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

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  46 reviews
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
Hardcover, 380 pages
Published February 15th 2010 by Harvard University Press
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Oct 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm a big enthusiast for history books that inform the present by examining the past. This is such a book! I was grabbed right from the introduction, on page 1, when the question is asked, "How was the statistical link between blackness and criminality initially forged?" Many ignore or are ill-informed about such a link. You hear today a lot of talk about "black-on-black" crime. Once you understand the history of linking blackness to criminality, and this book will cement that comprehension you ...more
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I picked up Dr. Muhammad's book after reading his thought-provoking article in the New York Times, "Playing the Violence Card", earlier this month. In the wake of recent murders, such as those in Florida and Oklahoma, which seem to hinge on issues of race, Dr. Muhammad asked us to scrutinize the origins of America's common conflation of blackness with criminality. By examining the use and misuse of racialized statistics, and comparing the experiences of blacks, poor whites, and european ...more
“Black-on-black crime” and “black criminality” are terms bandied about with depressing regularity in the modern U.S. media (particularly in the right wing media, though even outlets that brand themselves as progressive do this too). Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s perceptive book teases out the history of terms like these and the ideologies that underpin them.

Muhammad argues that they are the product of a racist assumption that African-Americans are inherently “criminal”, an assumption that was
Aug 27, 2012 marked it as to-read
I saw Muhammad on Moyers & Co. a couple of weeks ago and he sold me on his book, but he also caught my attention and respect in that he recognized the experiences of Native Americans as the civil/human rights case that has still to be fully faced in this country. I appreciated that he took time away from a discussion on black folks to remind people about that.
Chris brown
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
somehow, my original review of this book vanished.
Luckily I posed the same review to my blog.

"If you are interested in how the systematic racial structures became established in the East and West then this book is a must have. The historical documentation that i found in this book might have taken a life time of searching in the realm of obscurity to find on my own. This book is an instant classic and has earned its place along side the classics of African American Studies like the Mis-Education
David Lucander
Condemnation of blackness is a study of race and crime, but the author also has a handle on progressive era ideology, urban politics, and that old phrenology race science stuff (researching that must have gotten tiresome). No one can ever call this book under researched. In fact, the notes themselves are worth reading. Muhammad is a real historian's historian, and that might put some general readers off because his arguments are subtle, accurate, and comprehensive. This isn't the kind of stuff ...more
Jo Stafford
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent study of how race and crime came to be linked during the period between Reconstruction and the 1930s. Muhammad shows how crime statistics, stripped of their socio-economic context, were used to bolster racist arguments about African American criminality and traces the development of theories about supposed racial inferiority. He demonstrates how the application of social science theories impacted on African American communities, usually to their detriment.

Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic history of the merging of blackness and criminality. He tells a nuanced story here of blacks and whites, progressives and racists, north and south--the ways in which all these groups reacted to and spun a tale of black criminality to justify further subjugation. essential book.
Joseph Stieb
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the kind of book that takes something that was fuzzy and sharpens it considerably. Although the title makes the book sound more expansive than it is, this book makes important contributions to our understanding of how blackness and crime became so closely associated in 20th century America. Now, you may be thinking: "Didn't racists always tie blackness to crime in all of US history?" Answer: yes, but KGM shows that the period from 1890 (the US census that white race/crime experts saw as ...more
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
This thorough analysis of how the late 1800s and early 1900s helped to continue and enhance the idea of inferiority and criminality of black people in the US is just one great reference. The emotional toll this book takes it not simply because the toll bad science and rampant personal bias took on relations between people, but even more so because the situations described and the cherry picking of data still occur today. It would be wonderful to see this book bridged with a modern volume that ...more
Feb 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-school
A little hard to get through, but definitely well researched and very interesting subject material. A must read for anyone interested in the origins of black criminality.
Sean O'Brien
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An important alternate history of both the rise of racism post-Civil War and the antecedents of the civil rights movement. This history should be taught to our children in school.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America employs a historiographic lens to examine the discourse of social scientists with regard to the emergence of crime statistics and their unflattering association with black racialization. Such crime data was weaponized in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century to confirm the already existing racist rhetoric of black inferiority and, more importantly, black criminality. For ...more
Geoffrey Gordon
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: racism
This book examines how social science -- and social statistics, in particular -- deepened ideological beliefs about black criminality at the turn of the 20th century, particularly in the north. It discusses the work of social Darwinists in the late 19th century who used statistics about the disproportionate arrests of black people in northern cities to support the view that blacks are inherently violent and immoral, and statistics about black mortality to show that they were dying out because of ...more
Dallas Swindell
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Condemnation of Blackness is a thorough, and often dense, exploration of the erroneous dangers of racial liberalism in the cities of the Northeastern United States from reconstruction on past the great migration. Khalil Gibran Muhammad teleologically documents and lays bare the interminable white supremacism that lead to the perpetuation of African Americans as second class citizens via crime, culture, and the Jim Crow valuation of innate worthlessness. Apologists and hesitant allies like ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2018
The book isn't as expansive as the title might indicate, and ends up taking a very narrow topic (the rise of social science, particularly sociology, in the late 19th century, and its effect on views of the intersection on criminality and race) and digging in far more deeply than was consistently interesting. I'm intrigued by Muhammad's claims, but I feel like I understood his basic point within the first chapter, and the recitation of the nuances of how one school of sociology differed from ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: social-justice
Incredibly detailed and well-researched book about the use of racial crime statistics from the 1890s to 1940s. I wanted to read it because of the content, but it took a few months for me to get through. It's a fairly academic book that may not interest the average reader. If you're looking for an introduction to the history of race relations in the U.S., I would recommend a more concise book like White Rage by Carol Anderson. However, if you want to read the nuanced research that backs up ...more
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
An astoundingly well-researched and annotated study of the racialization of crime from the beginning of the Jim Crow era to the New Negro Renaissance. Not exactly a page-turner (I occasionally found myself lost in the weeds of Muhammad's examples and analyses), the book nevertheless offers a fine-grained historiography that details the racism of many American criminologists and social theorists, along with the work of people like W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Charles S. Johnson who tried ...more
Kim Martin
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book will change forever the way I think about crime, prisons, education, race relations, and our current sociological problems involving all of these things. While the book was pretty dense, and addressed historical racism with a narrower focus, on late nineteenth/early twentieth century urban crime, than I anticipated, the application is broad, and will cause me to look at current efforts to address drug laws, the school-to-prison pipeline, and sociological research differently.
"A gripping account of the origins of statistical justifications for the harsh policing of African Americans. Readers interested in our current debates on racial profiling may find the latter revealingly illuminated by Muhammad’s genealogy of the early statistical foundations of claims about the intrinsic nature of black criminality." - Aziz Z. Huq
Katie Fuller
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book that looks at early sociological studies of race and criminality. The book shows how these ( mostly white) researchers were essentially writing racism into the science books and the unfathomable destruction of their analyses. On the other side of the arguments were the great W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells, who along with others, challenged these studies.
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Excellent chronicling of the way race and racism has been woven in social science data on crime. This is a very important book in understanding how notions of racial inferiority were tied to crime in order to justify racist abuse and neglect by municipal police departments throughout the northeast from the 1890s to the 1940s.
Claudio Rivera
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book essentially details the origins of "Stop and Frisk" and the injustice of it all. A worthwhile read for anyone who has ever subscribed to the notion that since blacks are arrested more often, there is something inherently criminal about them.
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Muhammad explores the development of antiblackness in crime from the late 1800s. I found his exploration of data collection and use most compelling.
Laura Aranda
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, historical analysis.
Sep 05, 2012 added it
A tough but essential read for understanding modern crime statistics and their relation to race.
Daryl Grigsby
Aug 05, 2011 marked it as to-read
too many books - too little time!!!!
Mark Middleton
A well written, researched and documented book on its subject matter. Many of the issues raised still exist today, as well as the attitudes.
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fascinating argument but the level of detail and laser focus on the Progressive period made this moderate-length book a bit of a slog.
Ayman Fadel
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-us, racism
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Khalil Gibran Muhammad is professor of History, Race and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. He is the former Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a Harlem-based branch of the New York Public Library system and one of the world’s leading research facilities dedicated to the ...more
“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” 11 likes
“That racial categories were hardening at this moment put Boas’s statements directly at odds with an increasing public desire to believe in racial purity. White southerners were hysterical over the threat of “social equality” or what they took to mean the apocalyptic possibility of black men “ravishing” white women and passing on their “degenerate” traits to a “pure” white race” 0 likes
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