Decolonial Black

Personal Blog/Website of William Jamal Richardson

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Understanding the City as a Settler Colonial Structure

Much of the scholarship within American urban sociology has concerned itself with the various forms of inequality that have developed in and around US cities throughout its history. The various schools of critical urban sociology have various developed ways of understanding cities as raced (Lai 2012), classed (Reardon and Bischoff 2011), and gendered (Popkin, Leventhal, and Weismann 2010) spaces where broader social hierarchies and system are reinforced and acted upon. Collectively these works argues for a broad understanding of the city as a both a reflection of broad American social values as well as a space that can have great influence over the development of these same values.
Absent from most of discussions within urban sociology is the history and narrative of Native Americans and the history of settler colonialism in the United States. This erasure is analogous to the general erasure of indigenous people and their experiences within most social scientific discourses (Dei 2000; Habashi 2005; Quah 1993). There has been movement in recent years to reverse this erasure. Andrea Smith (2008) while exploring the intertwined logics of slavery, genocide, and orientalism within white supremacy highlighted the current incompatibilities between narratives of indigenous scholars, which mistakenly equating African American “settlers” with white settlers, and African American/anti-racist which scholarship ignoring the existence of settler colonialism and indigenous peoples. Smith called for an integration of these various logics arguing that without doing so we become complacent in reifying these oppressive logics. Similarly, Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2015) discussed on a macro level how the dynamics of settler colonialism in the United States affected the racial formation of various oppressed communities. She concluded with the hope that by bringing together the insights of different inequality frameworks, including settler colonialism, scholars can “work toward a higher level theoretical model that can be widely used by social scientists both in the United States and internationally.”

Responding to Smith’s and Glenn’s calls, I argue for the inclusion of settler colonialism as another, and arguably more fundamental, framework through which to understand American urban spaces, structures, and history. I argue that many of the key aspects of US cities we study in urban sociology, particularly racial residential segregation, white suburbanization, and urban native settlement patterns are either directly connected to settler colonial forms/logics within US society or share great similarities to what we would expect within a settler colonial situation. I demonstrate the usefulness of the framework by reviewing literature on settler colonial logics, racial logics, white neighborhoods and suburbs, urban Native Americans, and urban African Americans. Bringing settler colonialism into discussions about urban inequality rectifies a blind spot within urban sociology that ignores and erases Native Americans and indigenous people within our analyses, builds a stronger historic sociological narrative about American cities, and opens avenues to reconsider how we make sense of current and historical patterns of urban inequality.  Continue reading

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​Understanding Eurocentrism as a Structural Problem of Undone Science

(Derived from a course paper for Politics of Knowledge taught by Steven Epstein at Northwestern University)

The tiles of the landmark volumes The Death of White Sociology (Ladner, 1973) and White Logic, White Methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008) highlight a particular truth about sociology, its methods, and theories which is that they are heavily influenced by European and colonial social thought. This influence is evident in the presentation in most introductory sociology courses of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber as the founders of sociological inquiry. Their influence compounded with the influence of countless other white male scholars has led to the development of what Julian Go describes as the “imperial unconscious” of sociology that influences how sociologists carry out their research and construct theory (Go 2013).
The effects that sociology’s Eurocentrism has on its scholarship and institutions are well documented. Eurocentrism has largely rendered invisible in the discipline the sociological perspectives and work of both scholars of color and the societies they come from. In addition, Eurocentrism in the discipline also allows for intrinsically racist and colonial theory and findings to be developed and disseminated within academe and among the public (Hunter 2002). The sum total of these processes is that in many spaces sociology, like many other social science, perpetuate systems of inequality and the social logics that justify them.

Although powerful on its own, the Eurocentric critique of sociology by scholars does not often move beyond an analysis of the epistemic silencing of marginalized communities and knowledge to address the structural, non-epistemic relations that help maintain the current state of affairs. I argue that by understanding eurocentrism in sociology, at least partly, as a structural problem of “undone science” we can begin to see how phenomenon such as racism against academics of color and the norms of academic training and production help reproduce the epistemic problems identified by scholars working in postcolonial, decolonial, and ethnic studies spaces. This relation between the structural and epistemological will allow for a conception of intellectual decolonization that is both structural and epistemological in nature. Continue reading