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Dark Ghettos

Dark Ghettos

Injustice, Dissent, and Reform

Tommie Shelby

ISBN 9780674984073

Publication date: 07/02/2018

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Winner of the Spitz Prize, Conference for the Study of Political Thought
Winner of the North American Society for Social Philosophy Book Award

Why do American ghettos persist? Scholars and commentators often identify some factor—such as single motherhood, joblessness, or violent street crime—as the key to solving the problem and recommend policies accordingly. But, Tommie Shelby argues, these attempts to “fix” ghettos or “help” their poor inhabitants ignore fundamental questions of justice and fail to see the urban poor as moral agents responding to injustice.

“Provocative…[Shelby] doesn’t lay out a jobs program or a housing initiative. Indeed, as he freely admits, he offers ‘no new political strategies or policy proposals.’ What he aims to do instead is both more abstract and more radical: to challenge the assumption, common to liberals and conservatives alike, that ghettos are ‘problems’ best addressed with narrowly targeted government programs or civic interventions. For Shelby, ghettos are something more troubling and less tractable: symptoms of the ‘systemic injustice’ of the United States. They represent not aberrant dysfunction but the natural workings of a deeply unfair scheme. The only real solution, in this way of thinking, is the ‘fundamental reform of the basic structure of our society.’”
—James Ryerson, New York Times Book Review


  • Tommie Shelby’s Dark Ghettos is, in a word, brilliant! His thoughtful philosophical discourse on issues of race and urban poverty will engage and inform not only his fellow philosophers, but social scientists and educated lay readers as well...This book sets a standard that will be hard to equal.

    —William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged


  • 2016, Winner of the NASSP Book Award
  • 2018, Winner of the David and Elaine Spitz Prize


  • Tommie Shelby is Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University. In addition to Dark Ghettos he is the author of We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity and coeditor with Brandon M. Terry of To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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