If we based our understanding of race relations in the United States on the events of the last year alone, it might seem like a racial Armageddon was upon us. Hardly a day seems to pass without a report of yet another black victim of a police shooting. Independent estimates confirm that the prevalence of such incidents has been rising over the past several years.… What we are witnessing…is a volatile combination of a rise in violence alongside the increasing visibility of that violence.… But despite so much evidence that black Americans and other people of color are under attack, nearly half of respondents to a recent Pew survey thought that race was “not a factor at all” in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the same number agreed that the United States has already “made [the] necessary changes” to achieve racial equality.… And yet…everywhere there is more evidence than ever that race and its cousin, ethnicity, still define the simple matter of who gets to live or die. Whether in the global refugee crisis, the aftermath of the Paris bombings, or the quotidian ways in which people of color in the United States face the denigration of both casual and institutional racism, one thing is clear: race survives.
The London Times once referred to the famed Trinidad-born C.L.R. James as a “Black Plato.” When asked about the phrase, James elliptically deflected it with a graciousness that should be noted, but the problems with being able to conceive of black intellect only within parallels within Western thought could take up pages. Christian Høgsbjerg’s new biography of James focuses on his first years in Britain, from 1932 to 1938, and skillfully avoids either fetishizing his subject or reducing him to a glorious “black brain.” The result is a riveting history that is bound to awaken the interest of those unfamiliar with him and add a dimension to what others already know of his life and work.
Chicago is famed as a city of neighborhoods. Its reputation as such makes it seem like an adorably homey place to live or, as people are fond of describing it to visitors and friends alike, as a “big city with a small-town feel.” But the city’s open secret is that it does not just operate as any small town, but as a small town in the 1930s, with a segregation so deeply felt and embedded that it needs to be called out for what it is, a form of racism that surveils ethnic and racial populations to ensure they do not stray from their designated borders. The city’s increasingly ramshackle and inefficient public transportation system was designed along racial lines, with a system that makes it difficult for mostly white northsiders and mostly black southsiders to commute easily between their neighborhoods. On the west, areas like Humboldt Park and Pilsen are mostly Latino/a…and similarly cordoned off as ethnic enclaves.… Amy Sonnie and James Tracy are, doubtless, unsurprised by any of this. Their book Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power recovers a long-forgotten history of urban organizing by focusing on five groups: Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), and Rising Up Angry in Chicago’s Uptown, along with White Lightning in the Bronx and October 4 Organization (O4O) in Philadelphia.