Episode 131: Black In White Space with Elijah Anderson

In this episode of Across The Margin : The Podcast host Michael Shields interviews Elijah Anderson, the Sterling Professor of Sociology and of African American Studies at Yale University. Anderson is one of the leading urban ethnographers in the United States and his publications include Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (1999); Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community (1990); and the classic sociological work, A Place on the Corner (1978). He also wrote The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (2011) and his latest book — the subject of this episode — is Black In White Space which sheds fresh light on the dire persistence of racial discrimination in our country. A birder strolling in Central Park. A college student lounging on a university quad. Two men sitting in a coffee shop. Perfectly ordinary actions in ordinary settings — and yet, they sparked jarring and inflammatory responses that involved the police and attracted national media coverage. Why? In essence, Elijah Anderson would argue, because these were Black people existing in white spaces. In Black In White Space, Anderson brings his immense knowledge and ethnography to bear in this timely study of the racial barriers that are still firmly entrenched in our society at every class level. He focuses on symbolic racism, a new form of racism in America caused by the stubbornly powerful stereotype of the ghetto embedded in the white imagination, which subconsciously connects all Black people with crime and poverty regardless of their social or economic position. From Philadelphia street-corner conversations to Anderson’s own morning jogs through a Cape Cod vacation town, he probes a wealth of experiences to shed new light on how symbolic racism makes all Black people uniquely vulnerable to implicit bias in police stops and racial discrimination in our country. Throughout this episode Michael Shields and Elijah Anderson discuss how Black In White Space is part of a larger, and critically important, body of work by Anderson. They define and explore the role of ethnographers in social science while breaking down the idea of symbolic racism, the ghetto as a symbol and a mental space, places that Anderson defines as “cosmopolitan canopies,” and so much more.




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