New Course: Race and Urban Inequality in 21st Century America


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.

Course Description

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.


7 thoughts on “New Course: Race and Urban Inequality in 21st Century America

  1. Lawrence Otis Graham has received several negative remarks regarding his stance in this video. Obviously he cares very deeply for the protection and wellbeing of his two Black boys.

  2. Lawrence Otis Graham is trying to provide any necessary tools available to ensure the safety of his children. It’s survival in a harsh “Reality World of Racism.” Although I don’t know him, I get the sense he’s a good person and you’ve confirmed that feeling. It’s a shame that America has grown so much progressively, to only realize we still have work to do.

  3. Eddie, I fully agree with your point. This is a topic my winter term course will address. We are in an age where black men have to think twice before they act. I cannot drive 75 mph in a 65 – 70 zone. I cannot go for a run at night wearing a hoodie. It is where we are and have been. My advisee is in an interesting position. He comes from a high powered family who can offer the protection needed. It is a unique position because as we know, black men tend to come out of communities in which such guidance does not exist. That is what I liked about his article and the clip: Lawrence noted that their education and wealth is not enough. People see race before anything else.

    My Mom used to tell me to be careful, but due to our class position, it was more advice than rules to live by. I talk to my Mother about this all of the time. She did what she could do. She was not in a position to help me go to college, so I had to borrow a lot and get advice from middle class white people on how to move forward. That tends to be the case for most. Thus, it is why such pipelines to prisons exist. There are fewer options for black males in the 21st century (1 out 3 will be jailed). Advice is not good enough. Rules to follow are what helps folks. This video established rules — not advice. If folks are unhappy with how he aims to protect his son, the issue is on them. Most black folks do not have Lawrence’s education nor wealth; it is tough for them to relate, which is crazy seeing that he noted it is a race thing. That is the shared experience. Regardless of race, class, and education, we are black. That is what folks see. Black people spend too much time beating each other up. This is why I have elected to stop attacking black conservatives who represent good things for blacks folks (e.g., Ben Carson).

    • The Black community seems to ridicule Dr. Graham and others, rather than support them. Other scholars and intellectuals probably face the same contempt. Those such as Jonathan Holloway and John McWhorter probably fit the same profile as Dr. Graham in the eyes of the Black community. It’s one of the reasons I’ve mention the anti-intellectual movement that’s among us. They seem to despise the Grahams and McWhorters type of intelligence, mannerisms, mentality and education. I suspect you, as a scholar have faced some the same issues as the one’s mention. You have a tough job managing two different worlds, I assume.

      For some bizarre reason, most are in tune with a sort of street intellect, a use of vernacular that’s not always appropriate, and a behavior that’s very unbecoming of a poised people. What a person does behind closed doors is their own business, but the world does not need to know and hear about it. Why show it, and give the wrong perception to a racist entity waiting to point a finger, at a moments notice? The rules are not the same for everyone. We need to learn how to have a better private life filter, private persona and keep our risqué behavior away from the public eye.

      We need to uplift our scholars, intellectuals, engineers, doctors, etc. We need to stop the bandwagon of ridiculing our scholars. No matter what the political sway, they represent America and us. You guys represent our future and it could slip away easily if the newer generation doesn’t take heed quickly.

  4. Eddie, also, give the book “Our Kind of People” a read. I enjoyed it. It talks about a world I have studied and have read about as an academic, but it is far from my world and the elements discussed in this course. But, it does combine the narrative of race in a fashion that allows for a deeper conversation.

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