New Book by Penn Professor Asks: Why Aren't African-Americans Rioting?

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 18 | Posted Nov. 23, 2011

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After spending decades studying the history of social welfare and poverty in American cities, University of Pennsylvania history professor Michael B. Katz has a new book out titled Why Don’t American Cities Burn?

The book, which traces the experience of African-Americans in the American city, begins with a murder and ends with a dilemma.

Herbert Manes’ parents migrated to Philadelphia from South Carolina before World War II. Manes attended Benjamin Franklin High School. He drove a gypsy cab.

Robert Monroe, known as Shorty, was born in Neptune, N.J. It’s unclear how Shorty also wound up in North Philly, eking out a living in the shadow economy of the hood as a street mechanic.

Manes had borrowed $5 from Shorty, and didn’t have it on him when Shorty demanded it back. On Aug. 4, 2005, Manes stabbed Shorty to death on the 1400 block of West Oakland Street.

Katz was juror No. 3 in the murder trial.

The role of a juror is an uncomfortable one for a historian and social scientist. “In my world, where the goal is to comprehend rather than to judge,” wrote Katz, “context matters greatly.”

The jury interpreted Manes’ action as self-defense; he was acquitted. But after the trial, Katz couldn’t stop thinking about the wider context that created a situation in which one man could kill another over the price of a latte. So he began reconstructing the context of Shorty’s death, which led to what Publisher’s Weekly called “a defining history of Post-Nixon transformations of America’s welfare state.”

What Katz found, in short, is a story of failure.

In the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, one in three black men aged 20 to 29 are serving time in jail or otherwise under state supervision on any given day, according to the Sentencing Project. That’s roughly the same percentage of white men with bachelor’s degrees. The difference in black and white college graduation rates was wider in 2000 than in 1940.

Katz writes that for the most part, segregation was much higher in 2000 than in 1860, 1910 or 1930. According to a survey drawing numbers from the 2010 Census, Philadelphia ranks 9th in segregation by race, and according to a Stanford University study published just last week, we’re the third most financially segregated metropolitan area in the country.

In his book, Katz quotes the bottom-line findings of urban scholars: “The fundamental reality is one of growing economic segregation in the context of overall rising inequality. People of different income classes are moving away from each other not just in how much income they have but also in where they live. America is breaking down into economically homogenous enclaves.”

In other words, we’re becoming a nation of bankers and butlers. Occupiers call it the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. Katz and like-minded academics call it “the dual city.”

Since all data reveals that the inequality that motivated riots of the 1960s and early 1970s has only gotten worse, why then, Katz wonders, has no one lit the match?

“Why is it that black men who are unable to leave bleak, inner-city neighborhoods have turned their rage inward on one another and not, as they did 40 and 50 years ago, on the agents and symbols of a politics, culture and economy that exclude them from first-class citizenship?”

Katz looks for answers in the relationship between black men and the labor market. He tackles the myth about the role of deindustrialization affecting black men and the labor market in Northeastern cities. It’s a cliche recycled in many a newspaper article that begins something like, “Drug dealers sling their trade in the shadows of the factories that employed their grandparents and parents.”

“Deindustrialization is way overblown as a cause of lack of black opportunity and poverty because certainly in Philadelphia, and most other cities with the exception of a few places like Detroit and maybe Chicago, manufacturing employment was not the major employment of African-Americans,” says Katz, adding that the data shows that most African-American men worked in the service industry and the public sector.

Disenfranchisement “has a way of depoliticizing people, zapping their energy for the kinds of collective action,” says Katz. “Then you put on top of that the drug economy and … it adds up to a picture of people who are angry and disaffected, and take out that anger on themselves. We really don’t see targets.”

Katz also spends a lot of time on differentiation, which he characterizes as a profound paradox of inequality. Differentiation—the process in which some African-Americans have succeeded despite institutional biases stacked against them—is an “engine” of inequality that paradoxically produces what seems like proof of equality.

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Comments 1 - 18 of 18
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1. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 08:35AM

“Here's some answers: Of course black-on-black crime is rampant, but black-on-white crime is absolutely out of control. There's your riot. Maybe the problems aren't with "the man keeping a brotha down". Maybe the problem is within. Maybe after decades of these people being raised with no morals and a sense of entitlement, the problem is inherent in the African American. If you keep promoting that the issue is within the system, these people don't even try to better themselves. You, sir, are part of the problem.”

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2. harryo said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 11:31AM

“Disagree with a few points...I remember that in the 60s most Black men worked in the auto factories and other manufacturing.
Also you don't see riots in major cities because Black inner city residents have realized that the situation become worse after riots when businesses that did hire nearby residents leave, never to return”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 11:51AM

“Dependance on welfare and government assistance
Lack of education
Lack of leaders that do not blame "the man", whites, the system, etc...
Lack of a family unit (no fathers/1 parent families)
High rate of illegitimate children
High drug use
Most adult males in jail or ex-convicts
Lack of successful role models that are accepted by the general black population who are not entertainers or sports figures. Successful role models are labeled "Uncle Tom's" and sellouts to the general population.
High rate of moral decay and lack of conscience

At the end of the day, in the ghetto there is a lack of self worth and no sense of hard work to get an education and be successful....

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4. cn2004 said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 12:54PM

“Typical liberal nonsense. If making excuses was a profession, liberals would all be Bill Gates. It is nobody's fault but their own. End of story.”

