Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles

Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles

Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles

Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles

Synopsis

American society has been long plagued by cycles of racial violence, most dramatically in the 1960s when hundreds of ghetto uprisings erupted across American cities. Though the larger, underlying causes of contentious race relations have remained the same, the lethality, intensity, and outcomes of these urban rebellions have varied widely. What accounts for these differences? And what lessons can be learned that might reduce the destructive effects of riots and move race relations forward? This impressive, meticulously detailed study is the first attempt to compare six major race riots that occurred in the three largest American urban areas during the course of the twentieth century: in Chicago in 1919 and 1968; in New York in 1935/1943 and 1964; and in Los Angeles in 1965 and 1992. Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles weaves together detailed narratives of each riot, placing them in their changing historical contexts and showing how urban space, political regimes, and economic conditions--not simply an abstract "race conflict"--have structured the nature and extent of urban rebellions. Building on her previous groundbreaking comparative history of these three cities, Janet Abu-Lughod draws upon archival research, primary sources, case studies, and personal observations to reconstruct events--especially for the 1964 Harlem-Bedford Stuyvesant uprising and Chicago's 1968 riots where no documented studies are available. By focusing on the similarities and differences in each city, identifying the unique and persisting issues, and evaluating the ways political leaders, law enforcement, and the local political culture have either defused or exacerbated urban violence, this book points the way toward alleviating long-standing ethnic and racial tensions. A masterful analysis from a renowned urbanist, Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles offers a deeper understanding of past--and future--urban race relations while emphasizing that until persistent racial and economic inequalities are meaningfully resolved, the tensions leading to racial violence will continue to exist in America's cities and betray our professed democratic values.

Excerpt

Any researcher who has spent long years writing a book is always ambivalent when it is done: happy to see it published but disappointed that its results must be engraved in stone (now digitized)—just as the processes of research and writing have led to a new level of understanding. in an ideal world, perhaps attainable in hyperspace, writers could revise continuously, integrating their new insights and interpretations, asking and answering new questions, in endless iterations and revisions. But that utopia would actually be a nightmare for both writers and readers.

Instead, this book revisits some of the historical questions I posed in my too lengthy and ambitious comparative study of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles as global cities within four hundred years of America’s evolving economic, political, spatial, and demographic patterns and the role of the U. S. in the world system. This book is a sequel. It explores the “race question” in greater detail by comparing the types of major race riots each city experienced in the twentieth century, placing these events in the context of their histories but also incorporating insights that have continued to mature since the first book appeared in 1999.

In this book I ask in more systematic fashion why the racial and ethnic relations in the three cities have been so different—despite being based in the shared racist premises of American society—and to what extent these differences can be explained by the historical, geographic/spatial, and political characteristics of the cities themselves. There are many fruitful ways these questions might be approached, and I encourage other scholars to pursue them. My strategy, however, has been to focus on race riots as “disasters” (following the example of Kai Erickson), that is, as moments in historical time when the veneers of civility and the illusions of continuity are shattered, whether from natural or human social causes (or from both, as in New Orleans). Such events often lay bare fissures in the taken-for-granted social structure, thus revealing agonizing conflicts and pain. Eventually, some healing takes place, as the skin grows back over the . . .

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