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Pre-existing Conditions: 2020 in Historical Perspective

04/23 Friday | 12:30pm

To understand the events of 2020- pandemic, police violence, political instability, precarity, and protest- requires grappling with the preexisting conditions that caused and worsened the crises. In an ongoing series, the NYU Cities Collaborative is hosting cutting-edge historians reflecting on the origins of the 2020 crises.

Friday, March 26 from 12:30 – 2:00 PM ET- Douglas Flowe, “Uncontrollable Blackness: African American Men and Criminality in Jim Crow New York”

RSVP is required. Please RSVP here.

Early twentieth-century African American men in northern urban centers like New York faced economic isolation, segregation, a biased criminal justice system, and overt racial attacks by police and citizens. In his talk, Douglas J. Flowe interrogates the meaning of crime and violence in the lives of these men, whose lawful conduct itself was often surveilled and criminalized, by focusing on what their actions and behaviors represented to them. He narrates the stories of men who sought profits in underground markets, protected themselves when law enforcement failed to do so, and exerted control over public, commercial, and domestic spaces through force in a city that denied their claims to citizenship and manhood. Flowe furthermore traces how the features of urban Jim Crow and the efforts of civic and progressive leaders to restrict their autonomy ultimately produced the circumstances under which illegality became a form of resistance.

Douglas Flowe is an assistant professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis. His first book, Uncontrollable Blackness: African American Men and Criminality in Jim Crow New York analyzes black crime within the prism of masculine identity, migration, the varied uses of urban public space, and racialized supervision. He is currently working on a second book, tentatively entitled “Shadows and Sunlight: Race, Power, and Protest in America’s Mid-Century Carceral State, 1920-1959.” His work has been published in the Journal of Urban History, the Journal of African American History, and others, and he been a commentator on police violence and mass incarceration in various news outlets, including CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.

Friday, April 16 from 12:30 – 2:00 PM ET – Spatial Inequalities: The “Chinatown” Problem in Today’s Pandemic Times

RSVP is required. Please RSVP here.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly upended assumptions of human habitation, proximity and health and demands a reassessment of a century and half of public health governance in society and its manifestations both locally and trans-locally. This presentation draws attention to how historical models of public health  have aggravated racial, class and spatial disparities that make essential workers, immigrant workers and impoverished urban communities acutely vulnerable, while middle and upper class communities command relative safety and health preservation resources. By examining how how “Chinatowns” as racial ghettos were created, targeted, policed, and reformed, this presentation addresses the social and spatial challenges of the logics of “health security.”

Nayan Shah is a Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Shah’s research examines historical struggles over bodies, space and the exercise of state power from the mid-19th to the 21st century. Shah is the author of two award-winning books, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West and Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Friday, April 23 from 12:30 – 2:00 PM ET – Essential Work: Race, Class, and Precarity

RSVP is required. Please RSVP here.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the dangers of precarious public-facing employment. In this roundtable, three major scholars consider place “essential work”–in the service sector, food preparation, and health care–in broad historical perspective, with attention to Latinx, African American, and women workers who have borne the brunt of high risk, poorly paid, insecure work.

Natalia Molina is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. A 2020 Macarthur Fellow, she is the author of Fit To Be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939 and How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts. She has also served as her university’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Diversity and Equity.

Marcia Chatelain is a Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. She is author of South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration and the widely reviewed book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. In 2014 she organized her fellow scholars in a social-media response to the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, entitled #FergusonSyllabus. #FergusonSyllabus has led to similar online initiatives and has shaped curricular projects in K–12 and university settings around the United States.

Gabriel Winant is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago. He is author of The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America. His writing about work, inequality, and capitalism in modern America has appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, Dissent, and n+1.

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