Racial Justice

Book cover images

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without racists: color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. 4th ed. Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. 363p bibl index afp ISBN 9781442220546, $85.00; ISBN 9781442220553 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781442220560 ebook, $28.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2014

Each edition of Bonilla-Silva’s now classic Racism without Racists (1st ed., CH, Jan’04, 41-3121) has brought with it updates that underline its contemporary relevance. This fourth edition is no different: it takes a sharply critical look at Obama’s reelection, and is updated wherever possible with new statistics. However, what makes this edition especially useful is an additional chapter, “The New Racism: The U.S. Racial Structure since the 1960s.” The preface notes that this is because Racism without Racistssometimes functions as the only book on race in many college classrooms. In this new chapter, Bonilla-Silva (Duke) traces the legacy of the US past into the present, exploring institutions that have helped perpetuate racial inequality and segregation in housing, education, political life, the prison system, and other areas. The author also provides a survey of various forms of contemporary economic inequality, social segmentation, and control. While no single book is likely to include enough relevant material about race, Bonilla-Silva’s attempt comes very close. Displaying the author’s trademark sense of humor and unflinching critique of the ideology and discourse that continue to fuel racial inequality today, this edition will be satisfying to newcomers as well to those who have already used this book for years. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —M. A. Burke, Illinois Wesleyan University

Du Bois, W. E. B. The sociological souls of black folk: essays, introd. and ed. by Robert A. Wortham. Lexington Books, 2011. 211p ISBN 9780739150733, $70.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2012

By lifting up out of the scholarly reservoir the essays of Du Bois, Wortham (North Carolina Central Univ.) calls attention to one of the most significant works by one of the most gifted scholars of sociological thought in the modern era. Wortham’s contribution raises one major academic question immediately: why has Du Bois not been given the academic accolades of other scholarly giants in the discipline of sociology? Wortham makes the point that The Souls of Black Folk has been mostly viewed as a classic in African American literature, or for scholars studying the African American experience. But it has not been seriously considered a major scholarly contribution within the discipline of sociology. Also, why are not Du Bois’s works, especially the essays, a part of the core curriculum within the discipline of sociology, including a focus on Du Bois’s research methodology and conceptual and analytical skills as demonstrated in the essays? Wortham’s presentation, including the reconstructed essays, makes one of the most significant contributions to the modern era of sociological thought. And he raises a most significant question: where is Du Bois’s place among the discipline’s scholarly giants, such as Tönnies, Weber, Parson, and Durkheim?Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries. —E. A. McKinney, Cleveland State University

Fraga, Bernard L. The turnout gap: race, ethnicity, and political inequality in a diversifying America. Cambridge, 2018. 274p bibl index ISBN 9781108475198, $105.00; ISBN 9781108465922 pbk, $26.99; ISBN 9781108638821 ebook, $22.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2019

For years, observers of demographic trends have predicted that the increased diversity of the US electorate, combined with traditional patterns of preference by non-whites for the Democratic Party, would generate massive changes to our politics. Yet, as Fraga (Indiana) observes, this has yet to occur, due to the persistent turnout gap: white turnout regularly exceeds black, Latino, and Asian participation. Using unique and large data sets, including individual-level data on voters moved via redistricting decisions, Fraga illustrates decisively that this is due not to public policy (e.g., the Voting Rights Act or voter ID laws) or to socioeconomic variables, but to variation in perceived influence. When minorities constitute a large proportion of an electorate (measured at the state or district level), they are more likely to vote; when whites dominate the population, people of color are more likely to stay home. The findings persist even when taking into consideration the racial identity of the candidates running for office and the competitiveness of the election. This persistent turnout gap means whites will continue to dominate for decades to come. Effective mobilization and empowerment of people of color are often able to overcome policies meant to suppress their voter turnout; demographic change is not enough. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. R. Michelson, Menlo College

Jones, Martha S. Birthright citizens: a history of race and rights in antebellum America. Cambridge, 2018. 248p bibl index ISBN 9781107150348, $110.00; ISBN 9781316604724 pbk, $27.99; ISBN 9781108607872 ebook, $22.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2019

This book is both an impressive work of scholarship and a timely intervention in the current national conversation about US citizenship. As Jones (Johns Hopkins Univ.) demonstrates, Baltimore’s 19th-century African American community reveals much about the contested origins of birthright citizenship and the debate over who exactly is an “American.” Jones shows how Baltimore’s free blacks (including seamen) worked to acquire the legal knowledge, tools, and access to define a place for themselves within the community of citizens. Employing lawsuits to establish a right to sue or be sued enabled blacks to carve out civic space for themselves. Not everyone in the struggle remained there; Jones also discusses emigration by those who tired of this uncertain civic existence. The process encountered obstacles over time, of course, including the Dred Scott decision from Maryland’s own Roger Taney denying blacks had any rights, much less the ability to become citizens. Yet, Jones shows, the decision was not fully enacted in Baltimore, due to earlier black efforts to claim at least basic rights. Jones’s book is an essential read for any student of race or law in US history. Summing Up:Essential. Advanced undergraduates and above. —K. M. Gannon, Grand View University

Lang, Clarence. Black America in the shadow of the sixties: notes on the civil rights movement, neoliberalism, and politics. Michigan, 2015. 159p bibl index afp ISBN 9780472072668, $65.00; ISBN 9780472052660 pbk, $22.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2015

