Race and the Politics of Deception
The Making of an American City
New York University Press 2017
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network May 27, 2017 Richard E. Ocejo
Urban sociologists typically use a few grand narratives to explain the path of the American city through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. These include industrialization, mass immigration, the “Great Migration,” deindustrialization, suburbanization (or “white flight”), gentrification, and postindustrial/neoliberal growth policies, among others.
In Race and the Politics of Deception: The Making of an American City (New York University Press, 2017) , Associate Professor Christopher Mele shows readers the more granular details of this history. Focusing on growth, decline, and revitalization of Chester, a small city in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, Mele specifically reveals how race, or an ideology and discourse of racial blindness, have been used as a strategy of exclusion since World War I. Proceeding chronologically, the book examines how the politics of growth in Chester have revolved on ideas of race, from housing segregation to civil rights clashes. It culminates with the present-day realities of life in Chester, in which the city boasts a casino, a soccer stadium, and a redeveloped waterfront, mainly for visitors, while its majority population of low-income minorities get labeled as either compliant participants in (e.g. as low-wage workers) or obstructions to (e.g. as criminals or deviants) this image and growth. The imagery ignores the structural conditions that create their poverty. Mele provides a new, fascinating lens for looking at the relationship between race and space in the city.
Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City (Princeton University Press, 2014), about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as City & Community, Poetics, Ethnography, and the European Journal of Cultural Studies. He is also the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork (Routledge; 2012) and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Metropolitics, Work and Occupations, and the Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography.