Black Studies, Chicago, Reviews, Sociology

Review: Pattillo, Black on the Block

jacket imageThe March 31 Boston Globe featured an article reviewing several new books about urban gentrification and its complex impact on the politics of race and class in contemporary urban America. These works together create, in the words of reviewer Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, “a more nuanced picture of gentrification.”
Venkatesh praises Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, for her detailed examination of this issue through her first-hand account of conflict, cooperation, and community building in Chicago’s North Kenwood-Oakland (NKO) neighborhood—a rapidly changing African American community on Chicago’s South Side. From the review:

Pattillo eschews most norms of social scientific objectivity by taking up residence in NKO. She is a homeowner and secretary of a local neighborhood association with great influence over local development—not to mention a Northwestern University professor. …
Pattillo acknowledges her complicated role, as both interested party and analyst. But through her experience we see how complicated life can be for the black middle class.
In her neighborhood, Pattillo and other newly-arriving homeowners, many of whom find themselves sandwiched between empty lots and dilapidated, low-income housing projects, are caught between two motivations: the wish to live in an area with decent stores, well-maintained parks, and adequate city services; and the ethical pull of advocating on behalf of those poorer blacks who might be displaced if the neighborhood continues to gentrify.

Ultimately, Black on the Block argues that while these fissures have come to define the black community, the reality is that many African Americans choose participation over abdication and involvement over withdrawal—even when disagreements become bitter and acrimonious.
Read an excerpt from the book.