Every generation recasts and reinterprets the past to meet contemporary needs. Each generation borrows from the past what it finds “useful” and shelves the rest. This is no less true of how a new generation regards the venerated civil rights movement and the sixties. Lang (African and African American studies, Univ. of Kansas) acknowledges the significance of the 1960s civil rights movement but suggests that this paradigm is not always the most useful one for understanding recent developments. An over-emphasis on a “monumental” approach that seeks to pay tribute to the past may inadvertently mute the present and overshadow, dilute, and silence new perspectives. Building upon the work of Henry Giroux, Lang argues that events over the last four decades reflect the rise of a “neoliberal” orientation that emphasizes market identities, values, and relationships and undermines sharing of power and resources. Contemporary efforts to resist mass incarceration and police brutality, the persistence of poverty, and the shredding of the safety net and the social contract may require “visions, analyses and practices that build on, yet go beyond” the paradigms of the sixties. A provocative and important book. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —W. Glasker, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

Malcolm X’s Michigan worldview: an exemplar for contemporary black studies, ed. by Rita Kiki Edozie and Curtis Stokes. Michigan State, 2015. 324p bibl index ISBN 9781611861624, $39.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2015

This collection is a monumental contribution to Malcolm X studies in particular and to Africana studies in general. Following the introductory chapter by the coeditors, who locate the roots of Malcolm in Michigan and link this to his development of race consciousness, identity, and community “across the black world,” Abdul Alkalimat theorizes the paradigmatic significance of studying the “agency” of Malcolm X. The book is truly exemplary, as the subtitle states, because it avoids attempting a biography and offers instead the theoretical, methodological, practical, and cultural implications of its iconic subject, emphasizing that the work of Malcolm continues as the work of educating the masses, just as he himself was clearly a product of his own education starting in Michigan. The concluding chapter by editor Edozie on Malcolm X’s homecoming to Africa serves as a reminder that the discipline of Africana studies is overdue for globalization, perhaps by adding the missing “a” to the names of the prestigious African studies institutes and centers across Africa and the rest of the world, reflecting Malcolm’s “worldview.” Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —B. Agozino, Virginia Tech

Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: a life of reinvention. Viking, 2011. 594p ISBN 9780670022205, $30.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2011

Columbia University professor Marable died shortly before the publication of his marvelous biography of Malcolm X. Since Malcolm’s assassination in 1965 by followers of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, Malcolm has been best known through his autobiography (written with Alex Haley), published shortly after his death. Nearly a half-century later, Marable has written a compelling reinterpretation of Malcolm’s life, answering questions raised by the autobiography. Insisting “Malcolm’s strength was his ability to reinvent himself,” Marable concludes that Malcolm was an eloquent advocate for black self-respect, a representative of the black underclass, and “the most important bridge between the American people and the more than one billion Muslims throughout the world.” The biography exposes inaccuracies in earlier accounts of Malcolm’s life (including the autobiography), details the split between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad, and scrutinizes the assassination plot, raising questions such as the likelihood of an informer within Malcolm’s inner circle. Malcolm was one of a handful of the most important African Americans in the 20th century, and perhaps the least understood. This book is unrivaled among interpretations of a complicated man and his monumental impact. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —A. J. Dunar, University of Alabama in Huntsville

O’Flaherty, Brendan. Shadows of doubt: stereotypes, crime, and the pursuit of justice, by Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi. Harvard, 2019. 372p bibl index ISBN 9780674976597, $27.95; ISBN 978067424016 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2019

Color is destiny. That blacks and Latinos are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and punished has been well established, but the relationship between criminal law involvement and race is extremely nuanced. In this important analysis, economists Brendan O’Flaherty (Columbia) and Rajiv Sethi (Barnard, Columbia) look at how numerous empirical measurements confirm the race-crime connection: they provide new data on the systemic bias that links to stereotyping and intractable policies. The disparity runs across the criminal justice system, from profiling perpetrators of minor crimes to using lethal force. Along the way, the authors marvel that the US’s preternaturally high incarceration rate has not declined despite a reduction in major crimes beginning in the early 1990s. Once built, a criminal justice bureaucracy—prosecutors’ prerogatives, expanded jails and prisons, coercive probation, and parole services—is not easily dismantled. It becomes the new normal. In the face of this, O’Flaherty and Sethi offer hope that by shifting public discussion and changing the minds and hearts of legislators, errant criminal justice policies just might be reformed. Summing Up:Essential. All readers. —R. D. McCrie, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. From #BlackLivesMatter to black liberation. Haymarket Books, 2016. 270p index ISBN 9781608465620 pbk, $17.95; ISBN 9781608465637 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2016

The African American experience in the 21st century is riddled with paradox. It seems to simultaneously be the best of times and the worst of times. The college-educated, white-collar, black middle class is larger than ever in history, and in 2008, the nation elected a black (biracial) president. Since the 1960s, segregation and disenfranchisement have been overcome, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 opened access to the suburbs—between 1970 and 2000, some seven million black people moved to the suburbs. Yet today, racial hostility toward blacks seems as pronounced as ever, and the vaunted progress did nothing to save Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Sam DuBose, and others from a seeming epidemic of police terror and murder. The celebrated progress does not seem to have made enough of a difference to “make any difference.” Hence, the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Taylor (African American studies, Princeton) argues that the discourse of a color-blind, post-racial society is used to dismantle the state’s capacity to challenge discrimination, and the argument that black deprivation is rooted in black culture deflects attention away from the systemic roots of racism. A good companion to Clarence Lang’s Black America in the Shadow of the Sixties (CH, Oct’15, 53-0950). Outstanding. Summing Up: Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries. —W. Glasker, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden