A peculiar indifference The neglected toll of violence on black America

Elliott Currie

Book - 2020

"In the United States today, a young black man has a sixteen times greater chance of dying from violence than his white counterpart. Violence takes more years of life from black men than cancer, stroke, and diabetes combined. Even black women are more affected by violence than white men, despite its usual gender patterns. These disparities translate into starkly divergent experiences of life and death for whites and blacks in the United States. Yet aside from occasional flare-ups of violenc...e that periodically hit the headlines, the problem has largely receded into the background of public discussion and has nearly disappeared as a target of public policy. The country has been understandably outraged by the recent spate of police shootings of black Americans. But as acclaimed criminologist Elliott Currie points out, the far more widespread problem of "everyday" violent death and injury in black communities has received much less sustained attention or concern. Yet both kinds of violence reflect the same underlying condition: the continuing marginality and structural disadvantage of many black communities in America today. Our unwillingness to confront those conditions helps to perpetuate a level of preventable trauma and needless suffering that has no counterpart anywhere in the developed world. Compelling and accessible, drawing on a rich array of both classic and contemporary research, A Peculiar Indifference describes the dimensions and consequences of this enduring emergency, explores its causes, and offers an urgent plea for long-overdue social action to end it"--

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New York, New York : Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company 2020.
First edition
Physical Description
276 pages ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-265) and index.
Main Author
Elliott Currie (author)
  • Dimensions
  • Impacts
  • Explanations, I: Pioneers
  • Explanations, II: Contemporaries
  • Remedies.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Criminologist Currie (The Roots of Danger) laments the lack of attention paid to disproportionately high rates of violent death and injury among African Americans in this disturbing evidence-based account. Though cities including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and St. Louis have seen their Black inhabitants killed at levels "otherwise seen only in the most violent countries in the developing world" over the past 50 years, Currie writes, police shootings of African Americans have generated far greater public awareness and outrage than this "ongoing emergency of everyday interpersonal violence." In his view, both types of conflict result from decades of underinvestment in Black communities, and he marshals a wealth of evidence from the fields of public health, sociology, and psychology to support his claims. The historical range of sources runs from W.E.B. Du Bois's 1899 sociological study The Philadelphia Negro to University of Maryland criminologist Joseph Richardson's recent interviews with juvenile offenders convicted of violent crimes. Though sincere and persuasive in his efforts to document and explain the challenges faced by urban Black Americans, Currie's suggestions for reform, including stricter gun control and a rethinking of incarceration, are well-worn. Still, this is an informative and well-intentioned overview of an ongoing crisis in America. (Sept.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Drawing heavily on more than a century's worth of research and statistical documentation, Pulitzer Prize finalist Currie (criminology, law, and society, Univ. of California, Irvine; Crime and Punishment in America) lays out the dimensions and impacts of violence on Black communities, surveys key researchers' explanations for this violence, and proposes a series of national remedies. Currie keeps his focus on the systemic basis for Black oppression in the United States, describing a "scheme of both formal and informal domination deliberately designed to cement a rigid structure of privilege" for white Americans, with the enforcement of this scheme "the ever-present threat of both private and state violence," and proposing systemic remedies to deal with this systemic oppression. Unfortunately, Currie does not address how policymakers might be convinced to implement his remedies, nor does he interrogate the deep racial hatred that underlies white Americans' "peculiar indifference" toward Black suffering, and that sustains and nurtures that suffering. VERDICT Recommend to readers interested in statistics and research on the extent and impacts of violence in Black communities. Supplement with work by James Baldwin or Frank Wilderson III to understand the basis and support for systemic racism.--Monica Howell, Northwestern Health Sciences Univ. Lib., Bloomington, MN

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A deep exploration of why Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by violence and what can be done about it. There's more intentional violence in the U.S. than in any other advanced industrial nation. Of that violence, African Americans are victimized disproportionate to their share of the population. This is true across age and gender; among the poor and middle classes; in the street and inside homes. Fatal or nonfatal violence, committed with guns, knives, or fists, the story remains the same, and solutions to this problem are within reach. Criminologist Currie documents our "national failure" to take action and address the root causes of the violence in Black communities. The result of this systemic failure is a "public health crisis of devastating proportions." Currie painstakingly outlines the dimensions of the problem and examines how violence not only affects the victims, but also negatively impacts the physical and mental well-being of the larger community, putting them at an extreme social and economic disadvantage, which fuels the cycle of violence. "Ending the plague of violence" requires a fundamental change in the social and economic conditions within impacted communities. The author preemptively defends against victim-blaming discourse about "black-on-black crime" by acknowledging the anxiety around discussing these issues for fear of playing into stereotypes about Black people and crime, stressing that "the racial disparity in violence is not a symptom of community failure: it is a symptom of social injustice. And though that injustice is long-standing, it is also both preventable and reversible." These communities have been rendered more vulnerable due to "enduring discrimination," extreme poverty, and external indifference. Meticulously researched and densely packed with stats and studies, Currie's book paints a heartbreaking picture, but it also makes an urgent case for bold measures to turn the tide in Black communities. A damning examination of violence in Black America and a call for intervention that is long overdue. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.