coalition builder--while highlighting the forgotten organizing of rank-and-file activists in prisons such as Martin Sostre. This definitive account is an urgent reminder that Islamophobia, state surveillance, and police violence have deep roots in the state repression of Black communities during the mid-20th century.
The growing gap between the most affluent Americans and the rest of society is changing the country into one defined—more than almost any other developed nation—by exceptional inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity. This book reveals that an infrastructure of inequality, both open and hidden, obstructs the great majority in pursuing happiness, living healthy lives, and exercising basic rights. A government dominated by finance, corporate interests, and the wealthy has undermined democracy, stunted social mobility, and changed the character of the nation. In this tough-minded dissection of the gulf between the super-rich and the working and middle classes, Ronald P. Formisano explores how the dramatic rise of income inequality over the past four decades has transformed America from a land of democratic promise into one of diminished opportunity. Since the 1970s, government policies have contributed to the flow of wealth to the top income strata. The United States now is more a plutocracy than a democracy. Formisano surveys the widening circle of inequality’s effects, the exploitation of the poor and the middle class, and the new ways that predators take money out of Americans’ pockets while passive federal and state governments stand by. This data-driven book offers insight into the fallacy of widespread opportunity, the fate of the middle class, and the mechanisms that perpetuate income disparity.
Tennessee has made tremendous strides in race relations since the end of de jure segregation. African Americans are routinely elected and appointed to state and local offices, the black vote has tremendous sway in statewide elections, and legally explicit forms of racial segregation have been outlawed. Yet the idea of transforming Tennessee into a racially equitable state—a notion that was central to the black freedom movement during the antebellum and Jim Crow periods—remains elusive for many African Americans in Tennessee, especially those living in the most under-resourced and economically distressed communities. Losing Power investigates the complex relationship between racial polarization, black political influence, and multiracial coalitions in Tennessee in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Sekou M. Franklin and Ray Block examine the divide in values, preferences, and voting behaviors between blacks and whites, contending that this racial divide is both one of the causes and one of the consequences of black Tennesseans’ recent loss of political power. Tennessee has historically been considered more politically moderate and less racially conservative than the states of the Deep South. Yet in recent years and particularly since the mid- 2000s, Republicans have cemented their influence in the state. While Franklin and Block’s analysis and methodology focus on state elections, political institutions, and public policy, Franklin and Block have also developed a conceptual framework for racial politics that goes beyond voting patterns to include elite-level discourse (issue framing), intrastate geographical divisions, social movements, and pressure from interest groups.
Etched into America’s consciousness is the United Negro College Fund’s phrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This book tells the multifaceted story of the organization’s efforts on behalf of black colleges against the backdrop of the cold war and the civil rights movement. Founded during the post–World War II period as a successor to white philanthropic efforts, the UNCF nevertheless retained vestiges of outside control. In its early years, the organization was restrained in its critique of segregation and reluctant to lodge a challenge against institutional and cultural racism. Through cogent analysis of written and oral histories, archival documents, and the group’s outreach and advertising campaigns, historian Marybeth Gasman examines the UNCF’s struggle to create an identity apart from white benefactors and to evolve into a vehicle for black empowerment. The first history of the UNCF, Envisioning Black Colleges draws attention to the significance of black colleges in higher education and the role they played in Americans’ struggle for equality.
The racial ideology of colorblindness has a long history. In 1963, Martin Luther King famously stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” However, in the decades after the civil rights movement, the ideology of colorblindness co-opted the language of the civil rights era in order to reinvent white supremacy, fuel the rise of neoliberalism, and dismantle the civil rights movement’s legal victories without offending political decorum. Yet, the spread of colorblindness could not merely happen through political speeches, newspapers, or books. The key, Justin Gomer contends, was film--as race-conscious language was expelled from public discourse, Hollywood provided the visual medium necessary to dramatize an anti–civil rights agenda over the course of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In blockbusters like Dirty Harry, Rocky, and Dangerous Minds, filmmakers capitalized upon the volatile racial, social, and economic struggles in the decades after the civil rights movement, shoring up a powerful, bipartisan ideology that would be wielded against race-conscious policy, the memory of black freedom struggles, and core aspects of the liberal state itself.
