Ghetto Book Summary By Mitchell Duneier

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Ghetto is a book that delves deeply into the socio-ideological development of the word “ghetto”, particularly how it’s applied to black neighborhoods in America.

The author takes an honest look at the complex ways in which race, prejudice, policy and sociology impact these places.

Ghetto analyzes topics such as redlining, mass incarceration, racial profiling and gentrification, while also exploring solutions to fight for racial justice.

It examines how an array of strategies can be effective – policy reforms, incremental changes to specific programs and initiatives, community organizing and protest activism – drawing on recent historical examples to show the successes and limitations of various approaches.

This thought provoking read provides readers with a comprehensive understanding of the interlocking structures of oppression – enabling them to better advocate for greater racial equity in our society.

Ghetto Book

Book Name: Ghetto (The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea)

Author(s): Mitchell Duneier

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Mitchell Duneier is renowned for his expert insight into the challenges and experiences of individuals in urban environments.

He has written two award-winning books, Sidewalk and Slim’s Table, with a focus on inner city culture that has unearthed important information about the everyday lives of city dwellers.

To add to his impressive resume, he is also the Maurice P.

During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.

He has studied sociological trends for decades and brings a wealth of knowledge to Ghetto, an inspiring collection of stories from participants in concentrated poverty areas across the United States.

Uncovering The History Of Ghettos: How A 500-Year-Old Concept Came To Mean Something Entirely Different In The American Context

History Of Ghettos

When it comes to understanding the origin, history, and logic of the ghetto, it’s important to look back in time.

The word “ghetto” has been in use for more than 500 years and its original meaning is connected with Jewish ghettos run by Nazis during World War II.

During this time, the concept of American inner-city black ghettos came into existence for less than 10 percent of the term’s 500-year history.

In order to fully grasp how the ghettos came to exist and what they mean in an American context, one has to take a closer look at the history.

For instance, it was a Swede who made a lasting impact on race relations within America as well as on debates surrounding the ghetto.

Additionally, there have been efforts made by black academics whose views on the ghetto have been repeatedly suppressed yet are still valuable today.

By becoming familiar with this information and conducting further research into its logic and background, you can gain an understanding of why ghettos exist in our world today.

The Origin Of The Word “Ghetto” And How Forced Separation Created A Self-Perpetuating Cycle Of Injustice

The Italian Jews were among the first people in history to be ghettoized.

This took place in the 16th century, when city rulers and the Catholic Church in Venice and Rome wanted to keep Judaism separate from Christianity.

In an attempt to do this, they made laws which prevented Jews from living outside of certain designated areas in both cities.

These areas were officially known as ghettos, referred to by the Venetian term ‘ghèto’, which was derived from their local copper foundry at the time.

Within these ghettos, the Jews were able to live semi-independently from other populations in their respective cities.

Though even still, living there could be tough due to overcrowding, high mortality rates and unclean or unsanitary conditions.

Despite Napoleon Bonaparte’s best efforts during his invasion of Italy in the early 19th century, formal ghettos persevered until quite late into the 1800s.

This led some Christians to believe that such separation was ”natural” and God-sanctioned – a physical manifestation of a moral order – despite it actually being due to imposed policy restrictions on where they could live.

How The Nazis Brutalized And Co-Opted The Term “Ghetto” To Perpetuate Systemic Racism Against Jews And To Inspire Later Generations To Fight Against Oppression In America’s Urban Enclaves

The term “ghetto” is often used to describe highly disadvantaged African-American neighborhoods.

It was originally associated with Jewish neighborhoods in the early twentieth century, which were typically located in crowded, impoverished urban areas.

After World War II, the use of the word “ghetto” shifted to describe the experiences of African-Americans living in similar conditions.

In 1945, two black graduate students from the University of Chicago (Horace Cayton and St.

Clair Drake) published their book Black Metropolis which used imagery of Nazi ghettos as an example to compare and contrast racism in both the North and South.

The authors described how white Northerners felt a need to create whites-only neighborhoods and restrict black Americans’ access to jobs and education.

Even Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, supported racial segregation with university funds!

This made African-Americans like “America’s Jews”, just like how Jews of Warsaw were forced to wear yellow Star of David badges by Nazis.

Cayton And Drake’s Findings Show The Varied Mechanisms Of Structural Racism In Real Estate: From Restrictive Covenants To Police Negligence And Realtor Discrimination


Cayton and Drake’s in-depth research on racism revealed an alarming reality: a special circumstance which enabled white people to keep black people from living in their neighborhoods.

These were called “restrictive covenants,” and they kept black residency limited to two percent or less of the population in white areas.

Such blatant racial discrimination was even endorsed by some at the highest level of power, such as the president of the University of Chicago.

These covenants endured for two decades until their abolishment, and so long as more than 75% of owners didn’t request it otherwise.

Violence ensued whenever anyone challenged this system; bombing houses, fire setting and other intimidating behavior that were perpetrated with the active consent (or passive allowance) of the police and other institutions like The National Association of Real Estate Boards.

This accord advocated agents never contribute to property value depreciation by introducing people of color, pigeonholing them into unsanitary neighborhoods that could then be further “justified” by stating there was no competent tenant/ homeowner base present.

Structural racism against black people went hand in hand with housing discrimination; leaving stringent restrictions on where people could live combined with overcrowded conditions meant little chance at escape from a cycle that sought only to isolate minority communities.

Gunnar Myrdal’s Blindness To Northern Racism Ignored The Ghetto’s Systemic Struggles

Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, was an immensely influential work that provided the standard text on American race relations during the mid-twentieth century.

It was even cited in the Brown v.

Board of Education decision to desegregate schools in 1954.

Myrdal was hired by the Carnegie Corporation to provide an impartial outlook on racial issues and his research team included many renowned black scholars.

Myrdal interpreted racism as a result of Southern prejudice and assumed that most educated Northerners viewed it unfavorably.

He called this conflict between their beliefs and realities “the American dilemma” and thought that publicizing the dire conditions of black citizens would be the solution.

Unfortunately, Myrdal failed to acknowledge systemic racism as he only mentioned the word ‘ghetto’ twice in his lengthy 1,400 page book and chose to blame Southern racism for all race issues instead of equally acknowledging Northern discrimination.

A possible collaboration with William Drake and Horace Cayton could have remedied these errors but negotiations ultimately fell through due to differences in working terms.

Ultimately, Myrdal wrote an incomplete yet definitive statement on American race relations at one of its darkest moments.

Kenneth Clark’S Doll Experiments Showed That Black People In America Suffered From Structural Powerlessness Caused By Racist Policies

Kenneth Clark’s 1965 book, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power, saw government policy as a contributing factor to the existence of black ghettos in the United States.

Clark argued that America’s black ghettos were present due to what he called the “institutionalization of powerlessness” and within this context structural racism reigned supreme.

Government policies such as “redlining”—whereby people living in certain districts were denied loans—greatly contributed to the problem by blocking social, economic, political and educational advancement for black people.

Furthermore, Clark revealed how federal agencies legitimized such racist redlining practices, allowing private lenders to deny funds to overwhelmingly black neighborhoods instead channeling these into creating large public-housing projects that would lead to more ghettoization and isolation.

This was compounded further with job losses during times of economic downturn hitting the black communities worst with unions often being discriminatory too.

The geographic location of jobs since mid 1960s on the outskirts metropolitan areas only further impacted them in their efforts of finding good paying employment.

Altogether Clark assiduously demonstrated how governmental policies effectively cornered African Americans into a perpetual state of poverty through race based legislation over generations which created an exceedingly unequal society.

The Moynihan Report: A Landmark Of Victim-Blaming And Ignoring Structural Racism


In the 1960’s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s assessment of the ghetto became widely accepted.

His controversial report compiled statistics on black families and argued that the decline in family structure was a central contributor to racial inequality and poverty.

As a result, President Kennedy asked Moynihan to draft what would eventually become known as the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964; dubbed the “War on Poverty”.

In response to his report, President Lyndon B.

Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

He explicitly pointed to strengthening black families as a priority for creating conditions of equitable treatment for black people.

In doing so, Moynihan’s evaluation of ghettos – as well as his claim that family breakdown within these areas contributed disproportionately to disadvantage and poverty – became broadly accepted throughout America during this time period.

Ultimately, it ended up being used both to justify targeted policy initiatives and explain away certain forms of structural racism pervasive throughout society at-large.

The Tragic Consequences Of Ignoring Structural Poverty And Racism In America

Sociological studies have often been misused and misinterpreted for political gain.

This continues to this day, with politicians twisting the arguments of sociologists like William Julius Wilson to suit their own agendas.

Wilson’s 1978 book The Declining Significance of Race argued that race was not at the root of ghetto problems.

He instead claimed that persistent joblessness could be attributed more to deindustrialization than racism.

Although he urged for federal jobs programs as a potential solution, his ideas were co-opted by conservatives in the Reagan administration and later by Democrat Bill Clinton who declared his desire to “end welfare as we know it” with his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

These government policies apportioned blame away from their perpetuators and proponents onto those trapped within the ghettos themselves – an act that still sees people blamed for circumstances beyond their control.

Despite sociologist’s efforts to address racial injustices, the application and interpretation of their work continues to be misused as a means of disregarding them today.

Wrap Up

The final summary of Ghetto is that the ghetto has a long and complex history which is underpinned by racial inequity, politics and poverty.

Understanding this history is vital to gain a full understanding of the current issues surrounding the ghetto.

There are no easy solutions when it comes to tackling these difficult social problems, but it’s important to recognize their deeply entrenched structural roots and explore ways of addressing them.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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