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.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad is Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He was formerly Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library and the world's leading library and archive of global Black history.
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 will no longer, or SHOULD no longer engage in the ever so popular conversation of "black criminality."
You will hear black commentators weighing in on the black criminal problem, and often use the same refrains that whites used in the 1920's and 30's. The author notes, '"the numbers speak for themselves" was one frequent refrain, followed by "I am not a racist."' So, Khalil Muhammad does an excellent job of getting to the root of black crime rhetoric using anecdotal history along with evidence of the evolution of crime reporting and statistics. Often, people think verbiage and concepts come out of a vacuum, that is why this book is important, it debunks that nonsense.
If you want to be informed about how Blacks came to be condemned concerning the issue of criminality, then this is a must read. If you want to engage and challenge the "intelligent" pundits, do not hesitate in purchasing this thorough volume. It really illuminates the players in the drama of creating the idea of the black criminal.
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 immigrants from Post-Reconstruction through the Progressive era, Dr. Muhammad shows in his book that racism in the North took the seemingly contradictory form of social neglect and over-policing.
The legacy of racialized crime discourse in the North was to set the black community as a people apart; the supposed biological, and later cultural, seeds of inherent criminality meant the black community was outside the scope of social programs implemented during the Progressive era for poor whites and european immigrants, the latter deemed a lower class yet "white on arrival", and hence, a people worth edifying. The legacy of associating blackness with criminality survives today in instances such as New York's "stop and frisk" policies and manifested itself most painfully in the murder of Trayvon Martin.
By deconstructing the myth of black criminality, Dr. Muhammad urges us to remember that criminality heralds social strain- in the form of poverty, discrimination, and lack of educational opportunities and access to social programs- regardless of race. It is the responsibility of society as a whole to embrace its members and address the strain with social programs and empathy. Before reading this book, I had understood the legacy of slavery in the Post-Reconstruction era to be Jim Crow policies in the South. Dr. Muhammad convincingly shows that racism in the North, while perhaps more subtle, has had a lasting effect on the way we talk about black criminality.
“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 legitimised in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by racially biased readings of statistics. This racist construction of African-American criminality was then used to justify further acts of prejudice, including segregation laws and anti-black violence. Muhammad draws heavily on government reports, newspaper accounts, and works in the then infant fields of sociology and criminology to prove that “the numbers do not speak for themselves. They never have.” (277) His argument is on the whole persuasive, and I don’t want to condemn him for not writing the book that I would have written, because I could wish for a little bit more cultural history here—some way of tracing how these largely academic ideas hop the fence into pop culture. This is a fine book overall, and sadly in 2017, never more urgent or more necessary.
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.
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 a testing ground for how AA's had dealt with freedom since 1865) and the 1930's (when "foreign born white" was removed from US crimes statistics as a sign of the amalgamation of "ethnic whites into the white mainstream) was crucial for linking race and crime in several key ways. First, the advent of statistics based social science plus racial science lent scientific credibility to what had always been an ad hoc, cultural association of blackness and crime. Second, these same social scientists and politicians explained black crime as a product of blackness whereas they explained white ethnic crime as a product of class and social surroundings. Third, they argued that AA's high crime rates had proven that they had failed the test of freedom and largely could not be equal to whites. The solution they promoted was tougher policing and higher jail terms to discipline AA's (tough love: sounds familiar?). They blatantly ignored anti-black racism and argued that the stats showed how unfit for freedom and equality AA's were. Most of this discourse took place in northern cities and universities that were dealing with waves of AA migration from the south.
KGM also shows the rise of liberal and black anti-racist discourses of race and crime in the Progressive era. Most liberals acknowledged that black crimes statistics were high, but they attributed this to economic deprivation, racism, job and housing discrimination, and "cultural defects" in AA's that stemmed largely from slavery. Instead of writing race into crime, they wrote culture into crime, which can lead to a different but equally harmful type of cultural racism. Some liberals challenged the idea that blacks were more criminal by breaking down the statistics themselves. For example, some black sociologists showed huge disparities in police behavior, sentencing, and the pushing of vice and crime into black neighborhoods, where it was not policed as strictly. KGM marshals indisputable evidence that the stats inflated black criminality and did not tell the stories of how whites provoked blacks or harassed them for no reason, leading to the arrest of the victim. There's a lot to learn here about reading underneath the stats on race and crime.