On the evening of July 25, 1967, on the third night of the 12th Street Riot, Detroit police raided the Algiers Motel. Acting on a report of gunfire, officers rounded up the occupants of the motel’s annex—several black men and two white women—and proceeded to beat them and repeatedly threaten to kill them. By the end of the night, three of the men were dead. Three police officers and a private security guard were tried for their deaths; none were convicted. In The Algiers Motel Incident, first published in 1968, Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Hersey strings together interviews, police reports, court testimony, and news stories to recount the terrible events of that night. The result is chaotic and sometimes confusing; facts remain elusive. But, Hersey concludes, the truth is clear: three young black men were murdered “for being, all in all, black young men and part of the black rage of the time.” With a new foreword by award-winning author Danielle L. McGuire, The Algiers Motel Incident is a powerful indictment of racism and the US justice system.
Hashtag or trademark, personal or collective expression, #BlackGirlMagic is an articulation of the resolve of Black women and girls to triumph in the face of structural oppressions. The online life of #BlackGirlMagic insists on the visibility of Black women and girls as aspirational figures. But while the notion of Black girl magic spreads in cyberspace, the question remains: how is Black girl magic experienced offline? The essays in this volume move us beyond social media. They offer critical analyses and representations of the multiplicities of Black femmes’, girls’, and women’s lived experiences. Together the chapters demonstrate how Black girl magic is embodied by four elements enacted both on- and offline: building community, challenging dehumanizing representations, increasing visibility, and offering restorative justice for violence. Black Girl Magic Beyond the Hashtag shows how Black girls and women foster community, counter invisibility, engage in restorative acts, and create spaces for freedom. Intersectional and interdisciplinary, the contributions in this volume bridge generations and collectively push the boundaries of Black feminist thought.
Labor in the Time of Trump critically analyzes the right-wing attack on workers and unions and offers strategies to build a working–class movement. While President Trump’s election in 2016 may have been a wakeup call for labor and the Left, the underlying processes behind this shift to the right have been building for at least forty years. The contributors show that only by analyzing the vulnerabilities in the right-wing strategy can the labor movement develop an effective response. Essays in the volume examine the conservative upsurge, explore key challenges the labor movement faces today, and draw lessons from recent activist successes. Donald Cohen, founder and executive director of In the Public Interest; Bill Fletcher, Jr., author of Solidarity Divided; Shannon Gleeson, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations; Sarah Jaffe, co-host of Dissent Magazine’s Belabored podcast; Cedric Johnson, University of Illinois at Chicago; Jennifer Klein, Yale University; Gordon Lafer, University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center; Jose La Luz, labor activist and public intellectual; Nancy MacLean, Duke University; MaryBe McMillan, President of the North Carolina state AFL-CIO; Jon Shelton, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay; Lara Skinner, The Worker Institute at Cornell University; Kyla Walters, Sonoma State University
At the intersection of social and environmental history there has emerged a rich body of black literary response to natural and agricultural experiences, whether the legacy of enforced agricultural labor or of the destruction and displacement brought about by a hurricane. In Cultivation and Catastrophe, Sonya Posmentier uncovers a vivid diasporic tradition of black environmental writing that responds to the aftermath of plantation slavery, urbanization, and free and forced migrations. While humanist discourses of African American and postcolonial studies often sustain a line between nature and culture, this book instead emphasizes the relationship between them, offering an innovative environmental history of modern black literature. Posmentier argues that environmental experiences of growth and rupture define the literature of black freedom, an archive that ranges from sonnets, mini-epics, documentary poems, periodicals, and novels to blues songs, dancehall productions, and ethnographic writing. In turn, this literature generates important and surprising models for ecological thought. Claude McKay, for example, connects rows of potatoes to the poetic line; Zora Neale Hurston composes rhythmic communal lyrics in the Florida “muck” following a deadly hurricane; and Derek Walcott critiques property-based ecological relations through the archipelagic shape of his mid-career poetry. Posmentier examines how these writers, along with Gwendolyn Brooks, Bessie Smith, Sterling Brown, Lloyd Lovindeer, Kamau Brathwaite, and others give voice to racialized experiences of alienation from the land while simultaneously envisioning a modern poetics of survival, repair, and generation. Going against the grain of scholarship that has situated modern black diasporic agency largely in metropolitan sites, Posmentier traces a black literary history of environmental and social disaster while exploring the possibilities and limits of poetry as an archive for black modern culture in its many forms. This path-breaking book offers stunning new insight into modern black literature, environmental humanities, and poetry and poetics.