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5. malex428 said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 05:09PM

“Certainly won't answer this question if folks are responding by saying "these people" The answer is so deep that it will never be really adressed in America so "we" need to start making our own answers, stop complaining and get the economic power that is the only true liberation in this country. Because, at the end of the day nobody gives a s---!”

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 06:07PM

“Maybe all will be fine once they get their reparations.....”

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7. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 08:06PM

“The author is spot on. White people molest kids their entire life and get 5 yrs. Black people do...... and get life in prison. Go figure. Glad our planet decides fate by karma.”

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8. jemimah said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 08:33PM

“At the end of the day blah blah blah blah tell that to the educated looking for jobs right now. Whites lose their job and commit suicide. Blacks just get another job or make more money selling meth, which possession is still a minor crime.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 09:42PM

“1. Dependence on Mummy and Duhddy
2. Lack of family unit. 75% of marriages end in divorce. Blacks don't get married, remember?
3. Most educated people in America, most in debt because of the tradition but there's always "equivalent experience" if you're not educated. see 4 and 7.
4. High drug use. Meth is the most used drug in America.
5. Most adult males molest kids.
6. Lack of successful role models. Most come from Europe.
7. High rate of suicide. see 4 and 5.
8. At the end of the day...... see jemimah post.”

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10. Paul Sims said... on Nov 27, 2011 at 03:33AM

“Unfortunately, the problems identified by Professor Katz's in this interesting article represents the tragic consequences of brutual "white" racism acutely directed towards blacks in excess of several centuries. As a group, blacks have not succesfully nor effectively diminished the adverse effects of the pangs of institutional racism as other groups (Asians, Jews and various victims of white oppression). Inasmuch as individual blacks have excelled maugre the racist trammel, unless and until blacks, in general, incorporate discipline, determination and self-control in their personal deportment they will alwalys be a people manque since white racism will never stop gestating.”

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11. Dennis Collier said... on Nov 27, 2011 at 03:36AM

“Same soup, different bowl.”

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12. Peter Brown said... on Nov 28, 2011 at 02:47AM

“Most blacks are obtusely satisfied, proud and enjoy their status as a conquered people living in America and, consequently, have relinguished any hopes of procuring the best in what this country has to offer them. Relatively speaking, that is why Afro-Americans are not "rioting". They have culled to follow the least line of resistance and declare an armistice with mediocrity.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Nov 28, 2011 at 09:25AM

“When Americans talk about race we speak about hypocracy, entitlement, malaise and often engage in generalizations and stereotypes. I do not expect that we will have the courage to objectively confront this domestic and historical issue as was repremanded by the Attorney General Eric Holder. This issue makes us defensive and causes us to pick sides but no matter what side we prefer the poor and oppressed are fellow citizens. It is tax dollars that fund jails, police, welfare, low income housing and no matter how much we cut the last two the former two will likely continue to increase. So it is in the country's interest to confront these issues so that they may be remedied and we can all move on.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Nov 28, 2011 at 12:40PM

“After reading the comments its nice to know racism continues to be alive & well and rampant. Before you decide that your opinion really merits sharing you should look at a little history. Maybe spend some time with the people, neighborhoods and communities that you malign without understanding or comprehension. Maybe ask some of these young men about their history and stories.

Generational poverty, inequality and racism (both personal and institutional) along with drugs and inadequate (and sometimes misguided) social policy has led to the situation we see in cities. All the other symptoms (single-family households, rates of incarceration, negative role models, etc.) that those spouting racist diatribes point to can be attributed to these interrelated factors.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Nov 28, 2011 at 08:32PM

“Black people are just as prejudice against white people. However, they may not have access to computers to the same degree as racist white people.”

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16. philly dot com said... on Nov 29, 2011 at 07:27AM

“The comments here make philly dot com commenters look like Rhodes scholars. Why allow comments at all? Go post your racist bullshit on stormfront dot org.”

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17. Lisa C. said... on Nov 30, 2011 at 01:24AM

“As a black person I would like to say this... I have done my research on why my people behave the way they do. I am 35 yrs old at the age I am I grew up watching my niegborhood get weaker and less productive year after year. I have learned that around the 80's is when crack became a major problem in our community's but how did that stuff get in my people's hands from the gate? My people don't own plains... In order for that stuff to have gotten here it had to be a middle man. Whom had to be of high rank to pull it off. Our niegborhoods were designed to be corrupted. Delis on corners selling beer early in the day drugs infested our homes the job market was maid less accessible due to poor education do you all think that's a mistake ? I think not... I truly belive all the ignorance my people see day in and out was do e purposely for us to stay Inslaved in this paradox we call home. Everytime we have a positive leader they get killed or exsposed in a negative lite. But don't take my word.”

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18. Fed Up said... on Nov 30, 2011 at 03:45PM

“If Philly is "corrupt and contented" then the black community is "ghetto fabulous". What NEEDS to be addressed is a total crisis in parenting within 13% of American society, which is unfortunately concentrated in our urban centers, thus having a disportunate effect on American culture (look at any other nation and tell me if the culture of 13% of their citizens makes up over 60% of their music and media?). Furthermore, the claim of racism and segregation is based on an outdated model, and Katz's concepts of economic segregation obviously does not draw on the failures of black leadership in cities like DC, Baltimore, and Atlanta, where blacks not only controlled municipal government, but education and business and still couldn't keep pace with places like San Jose or Seattle where race wasn't a prerequisite (that's right, I'm talking about a blatant double standard in racism existing in towns where afro-americans cannot be legitimately called a "minority").”


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