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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books

[A] brilliant work that tells us how directly the past has formed us.
— Darryl Pinckney

Aldon D. Morris
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.
David R. Roediger
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.
Ira Katznelson
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.
Glenn C. Loury
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.
David Levering Lewis
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.
New York Review of Books - Darryl Pinckney
[A] brilliant work that tells us how directly the past has formed us.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674062115
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2011
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 141,551
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet 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.
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Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction: The Mismeasure of Crime

  1. Saving the Nation: The Racial Data Revolution and the Negro Problem
  2. Writing Crime into Race: Racial Criminalization in the Age of Jim Crow
  3. Incriminating Culture: The Limits of Racial Liberalism in the Progressive Era
  4. Preventing Crime: White and Black Reformers in Philadelphia
  5. Fighting Crime: Politics and Prejudice in the City of Brotherly Love
  6. Policing Racism: Jim Crow Justice in the Urban North

  • Conclusion: The Conundrum of Criminality
  • Manuscript Sources
  • Notes
  • Index

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