On Sunday afternoon, March 7, 1965, roughly six hundred peaceful demonstrators set out from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in a double-file column to march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery. Leading the march were Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Upon reaching Broad Street, the marchers turned left to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge that spanned the Alabama River. “When we reached the crest of the bridge,” recalls John Lewis, “I stopped dead still. So did Hosea. There, facing us at the bottom of the other side, stood a sea of blue-helmeted, blue-uniformed Alabama state troopers, line after line of them, dozens of battle-ready lawmen stretched from one side of U.S. Highway 80 to the other. Behind them were several dozen more armed men—Sheriff Clark’s posse—some on horseback, all wearing khaki clothing, many carrying clubs the size of baseball bats.” The violence and horror that was about to unfold at the foot of the bridge would forever mark the day as “Bloody Sunday,” one of the pivotal moments of the civil rights movement. Alabama state troopers fell on the unarmed protestors as they crossed the bridge, beating and tear gassing them. In Selma’s Bloody Sunday, Robert A. Pratt offers a vivid account of that infamous day and the indelible triumph of black and white protest over white resistance. He explores how the march itself—and the 1965 Voting Rights Act that followed—represented a reaffirmation of the nation’s centuries-old declaration of universal equality and the fulfillment of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Selma’s Bloody Sunday offers a fresh interpretation of the ongoing struggle by African Americans to participate freely in America’s electoral democracy. Jumping forward to the present day, Pratt uses the march as a lens through which to examine disturbing recent debates concerning who should, and who should not, be allowed to vote. Drawing on archival materials, secondary sources, and eyewitness accounts of the brave men and women who marched, this gripping account offers a brief and nuanced narrative of this critical phase of the black freedom struggle.
Drawing on previously untapped sources, Young Frederick Douglass recreates with fidelity and in convincing detail the background and early life of the man who was to become “the gadfly of America’s conscience” and the undisputed spokesman for nineteenth-century black Americans. With a new foreword by renowned Douglass scholar David W. Blight, Dickson J. Preston’s highly regarded biography traces the life and times of Frederick Douglass from his birth on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818 until 1838, when he escaped from slavery to emerge upon the national scene. Astounding his white contemporaries with his oratorical brilliance and intellectual capabilities, Douglass dared to challenge the doctrine of white supremacy on its own grounds. At the time of Douglass’s death in 1895, one eulogist wrote that he was probably the best-known American throughout the world since Abraham Lincoln.
How have African American writers drawn on “bad” black men and black boys as creative touchstones for their evocative and vibrant art? This is the question posed by Howard Rambsy’s new book, which explores bad men as a central, recurring, and understudied figure in African American literature, and music. By focusing on how various iterations of the bad black man figure serve as creative muse and inspiration for literary production, Rambsy puts a wide variety of contemporary African American literary and cultural works in conversation with creativity research for the first time. Employing concepts such as playfulness, productivity, divergent thinking, and problem finding, Rambsy examines the works of a wide range of writers—including Elizabeth Alexander, Amiri Baraka, Paul Beatty, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tyehimba Jess, Trymaine Lee, Adrian Matejka, Aaron McGruder, Evie Shockley, and Kevin Young—who have drawn on notions of bad black men and boys to create innovative and challenging works in a variety of genres. Through groundbreaking readings, Rambsy demonstrates the fruitfulness of viewing black literary art through the lens of creativity research
Standard literary criticism tends to either ignore or downplay the unorthodox tradition of black experimental writing that emerged in the wake of protests against colonization and Jim Crow–era segregation. Histories of African American literature likewise have a hard time accounting for the distinctiveness of experimental writing, which is part of a general shift in emphasis among black writers away from appeals for social recognition or raising consciousness. In Freedom Time—the second book to appear in the Callaloo African Diaspora Series—Anthony Reed offers a theoretical reading of “black experimental writing” that understands the term both as a profound literary development and as a concept with which to analyze the ways that writing challenges us to rethink the relationships between race and literary techniques. Through extended analyses of works by African American and Afro-Caribbean writers—including N. H. Pritchard, Suzan-Lori Parks, NourbeSe Philip, Kamau Brathwaite, Claudia Rankine, Douglas Kearney, Harryette Mullen, and Nathaniel Mackey—Reed develops a new sense of the literary politics of formally innovative writing and the connections between literature and politics since the 1960s. Freedom Time reclaims the power of experimental black voices by arguing that, if literature fundamentally serves the human need for freedom in expression, then readers and critics must see it as more than a mere reflection of the politics of social protest and identity formation. With an approach informed by literary, cultural, African American, and feminist studies, Reed shows how reworking literary materials and conventions liberates writers to push the limits of representation and expression.
