Review: Pattillo, Black on the Block

June 26, 2007
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jacket imageThe Chicago Reader recently ran an insightful analysis of Mary Pattillo’s new book, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City. Reviewer Harold Henderson reflects on how Pattillo’s participant-observer study of Chicago’s North Kenwood—Oakland neighborhood reveals a tangled network of competing interests, even within the community itself, that if left unresolved make any predictions as to the future of the neighborhood and its inhabitants uncertain at best. Henderson writes:

Mayor Daley’s brave new Chicago doesn’t work for everyone. Eric Klinenberg tried to make this point five years ago with Heat Wave, his examination of who suffered and how during a 1995 natural disaster. Now Northwestern University sociologist Mary Pattillo nails it with Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City
She traces North Kenwood—Oakland’s fortunes from late-19th-century prosperity to 1970s poverty and back to relative prosperity, then focuses on the uneasy position of the growing population of middle-class black professionals, who often find themselves acting as brokers between “the Man” downtown and the “littlemen” back in the hood.…
After two decades of gentrification the neighborhood has three new schools, less public housing, less crime, and a booming real-estate market. But most of its low-income kids still attend the old, underachieving schools. Former residents of the demolished public-housing high-rises have seen their promised right of return demolished as well. And the new black bourgeoisie is as enthusiastic about stopping the old timers’ sociable practice of boulevard barbecuing as it is about fighting crime. Through the lens of this neighborhood Pattillo depicts a city where liberty and justice for all is being transformed—ever so slowly, ever so reasonably—into order and tranquility for some.

Henderson concludes: “A century from now, when today’s sociologists and journalists are dust and their books are too, those who want to understand what the hell happened to Chicago will be finding the answer in this one.”
Read an excerpt from the book.

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