The Condemnation of Blackness
Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
Widely known as one of the most influential authorities on racial justice in America, Khalil Gibran Muhammad is redefining our understanding of diversity. Former Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Harvard Kennedy School Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy, he explains how “bias education”—race ed.—can help individuals and institutions reconcile past with present and move toward greater equity.
“Muhammad’s book renders an incalculable service to civil rights scholarship by disrupting one of the nation’s most insidious, convenient, and resilient explanatory loops: whites commit crimes, but black males are criminals.”— David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author
Khalil Gibran Muhammad is professor of History, Race and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. He is a contributor to a National Research Council study, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, and is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard), which won the John Hope Franklin Best Book Award in American Studies. Recently, he has appeared in the popular documentaries 13th (Netflix), Slavery By Another Name (PBS), and Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football (Epix).
Muhammad is the former Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library and the world’s leading library and archive of global black history. He is also a former Associate Professor at Indiana University. His research focuses on racial criminalization in modern U.S. history. Much of his work has been featured in a number of national print and broadcast media outlets, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, NPR, Moyers and Company, and MSNBC. Muhammad was an associate editor of The Journal of American History and prior Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice. He holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, two honorary doctorates, and is on the boards of The Museum of Modern Art, The Barnes Foundation, and The Nation magazine.
Just as there is a wealth and income gap, a health and achievement gap, and a punishment and opportunity gap, there is also a power gap in our civic and corporate institutions. In a nation where nearly every organization values diversity and inclusion (or at least gives lip service to them), and most every individual believes in “opportunity for all,” people of color are vastly under-represented in senior leadership positions across all sectors of American society. Something is still not working. So what explains this enduring maldistribution of power and influence among men—and especially women—of color? And what should we do about it? Is it even enough to focus on racial representation as the measure of progress? In this invaluable talk for leaders in companies both large and small, Khalil Gibran Muhammad outlines three barriers—efficiency, color-blindness, and investment—that must be overcome for organizations to transform and harness the best ideas for success in the 21st century.
The biggest bias of all? It’s thinking that we’re ‘unbiased.’ To social psychologists, there’s no such thing as a clean slate—individually, or institutionally. Compelling evidence tells us that even babies discriminate, absorbing skin color differences at infancy. And over time, children begin to interpret these differences through the cultural frameworks of their social environments: at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. Yet we confuse color-blindness—an impossibility—with non-racist behavior, which are not the same. In this talk, Khalil Gibran Muhammad argues that bias education—or race ed.—must be embraced in our curricula and our training programs. By acknowledging bias and difference, we can reduce harm, both past and present. We can create safer schools and institutions, and connect our histories to our stated values in more meaningful ways. And we can move toward greater racial equity—at the individual, institutional, and civic level.
Well known are the bleak statistics of incarceration that make America the world’s leading jailer. Racial disparities frame much of the debate about the disproportionate impact of police and prisons on black and brown lives and increasingly poor, rural whites. How does history inform our present moment and help guide us to a greater cultural understanding of how we think about crime and punishment? Are we unwittingly repeating mistakes from the past? How are we supposed to balance individual accountability with social responsibility? By taking the long view, this talk reveals how so much of what defines the crisis of mass incarceration today are rooted in a set of old ideas. And that the solution to today’s problems also grow out of our examples from our history.