Mass shootings have become the “new normal” in American life. The same can be said for the public debate that follows a shooting: blame is cast, political postures are assumed, but no meaningful policy changes are enacted. In After Gun Violence, Craig Rood argues that this cycle is the result of a communication problem. Without advocating for specific policies, Rood examines how Americans talk about gun violence and suggests how we might discuss the issues more productively and move beyond our current, tragic impasse. Exploring the ways advocacy groups, community leaders, politicians, and everyday citizens talk about gun violence, Rood reveals how the gun debate is about far more than just guns. He details the role of public memory in shaping the discourse, showing how memories of the victims of gun violence, the Second Amendment, and race relations influence how gun policy is discussed. In doing so, Rood argues that forgetting and misremembering this history leads interest groups and public officials to entrenched positions and political failure and drives the public further apart. Timely and innovative, After Gun Violence advances our understanding of public discourse in an age of gridlock by illustrating how public deliberation and public memory shape and misshape one another. It is a search to understand why public discourse fails and how we can do better.
This book explores women of color’s grassroots leadership in organizations that are not singularly identified with feminism. Centered in New York City, Pushing Back brings an intersectional perspective to communities of color as it addresses injustices tied to domestic work, housing, and environmental policies and practices. Ariella Rotramel shows how activists respond to injustice and marginalization, documenting the ways people of color and the working class in the United States recognize identity as key to the roots of and solutions to injustices such as environmental racism and gentrification. Rotramel further provides an in-depth analysis of the issues that organizations representing transnational communities of color identify as fundamental to their communities and how they frame them. Introducing the theoretical concept of “queer motherwork,” Rotramel explores the forms of advocacy these activists employ and shows how they negotiate internal diversity (gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.) and engage broader communities, particularly as women-led groups. Pushing Back highlights case studies of two New York–based organizations, the pan-Asian/American CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities (formerly the Committee Against Anti- Asian Violence) and South Bronx’s Mothers on the Move/ Madres en Movimiento (MOM). Both organizations are small, women-led community organizations that have participated in a number of progressive coalitions on issues such as housing rights, workers’ rights, and environmental justice at the local, national, and global levels.
For much of America’s history, African Americans were discouraged or aggressively prevented from becoming scientists and engineers. Those who did enter STEM fields found that their inventions and discoveries were often neither recognized nor valued. Even today, particularly in the field of engineering, the participation of African American men and women is shockingly low, and some evidence indicates that the situation might be getting worse. In Changing the Face of Engineering, twenty-four eminent scholars address the underrepresentation of African Americans in engineering from a wide variety of disciplinary and professional perspectives while proposing workable classroom solutions and public policy initiatives. They combine robust statistical analyses with personal narratives of African American engineers and STEM instructors who, by taking evidenced-based approaches, have found success in graduating African American engineers. Changing the Face of Engineering argues that the continued underrepresentation of African Americans in engineering impairs the ability of the United States to compete successfully in the global marketplace. This volume will be of interest to STEM scholars and students, as well as policymakers, corporations, and higher education institutions.
Some know Oklahoma’s Black towns as historic communities that thrived during the Jim Crow era—this is only part of the story. In this book, Karla Slocum shows that the appeal of these towns is more than their past. Drawing on interviews and observations of town life spanning several years, Slocum reveals that people from diverse backgrounds are still attracted to the communities because of the towns’ remarkable history as well as their racial identity and rurality. But that attraction cuts both ways. Tourists visit to see living examples of Black success in America, while informal predatory lenders flock to exploit the rural Black economies. In Black towns, there are developers, return migrants, rodeo spectators, and gentrifiers, too. Giving us a complex window into Black town and rural life, Slocum ultimately makes the case that these communities are places for affirming, building, and dreaming of Black community success even as they contend with the sometimes marginality of Black and rural America.
From the food uprisings in the early 1700s to the notorious anti-busing riots in the mid-1970s, incidents of communal social violence have played a significant role in Boston’s history. This vivid portrait of an ever-changing community over time provides a revealing glimpse into peoples’ anger, aspirations, and frustrations. It sheds new light on why groups are provoked to take unlawful action in response to unjust conditions, and it opens a fresh vista on the social history of Boston. Originally published by Northeastern University Press in 2001. With a new foreword by Gordana Rabrenovic.
Kalief Browder was 16 when he was arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack. Unable to raise bail and unwilling to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, Browder spent three years in New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail—two in solitary confinement—while awaiting trial. After his case was dismissed in 2013, Browder returned to his family, haunted by his ordeal. Suffering through the lonely hell of solitary, Browder had been violently attacked by fellow prisoners and corrections officers throughout his incarceration. Consumed with depression, Browder committed suicide in 2015. He was just 22 years old. In Life and Death in Rikers Island, Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer for New York City’s jails, explains the profound health risks associated with incarceration. From neglect and sexual abuse to blocked access to care and exposure to brutality, Venters details how jails are designed and run to create new health risks for prisoners—all while forcing doctors and nurses into complicity or silence. Pairing prisoner experiences with cutting-edge research into prison risk, Venters reveals the disproportionate extent to which the health risks of jail are meted out to those with behavioral health problems and people of color. He also presents compelling data on alternative strategies that can reduce health risks. This revelatory and groundbreaking book concludes with the author’s analysis of the case for closing Rikers Island jails and his advice on how to do it for the good of the incarcerated.
Few places are more notorious for civil rights–era violence than Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” murders. Yet in a striking turn of events, Philadelphia has become a beacon in Mississippi’s racial reckoning in the decades since. Claire Whitlinger investigates how this community came to acknowledge its past, offering significant insight into the social impacts of commemoration. Examining two commemorations around key anniversaries of the murders held in 1989 and 2004, Whitlinger shows the differences in how those events unfolded. She also charts how the 2004 commemoration offered a springboard for the trial of former Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen for his role in the 1964 murders, the 2006 passage of Mississippi’s Civil Rights/Human Rights education bill, and the initiation of the Mississippi Truth Project. In doing so, Whitlinger provides the first comprehensive account of these high profile events and expands our understanding of how commemorations both emerge out of and catalyze associated memory movements. Threading a compelling story with theoretical insights, Whitlinger delivers a study that will help scholars, students, and activists alike better understand the dynamics of commemorating difficult pasts, commemorative practices in general, and the links between memory, race, and social change.
His world view colored by growing up in 1980s Ethiopia, where death governed time and temperament, Dagmawi Woubshet offers a startlingly fresh interpretation of melancholy and mourning during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in The Calendar of Loss. When society denies a patient’s disease and then forbids survivors mourning rites, how does a child bear witness to a parent’s death or a lover grieve for his beloved? Looking at a range of high and popular works of grief—including elegies, eulogies, epistles to the dead, funerals, and obituaries—Woubshet identifies a unique expression of mourning that emerged in the 1980s and early 1990s in direct response to the AIDS catastrophe. What Woubshet dubs a “poetics of compounding loss” expresses what it was like for queer mourners to grapple with the death of lovers and friends in rapid succession while also coming to terms with the fact of their own imminent mortality. The time, consolation, and closure that allow the bereaved to get through loss were for the mourners in this book painfully thwarted, since with each passing friend, and with mounting numbers of the dead, they were provided with yet more evidence of the certain fatality of the virus inside them. Ultimately, the book argues, these disprized mourners turned to their sorrow as a necessary vehicle of survival, placing open grief at the center of art and protest, insisting that lives could be saved through the very speech acts precipitated by death. An innovative and moving study, The Calendar of Loss illuminates how AIDS mourning confounds and traverses how we have come to think about loss and grief, insisting that the bereaved can confront death in the face of shame and stigma in eloquent ways that also imply a fierce political sensibility and a longing for justice.
