Urban Humanities and Their Publics

Book Launch | Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit

Archival images of people marching in the snow during WWII

From the Institute for Public Knowledge

The Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to join us for the launch of Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit by Karen Miller. The author will be in conversation with Thomas Sugrue and Prudence Cumberbatch.

Monday, March 28, 2016 | 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Location, Institute for Public Knowledge, 20 Cooper Sq, Room 503, New York, NY 10003, USA

In the wake of the Civil War, many white northern leaders supported race-neutral laws and anti-discrimination statutes. These positions helped amplify the distinctions they drew between their political economic system, which they saw as forward-thinking in its promotion of free market capitalism, and the now vanquished southern system, which had been built on slavery. But this interest in legal race neutrality should not be mistaken for an effort to integrate northern African Americans into the state or society on an equal footing with whites. During the Great Migration, which brought tens of thousands of African Americans into Northern cities after World War I, white northern leaders faced new challenges from both white and African American activists and were pushed to manage race relations in a more formalized and proactive manner.

The result was northern racial liberalism: the idea that all Americans, regardless of race, should be politically equal, but that the state cannot and indeed should not enforce racial equality by interfering with existing social or economic relations. In Managing Inequality, Karen R. Miller examines the formulation, uses, and growing political importance of northern racial liberalism in Detroit between the two World Wars. Miller argues that racial inequality was built into the liberal state at its inception, rather than produced by antagonists of liberalism. Managing Inequality shows that our current racial system—where race neutral language coincides with extreme racial inequalities that appear natural rather than political—has a history that is deeply embedded in contemporary governmental systems and political economies.

Karen R. Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, the Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current. Miller’s current research focuses on the American colonial state in the Philippines and its effort to Christianize majority-Muslim islands in the south of the archipelago.

Thomas Sugrue is Professor of History and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. A specialist in twentieth-century American politics, urban history, civil rights, and race, Sugrue is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Society of American Historians, and past president of the Urban History Association and the Social Science History Association. His numerous articles and books include The Origins of the Urban Crisis (1996), which won the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Taft Prize in Labor History, the President’s Book Award of the Social Science History Association, and the Urban History Association Award for Best Book in North American Urban History and was named one of the 100 most influential books of the past hundred years. Sugrue’s newest book, co-authored with Glenda Gilmore, is These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890 to the Present (W.W. Norton, 2015).

Prudence Cumberbatch is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Brooklyn College. She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters and has been a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Research in African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She received her PhD in American Studies from Yale University.