BLACK IN WHITE SPACE

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In this analysis of modern Black life, Anderson, a professor of sociology and African American studies at Yale, examines how Black people of various class levels navigate what he calls the “white space” of mainstream America. According to the author, Americans automatically connect Black people with the negative concept of “the ghetto,” regardless of where these individuals actually reside or where they come from. Anderson claims that associating Black folks with poor, crime-ridden communities “has burdened Black people with a negative presumption that they are required to disprove before establishing mutually trusting relationships with others.” As a result, Black American males, especially, are overly policed and underemployed. The author also notes how many Black boys lack father figures, which, the author asserts, contributes to their interest in a life of crime. Writing about how these problems are particularly challenging for “ghetto” families that identify as “street” rather than “decent,” terms the author says were used by his interview subjects, Anderson also argues that the power of the image of the ghetto in the White imagination ensures that even middle-class and upper-class Blacks constantly have to fight for fair treatment and against racism. Although the book purportedly draws on “ethnographic fieldwork” Anderson conducted for his previous work, the author not only fails to describe his methodology; he also goes pages without mentioning a single piece of original data. His analysis is highly descriptive, rather than analytical, and he focuses mostly on individual actions—and, in particular, the actions of Black, able-bodied males—more than the pervasive structural inequalities that plague Black Americans. Many of his points are solid and worthy of further discussion, but they have been more rigorously explored by previous scholars.

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