Many readers and past authors asked that we consider a special issue on the contemporary social, political, and cultural moment and its meaning for students, faculty, and staff in higher education. This issue offers such a forum. As many of you know, few, if any, higher-education institutions have created wholly diverse, equitable, or inclusive learning and professional environments. U.S. campuses have persistently struggled to create representative student, faculty, and staff compositions; achieve equitable rates of retention and degree completion; and produce inclusive and welcoming learning and workplace environments.
Special Issue from Theory & Event. Theory & Event is a journal of political theory with an international editorial board, authors, and readership. It welcomes theoretical interventions, interpretations, and engagements with political events, institutions, cultures, and issues as they unfold.
This paper considers the problems that unconscious racial bias and social sin more broadly pose for moral theology’s concepts of the erroneous conscience and ignorance. It argues that systemic racism prompts us to reimagine the erroneous conscience and individual culpability for ignorance. I argue that the erroneous conscience is useful in protecting human dignity in the face of error and in acknowledging the many ways we err but also problematic because it equates error with concrete action and conscious decisions and does not account for responsibility for social sin. This paper asserts that people of privilege and white persons cannot be morally innocent, but the erroneous conscience as it has been understood in the theological tradition often implies that innocence is the goal of the moral life and only holds us accountable for conscious moral actions.
#BLM's unapologetic affirming of the mattering of black lives is therefore no less than a mobilization to overturn the anti-blackness that founds the modern U.S. nation-state and also other nation-states in a global economy modeled on Western colonial liberalism. Its refusal to disconnect racist violence against black people from a nation-state premised on the devaluation of black life emphasizes continuities, rather than breaks, between the anti-black political economies and cultures of pre- and post–civil rights America.
In his quest to “Make America Great Again,” Donald J. Trump has actually made America racist and sexist again. Trump’s bid for presidency increased the division in the country and has provided a harbinger of opportunities for those on the fringes of society to take the mainstage with violence and hate-spewed vitriol, maliciousness, and fury. His campaign brought to the forefront people and organizations stoked in racism and divisiveness, such as David Duke, Milo Yiannopoulos, Jason Kessler, and Richard Spencer—all part of the Klu Klux Klan or other alt-right and white supremacist movements.
This essay examines the anti-carceral protest and lifestyle politics of the MOVE organization in 1970s Philadelphia. MOVE is a group of mostly Black radical naturalists who formed a collective in West Philadelphia in 1972. Between 1972 and 1978, the organization engaged in varying forms of anti-carceral resistance and directly confronted the emerging carceral landscape in Philadelphia, characterized by not only prisons but also police violence, housing segregation, surveillance, and counter-insurgency. This work offers an account of how MOVE members challenged racialized and gendered police violence, prisons, and housing inequality during the early years of the group’s existence in order to demonstrate that the 1978 raid on their home in Powelton Village was part of the city’s systematic repression of Philadelphia Black radicalism. This work charts MOVE’s changing use of protest politics and unconventional lifestyle practices as tools for resistance. This article unearths early MOVE philosophy and practice while exploring the conditions of racialized and gendered police violence that led to the ongoing incarceration of the MOVE 9 political prisoners.
Current, traditional college students have spent a lifetime with mediated representations of racial progress that facilitate the internalization of neoliberalist views on difference and inequality. Race tends to overlap with other aspects of difference to shape definitions of belonging and diversity (Wise). The current creation of diversity in media representations does not necessarily facilitate a more egalitarian and inclusive understanding of race (Orbe, “Constructions”; Orbe “Representations”; Dixon). Instead for many, and in particular for white Americans, media representations provide evidence that makes social inequality appear to be the natural outcome of variations in the culture of different racial groups (Goldberg 106–123). Sociologists identified this phenomenon as cultural racism (Enck-Wanzer; Giroux, “Living”; Giroux, “Spectacles”). Born out of the work of Oscar Lewis and transformed for use in policy and public discourse, cultural racism is based in the understanding that specific racial groups have a particular type of cultural pathology that not only undermines their collective assimilation into mainstream society but also presents a potential threat to the larger functioning of society (Lewis, La Vida; Lewis, Five Families). Such a perspective often appears in media in very covert, subtle, and context-appropriate ways. Another dominant postracial representation of race portrays issues of race as based in emotions rather than institutions. This framing often appears by way of interracial friendships wherein a “de-racialized utopia” communicates to viewers that racism would end if people could just “get over it” and move on from the past (Thornton).
The phrases anchor baby and welfare queen are examples of gendered racist political rhetoric publicly used by lawmakers to marginalize vulnerable populations. In the 1980s and 1990s, the phrase welfare queen was used by lawmakers to describe poor single women who had multiple children, allegedly for the purpose of financial gain at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. The term anchor baby has been used more recently to describe the children of unauthorized immigrant women who, some lawmakers assert, come to the United States to have babies for personal gain at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. This essay explores public statements of U.S. lawmakers engaging in anchor baby discourse. By analyzing the ways that these two different but functionally similar phrases have been used by U.S. lawmakers, we gain an understanding of the use of political rhetoric in marginalizing women and families of color.
This essay takes up, from a psychoanalytic and cultural theory perspective, the underpinnings and psychic structures of racism, as it is lived out and practiced in the North American context. Considering the investment of white people in many projects of denial and historical amnesia, this is the most daunting task facing communities, large and small. This essay, which I have worked on with considerable anxiety, is focused on the tenacity of the conscious and unconscious commitments “white” people make to white privilege. I believe this reluctance to take on the questions of white privilege is currently a major impediment to progress in overcoming racism in many communities and social circumstances. In this essay, however, I have tried to center my attention on my own experience, particularly my own resistances, as a white person, citizen, and psychoanalyst.
It is rare that I both disagree so thoroughly with the first few lines of a talk or article and still find it compelling and timely. Reverend Dr. Thandeka’s “Whites Made in America: Advancing American Philosophers’’ Discourse on Race" is one such paper. She begins, ‘'Racism’ and ‘white privilege’ have outlived their usefulness as concepts and judgements. Neither term explains what’s going on in America today" (Thandeka 26). Like many, Thandeka marks the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States as a signal that something was missed in the months or years prior. With others, Thandeka asserts that Hillary Clinton’s major misstep in the election was calling the Trump support base ‘deplorables’ and in so doing, neglecting the needs or desires of those overwhelmingly white voters. New categories and concepts that fit better and explain more than racism and white privilege are necessary, on Thandeka’s view. She claims, ‘American philosophers have a special role to play here because the requisite fieldwork includes moral values formation’ (Thandeka 26). I am unconvinced even as I think she and I share common concerns.”
Toni Morrison's writing sculpts a politics of home from the ruins of the house of race so as to rewrite the history of the human against the language and practices of racism that racialize subjects and commodify their ontological and psychic complexity. By attending to the "interior life" of those who were marginalized during and after slavery throughout colonial modernity, Morrison transforms the idea of the human that race thinking and racism have consolidated in modernity, namely, the idea of a being who can be reduced to the organizing table of race.
I hope it is not controversial to say that any discussion of policing in the United States must proceed from the acknowledgment that there has never been an ethical and effective system of policing in this country. To suggest otherwise is to argue that the lives of those who have been unjustly denied human, civil, political, and cultural rights as a result of policing do not matter. To continue to state the obvious, it is only during the very short period between the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and now that the question of ethical policing has been entertained at a national level with any pretense of sincerity. In all the years before this period, policing extended from the legally encoded and broadly embraced preservation of an explicit caste hierarchy. It is only during this recent period that ethical and effective policing even enters the legal imagination as a possibility and confronts the modern United States as a problem.
Is higher-education success attainable for a black woman who lives and learns in the margins; in what way is academic success and failure measured and defined and by whom? This research examines these questions through unraveling the educational narrative of Charlene, a marginalized, urban black female moving through a predominantly white, four-year public college. Through analyzing Charlene’s story, this research argues that American higher education functions as a dominating matrix that systematically reproduces societal structures of inequality rooted in identity and place. Charlene’s home-to-school discourse interrogates this educational dynamic, exposing how race, class, and gender oppressions intersect and undermine opportunities for academic progress. The research findings urge academia to transform its institutional ideologies, pedagogies, and practices in ways that stop the marginalization of black females who are relegated to live and learn on “the outside end.”