Probably the most profound point of this book is that white Progressives responded to white ethnic criminality with compassion and social programs because they saw their crimes as a product of circumstance rather than innate defects. White immigrants were Americans in the making who just needed a little boost. In contrast, because they saw black crime as innate or at least stemming from deep cultural pathologies, white Progressives believed social programs would do nothing to help AA's reform and move up the socio-economic ladder. This cycle would repeat itself in the New Deal, showing that the creation of the white middle class and the denial of that growth to AA's was largely a deliberate process. I can't state enough that the racial inequality was an intentional development and that its redress will require intentional action.
It's hard to recommend this book to a non-academic audience, although U.S. historians of any specialization should check it out. For a more general reader, it's probably too dense and topically narrow to be enjoyable, especially if you don't already have a good sense of race in U.S. history and of the Progressive Era more specifically. There's a long chapter on race and crime in Philadelphia that it probably too detailed for the more general reader to enjoy. Let me add that compared to other books on racial discourses (like Stamped from the Beginning by Kendi), I liked that KGM avoided critical race theory type language and stuck to the sources. This is obviously an important book for the study of race through any lens, but as a historian I liked that KGM let the story speak for itself in political terms. It's also a stark reminder that statistics never interpret themselves, a lesson that cannot be learned enough.
08/2012 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.
Terrific, multilayered book about the multi-facetedness (is that a word?) of how our history has impacted where America is today. So many things that happened in our past that built on each other and reinforced the mores of the times that it is incredible that this hasn't been part of the history taught in schools. I'm so grateful to the friendships in our VSBC where I've learned so much through our individual readings and group discussions that help me to appreciate all that I learned from this book. Many thanks to the author for his thorough research and insightful writing.
The more of these kinds of books I read, the more inadequate I feel I am to review them. This one feels particularly difficult, because most of my reactions to this book were inarticulate internal screams of rage and frustration that, if I were forced to articulate them, would be best be summed up as "The more shit changes, the more it stays the same" and "How are these exact ideas and arguments still a thing??".
This book covers a period of time from around 1890 to around 1930, and goes through all of the ways that black people were demonized by white people - from how they are physiologically different (false), to how they are mentally, ethically, morally, and intellectually inferior (again, false), to how they, as a people, are to blame for every shortcoming or hardship they encounter because of these failings, and more (obviously fucking false).
This book basically outlines exactly how racist white people learned their way around the small inconvenience of not being able to subjugate, beat, rape, and kill black people they OWN and learned how to subjugate, beat, rape, and kill black people that were ostensibly "free".
This is the creation of the systemic, institutionalized, and structural racism we still have today. All of the racist attitudes toward black people, all of the racist opinions on criminality, all of the racist feelings about what black people need and deserve and what they don't, and more - all of those origins were outlined in this book.
This was not an enjoyable read for me. I cried more than a few times out of sheer frustration and anger at the injustice and fucking STAMINA of it all. The fact that now, well over 120 years later, these very ideas and concepts are not only still around, but are having something of a resurgence... it was not a good time.
Deep down, I knew all of this at some level. I knew, obviously, that racism has been around for a very long time, and that it obviously would have stemmed from post-Civil War American history. But what this book made absolutely, crystal fucking clear it was, was how strategically it was implemented. This was no accident. The creation of modern, systemic and structural racism was designed and purposeful. A few powerful white men used their positions of authority in their respective fields to solidify their racism and biased ideas of black inferiority and criminality in the minds of the public, and therefore in the laws and policies made to "protect" that public from the black people that were encroaching on all sides now that they were free to do so... And as "far" as we have come since, we are not even close to eradicating these things from our society.
I have barely touched on anything but the surface of this book in my review, but believe me when I say that this book is exceedingly well researched, and presented in a factual, direct way that is anything but sensationalized. It's broken up by topic, and works really well this way, as each topic builds on to the information from the last. But it does end up being a tiny bit dry and scholarly because of the way that it was presented. I completely understand the decision to step back and present the facts unemotionally, but it's a shame that it must be this way. Though of COURSE it is this way - this book outlines exactly why and how we got here.
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 of the Negro and The wrenched of the earth. There are times, from a reader's stand point that you feel as if you are reading an data analysis report instead of a work of literature, and saying that I had to put it down last semester to finish some required reading for school. The sometimes dry style of this book can be over looked because of the data that is presented. The condemnation of Blackness is a treasure trove of information that i have not seen in one place ever nor seen analysed. This book places its finger on the old notion of, "I wont discriminate against you just dont try to date my daughter/son, move into my neighborhood, or take my job" These things are never really spoke of with in the "racism" talk. The one where saying "the N-word" or having a "whites only" signs is the only discussion allowed. Lack of education and opportunity and the notion of inherit criminality is what they book begins with and is outstanding in its presentation and examination. This book is a must have and must read."
