Below is the description for a course I will teach this winter: Race and Urban Inequality in 21st Century America.
As a historian who studies the past, I use its injustices to challenge the present. I hope this course will teach an array of skills, while providing a base of knowledge 21st century students need to be change agents.
Nineteenth century Frenchmen Alexis de Tocqueville wrote on the greatness of American democracy; he referenced the egalitarian nature of the early republic and why democracy was so successful. However, 70 years later W.E.B. Du Bois noted, “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” Du Bois, an African-American scholar and civil rights activist enshrined this iconic observation in July 1900, while speaking in London at the Pan-African Congress. Du Bois repeated this phrase in his 1903 work, Souls of Black Folk. Unlike de Tocqueville, Du Bois addressed inequality in America, which has shaped the urban settings of under funded schools, police brutality, crime, and high unemployment rates in minority communities. In Du Bois’s Let Us Reason Together, he noted the resistance Northerners had toward Negroes migrating to the North. He wrote about endemic issues of racism that furthered 20th and 21st century mass urban unrest.
This course begins with an academic study of race and urban inequality in 20th century America. Students will look at Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow as it purports a prison pipeline system for people of color. Students will engage with scholars, community organizers and activists, public defenders, civic and religious leaders, as well as former gang members and law enforcement officers to expand on why “the problem” of the 20th century is a persistent problem in the 21st century. In the concluding week, students will take on local case studies exploring policies that might resolve endemic matters, which have allowed gang violence and urban riots across the United States.