This article offers a primer on identifying what the author calls “know-your-place aggression” as well as the violence of white mediocrity being treated as merit. The author argues that gaining clarity about these hostile tendencies is a form of self-care. Examples include experiences with racism, (hetero)-sexism, trans-antagonism, ableism, and Islamophobia. Understanding know-your-place aggression and white mediocrity can prevent marginalized communities from wasting energy by worrying about the opinions of people who use objective standards to judge everyone but themselves. The author encourages this form of self-care because she believes it can empower members of marginalized groups to save their energy for what matters most, the quality of their lives and their contributions to research.
In the twenty-first century, 70.6 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians,1 58 percent of them still segregate themselves by race on Sunday mornings, and white Protestants make up the majority of this 58 percent.2 These facts belie the claim, popularized after Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election, that America is living in a postracial society3 And yet, the role played by religion in white people’s lived experiences of race, racism, and white class privilege in the United States tends to be neglected by philosophers and religious studies scholars, except perhaps when considering white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.4 Contemporary philosophy is secular in a way that generally excludes and is even hostile to religion as a meaningful component of people’s lives.5 Likewise, while religious studies scholars frequently examine religious texts and histories with great care, they tend to try to distinguish themselves from theologians and thus to avoid the significant role that faith might play in a person’s lived experience.
Inequality—in income, wealth, opportunity, consumption, health, security, political voice, and environment—presents the most pressing social challenge of our day. And it counts among the hottest areas of research in the social sciences.2 Capitalism may tend towards inequality, [End Page 92] as economist Thomas Piketty’s exhaustive account suggests.3 Even so, the historical record makes it plain that public and private policies shape distributions of income, wealth, and wellbeing. This article examines the history of one particular policy that has contributed substantially to the concentration of income and wealth among the richest households—almost entirely white—in the United States: the preferential tax rate for capital gains. Since 1922, the IRS has allowed taxpayers to keep a greater portion of the gains they make from investments (so-called capital gains) than they keep from their wages and salaries (so-called earned, or ordinary, income). This is because capital gains are taxed at lower tax rate than the same amount of money is taxed when it is earned as salary or wage income.
The killing of Trayvon Martin is easily placed in the long history of American violence against black people and amidst the related contemporary institutions that reproduce race as a structure of inequality. For that reason, both the broad outpouring of horror that the case generated when it first rose to national prominence and the polarization that soon followed pose puzzles about how white Americans understand racial subordination. This essay explores those puzzles, taking moments in the struggle over the meaning of the case as occasions that illuminate the forms of knowing and unknowing that mark white supremacy in a neoliberal era.
“Resistance” has become a keyword with special political culture resonance since the Electoral College victory of the current American president. Lifted from the central narrative of Hollywood’s Star Wars franchise, the term now simmers with a particular meaning, which analogizes the forty-fifth presidential administration with a mythic, evil force, and thus gives an orange tint to Darth Vader. This newly nuanced conception of resistance focalizes opposition to the current administration, but it also monopolizes the concept, giving pride of place to resistance that is positioned against the peculiar medley of policies and symbols that emanate from the forty-fifth presidency. This monopolization of the concept of resistance bespeaks the sense of urgency that is felt by those who oppose the current administration—the implication is that, if ever there was a time for total resistance, it is now. This is a worthy sentiment because there is certainly an urgent need to stand against much policy and rhetoric originating in the Oval Office; however, amid this welter of focused resistance, there is perhaps an even more urgent need to recognize and strategize responses to the larger contextual systems and forces that have produced the current regime.
Research on anger in African American females is lacking yet extremely important. The stereotype of the “angry black woman” has dominated society’s view of African American females; however, empirical evidence supporting the stereotype is nonexistent. In an effort to empirically test the misperception of African American women as overly angry or aggressive, this project explored the experience of anger in seventy-six African American women and compared it to a reference group (i.e., the normative sample of the measure used). Participants completed the State Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2). On most of the scales of anger of the STAXI-2, there were no significant differences between the current sample and the normative sample. Notably contrary to the widespread image, African American women in both age groups reported significantly less frequent angry feelings in situations where they may receive criticism, perceived disrespect, and negative evaluations (i.e., angry reaction). Furthermore, younger women reported a greater tendency to experience and suppress intense angry feelings rather than expressing them either physically or verbally. Summarily, results of the current study provide initial empirical evidence disconfirming the stereotype of the “angry black woman.”