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 that an ordinary person reads on an airplane. That said, this is history that matters, and it's the kind of history book that is going to be a leading piece in its field for a long time - much like Morgan's "American Slavery, American Freedom." American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia
If you can't make it through the whole book, the super distilled version of Muhammad's basic argument is: the crime of poor whites and white immigrants was seen as deviance that was the product of urban squalor, whereas crime on the other side of the color line was seen as evidence of Black inferiority.
"There are three kinds of lies, someone has said, 'white lies, black lies, and statistics.'" (p 48) Khalil Gibran Muhammad's The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America" looks at how data/statistics created the construct of the "negro problem" that established itself into American society by Nathaniel Southgate Shaler in 1884. Utilizing data, particularly from early census records and crime statistics, Shaler and others created a narrative that portrayed African Americans as grossly inferior to white Americans. Included in the "white American" class were other European immigrants, like Irish Americans who were also once thought of as lowly people in white Americans' eyes. Muhammad asks, "…how did European immigrants – the Irish and the Italians and the Polish, for example – gradually shed their criminal identities while blacks did not?" (p 5) As the European immigrant was enveloped into the category of white Americans, the disparity grew for African Americans. The issue of Black criminality was labeled as “black people’s problem” while white criminality was society’s problem. This narrative framed black criminality as an indicator of African Americans' inferiority in the late 19th to early 20th century American society that we see today.
Muhammad also looks at the activists and reformers who attempted to change the narrative, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Jane Addams and a crime wave between 1917-1919 in response to heightened violence in policing and punishment.
Working with data daily in my job, I know how quantitative data can be used to twist a narrative, however, you need. Numbers themselves don't lie, but how one uses those numbers, how one compiles and extrapolates them can be telling or not. It's easy to see how the data was used so many years ago to create a mindset that sadly lives on today.
The falsehood of black criminality has always existed in America.
This book is about one thing: the association of blackness with criminally focused on the turn of the century. Muhammad zeroes in on this time period with precision, research and an objective analysis. The conclusion is so obvious and horrifying that the banality of it all only adds to the injustice. America is a white supremecist state. It always has been and it is to this very day. State-sponsored violence maintains the racial caste system, as it did in the post-reconstruction era just as much as it does today. History both repeats itself and it rhymes.
What I got most from the Condemnation of Blackness, is that the "liberal" attitudes of any day can very much be a wolf in sheep's clothing or simply a Trojan horse to perpetuate white supremacy. During the turn of the century, Muhammad cites scholar after scholar who try to assess the criminality of blackness, to put it into a racial box, stamped and sealed and to explain that criminally is an inherent part of blackness. This was thought to be a compassionate approach to the black crime problem of the day. Rarely would a scholar try to point out the obvious systems of structural racism that the black crime statistics confirmed. Even W. E. B. Dubois seemed to concede to the liberal intelligentsia of the day that perhaps there is inherent criminality in black Americans. Although I suspect Dubois likely did this to save face within white supremacy academia. I wonder if we would even know who Dubois was if he were too outspoken.
Reading this book brought to my mind a lot of Malcom X's stances. He stated he would rather deal with an overt racist than the "helpful" liberal who only offers reform so that he can stay at the table of power and dictate what is just.
This book is very relative to what is going on in 2021. White conservatives decry black-on-black crime and condemn the fracturing of the black home concluding that black criminality is a moral failure of an entire race and culture. For these same people, white criminality is merely an individual failing. This of course is a grand lie, obfuscating the deeply-rooted structures of white supremacy that underpin everything in American society. This book mad me profoundly sad as I contemplated the durability of the American racial apartheid state that is alive and well, hiding beneath a modern veneer of the philosophies of political think tanks which the public consumes. The rebellion of the subjugated will always look like terrorism to the dominant caste and that is what is occurring now.
This book was hard to read. It was also incredibly dry and not very engaging. It is still very important but I would recommend reading something like The New Jim Crow first.
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.
Muhammad's comparison of how white social workers regarded crime in immigrant European communities and crime in African American communities, and their responses in each case, is particularly enlightening. He also highlights the groundbreaking work of African American researchers such as W E B Du Bois and Ida B Wells, whose work challenged the predominant white discourse that equated Blackness with crime.
This is an important and illuminating book. In light of the Department of Justice's findings of racial bias in the Ferguson, Missouri police department, it is clear that many of the issues Muhammad raises about the condemnation of Blackness are still with us.
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 includes suggestions for improvement in the nect century.
I'm tardy to this party as this book was published in 2010. Almost 12 years later the information in this book has become common knowledge for most of us yet this book is still helpful to continue the conversation.
Narrator = EXCELLENT! Writing style = Well researched, slightly dy but it's not supposed to have you on the edge of your seat. Execution = Well done
Good, important book. I knew what I was getting into when I chose this, but I still can’t give it a fair rating because it was so academic. I’m glad I read it, learned a lot, and recommend it to others!
IT'S GOOD THAT WE HAD ALL THIS DATA BY 1920 SO THAT THE CRIMINALIZATION OF BLACK PEOPLE WOULDN'T BECOME PERSISTENT AND ENDEMIC, RIGHT? WE SURE WOULDN'T WANT TO BE DEALING WITH RACIST COPS IN THE 2020s, RIGHT? SURE GLAD THAT WAS AVOIDED.
Oh my God.
The 1890s census was a big milestone in the nascent field of sociology because it was the first assessment of the post-slavery generation of African-Americans. Thanks to Andrew Johnson and the premature end of Reconstruction, they were not doing so well. Out of all the negative traits associated with African-Americans at the time, a prominent pioneering sociology racist chose criminality and used census statistics to posit that African-Americans are innately more criminal because Africa is hot or something. He was immediately refuted by many others, including a young W.E.B. DuBois, in less prominent journals that got less traction, and the myth of African-American criminality became the narrative. At the same time, Jane Addams and others in the settlement house movement were providing succor to foreign-born youth and families in segregated facilities. Where foreign-born hooligans got all the uplift of the Progressive Era, African-Americans were told to help themselves and tell their youth to stop acting up if they wanted anything from society. Middle-class crusaders were working to improve sanitation, housing, education, and recreation for the white poor and immigrants. The solution to white vice and white youth on an urban municipal level was to move vice into African-American neighborhoods, which were becoming increasingly crowded because of the Great Migration. African-Americans were then blamed for the vice in their neighborhoods. And vice led to over-policing. Dragnets of hatless Black men loafing on street corners because of racist employment practices led to high African-American arrest statistics, which led to more racist sociology, but also racist white liberal sociologists only semi-agreeing that African-American crime was a function of poverty and slum conditions.
This book is great. I was expecting it to be a history of a longer period; who knew KGM could write an entire twelve-hour audiobook on two decades of racist society and bad sociology. W.E.B. DuBois is everywhere in this book. Some cities are focused on, and this diary of an African-American female vice cop posing as a prostitute sounds like it should have its own book. One would probably get more out of reading this book on paper over listening to the audio, but it is quite long and detailed about a narrower subject for the casual reader. The audiobook reader does the thing where one can tell that he's angry as he's reading hundreds of pages of injustice. He also pronounces "settlement" as "celibate" somehow. Top notch book. Should be read by people writing theses on the history of sociology and listened to by everyone else. Well done, KGM.
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 their lack of fitness for modern civilization. It then shows how these statistics came to be interpreted as evidence of environmental and cultural factors, rather than biological ones, that make blacks more violent, without recognizing that the crime statistics actually demonstrated biased patterns of policing rather than black criminality. Muhammad demonstrates how the standpoints of social scientists influence the ways that they interpret data, showing how black social scientists -- particularly ones from lower class backgrounds -- were more likely to interpret crime data as evidence of racially biased policing, whereas white social scientists and middle-class black social scientists were more likely to emphasize the criminality and inferiority of poor black migrants from the south to northern cities.
Contemporary social scientists might read this book as evidence of the progress that quantitative research methodology has made over the course of the last century, and not without reason. As a political scientist who has taken several courses in statistics and research methodology, I was struck by how these social scientists draw far-reaching conclusions about black inferiority from poorly designed studies with measures that lacked construct validity. But instead of smuggly thinking that social scientists are so much more enlightened today because of advances in statistical theory and research methodology, we should read this as a cautionary tale, for a couple of reasons. First, there is still a widespread perception that data speaks for itself, and that machine learning and other advanced quantitative methods have made theory obsolete. As this book demonstrates, our a priori ideas about how the world works affects how we interpret quantitative evidence. Secondly, social scientists are products of the very hierarchical social orders that they study. Our standpoint within the interlocking social hierarchies that characterize the world we live in affect how we interpret evidence. The lack of diversity in academic social science is really concerning because it means that we are liable to producing research that is marred by unconscious biases.
For anyone watching the news and asking themselves, "How did we get here?" in terms of police brutality and the assumed criminality of Black people, read this book. It clearly outlines that policing in the United States didn't travel a long, winding path to get to this place, this is what it's been since the very beginning. Policing in the United States is doing exactly what it was intended to do. This is a book I could read again and again and learn something new each time. This should be mandatory reading for those studying criminal justice, political science, public policy, and law.
This is an incredibly important book, tracing the notion of "black criminality" from Reconstruction to the present day. In short, every since slavery was abolished, sociologists have tried to use crime statistics to demonstrate that criminality is inherent to Black people - ignoring a) the significant bias in policing, prosecution, and sentencing (and at the same time the "look the other way" approach with whites), as well as b) the substantial economic and environmental disadvantages given that black people were not allowed fair access to loans, neighborhoods, jobs, etc. Furthermore, while white crime was always treated as a problem of environment/upbringing, and endless time/money was put into attempting to ameliorate these conditions and rehabilitate white criminals, black crime was treated as an inherent result of the race. This poisonous ideas have persisted in America for centuries (we see plenty of evidence of them today even in modern political dialogue), and the author does a brilliant job of tracing how they have evolved over the years, carefully adapting to avoid the appearance of overt racism, but ultimately making the same arguments.
This is a key book for anybody who is interested in working towards social justice or arguing against those who would deny it - it is critical that we understand the origins and flaws of these inherently racist arguments that are still so prevalent today.
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 Anderson's assertions, check this out.
A historical documentation of the criminalization of race (or should it be the racialization of crime?) from Reconstruction to mid 20th century, with focus on how it played out in the North, esp Philadelphia. Well researched academic work. Great if you want to know more about the history of the connections between race and crime. A bit dry for me.
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 Muhammad, “the idea of black criminality was crucial to the making of modern urban America. In nearly every sphere of life it impacted how people defined fundamental differences between native whites, immigrants, and blacks.” In particular, it impacted “how people evaluated black people’s presence - the Negro Problem, as it had once been called - in the urban North.” Blacks were not only stigmatized as biologically, culturally, or by social circumstance, depending upon the era, more prone to criminality, but such views resulted in unequal treatment by every facet of society, including the racially liberal northern progressives. Programs of reform offered to white immigrants were denied to blacks, who were also the target of violent discrimination, making their situations more dire.
For a detailed look at Muhammad’s argument, click the spoiler section.
Muhammad advances existing scholarship by shedding light on the influence of black criminality in the history of the northern criminal justice system. The works of previous historians have “turned almost exclusively on the experiences of native-born whites and European immigrants” with little discussion pertaining to “black experiences until the post-World War II era.” Additionally, “rather than following the lead of social historians of working-class immigrant and black communities who link ethnic culture to distinct patterns of criminal behavior,” Muhammad “explores the genealogy of distinct patterns of racial crime discourse.”
The Condemnation of Blackness lays bare the trail that lead to the concept of black criminality and offers kean insight into the forces and perspectives which linked blackness with a propensity to commit crime. Muhammad deftly gives voice to both sides of the racial divide and to those who attempted to bridge the gap. Reading about Hoffman, I couldn’t help but be struck by how much of his influence can still be heard today among those calling attention to current crime statistics and prison demographics, devoid of context, as proof that blacks, left to their own devices, naturally gravitate toward deviance. Even today it’s not uncommon for a white criminal to be seen as a victim of circumstance, but a black criminal as a fulfillment of his/her DNA. In the age of the Black Lives Matter movement and of black professional athletes taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police discrimination, there is a clear indication that the issues Muhammad pinpoints are still working their way beneath the skin of a racially divided America.
I did not read the entirety of this book, just large sections for a class.
If you want to know more about how police stations were formed, how discrimination and profiling have pervaded and persisted, this book may give you a window into that understanding.
Problems in the police system are not universal but because they began in small (and large) pockets *everywhere*, it stands to reason that it will take more understanding of where we were to understand where we are now.
I think most white people grow up being taught to trust police officers, they are here to protect and serve, and maybe there is some fear that they won't understand you aren't doing anything wrong, but it isn't the same kind of concern that black (and honestly anyone who isn't white) have.
There is a precedent of prejudice, false imprisonment, and entrapment that the police on the whole have continued to this day when it comes to PoC, this book takes a deeper look at how and where those precedents began.