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

AuthorMarie Gottschalk
Published date01 April 2013
Date01 April 2013
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Punishment & Society
15(2) 187–215
!The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474513477792
Book Reviews
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of
Modern Urban America, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 2010; 392 pp.:
9780674035973, $38.50 cloth, $18.95 pbk
The conventional view of the political origins of mass incarceration in the
United States is that the 1960s escalation in crime rates prompted national leaders
to exploit the issue of street crime. This provided an opening for the Republican
Party, beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964, to undermine the New Deal liberal
coalition by making appeals to law and order that were really coded racial appeals
to disaffected white voters. Analytical attention on the role of political elites in
mass incarceration has thus tended to center on how leading white politicians
sought to refashion their political bases in the wake of the seismic political shifts
set in motion by the civil rights movement by invoking the law-and-order card,
which was really a thinly veiled race card.
More recent research provides a more nuanced account of how racial politics got
funneled through criminal justice policies. Politicians so readily identified today as
penal hard-liners, like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and even segregationist
Lester Maddox of Georgia, did not immediately march in lock step toward the
prison and the execution chamber after Goldwater denounced the ‘growing
menace’ to personal safety in his electrifying speech before the Republican conven-
tion in 1964 (Gottschalk, 2006: 10, 213–224, 234). Nor did these public officials
single-handedly impose the carceral state. It now appears that the construction of
the carceral state was a deeply bipartisan project from early on. Conservative
congressional Democrats in the South began strategically wielding the street
crime issue in the 1950s, well before crime rates began to escalate and leading
Republicans took up the charge.
Southern conservatives initially cast their opposition to major civil rights legis-
lation in criminological terms, arguing that ‘integration breeds crime’
(Murakawa, 2005: 81–82). As riots broke out in major cities across the country
in the mid-to-late 1960s, they reformulated the connection between civil rights
and crime, working ‘vociferously to conflate crime and disobedience, with its
obvious extensions to civil rights’ (Weaver, 2007: 250). Many urban white
voters in the North initially maintained a delicate balancing act on the civil
rights issue. Although they opposed racial integration at the local level, they
supported national candidates who were pro-civil rights. This split political per-
sonality became less tenable as crime and disorder ‘became the fulcrum points at

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