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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  845 ratings  ·  116 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 tr
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 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 immigran ...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 legiti
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 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 t ...more
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
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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 Af ...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.

Muhammad's comparis
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 in ...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.
Ali Gibbs
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!
Jul 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-justice
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 manda ...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 Anders ...more
Karen Ashmore
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 05, 2012 added it
A tough but essential read for understanding modern crime statistics and their relation to race.
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.
Jason Szanyi
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Friends working in juvenile and criminal justice: this is a must read.
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 ...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
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
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 peo
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: listened-to
This book does a fantastic job of breaking down how racists have used statistics against Black populations in America for years. Time and time again you see that Black crime is the problem of the Black population but white crime is the problem of society as a whole. One is completely excused and one is inexcusable. Every damn time. And it has been this way since America was founded (actually, since the colonies were settled.)

It's an important book because it calls in to question many assumptions
Sharon Goforth
My actual rating for this book is 4.5 stars.
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An astonishing book, a must read for every single American.
Meghan McDonald Carlson of Texas, Maryland
One of the best books I read for PhD prelims years ago.

It makes so many compelling connections between history, rotten treatment of Black folks in America and modern day criminal justice system.
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If one has any awareness of how our white supremacist power structures function, little in this book -- a detailed, meticulously researched examination of the way American crime statistics have historically been used (by both law enforcement bodies and sociologists) to associated "Black" with "criminal" -- is surprising. It is, however, full of infuriating history, and is laid out so clearly and undeniably that the case Muhammad makes is something with which it's had to imagine even skeptics bei ...more
Michelle Mayfield
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Another book that helps me understand how slavery and cotton built the economy of our country.
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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. ...more

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