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Tommie Shelby is Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University.
"Justice, Deviance, and the Dark Ghetto" (2007)
- Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 126–160
- If ... the tax scheme allows enormous intergenerational wealth transfers within families, some families will maintain considerable socioeconomic advantages over others, which allows them to provide better educations and better environments (both residential and familial) for their children, and their children's children. ... Even in a constitutional democracy in which each citizen has a publicly recognized claim to all the basic political and civil liberties, these socioeconomic inequalities would create an informal social hierarchy by birth: some would be born into great wealth and other social and political advantages while others would be born into poverty and its associated disadvantages. ... If, because a social scheme had the characteristics described above, the life prospects of some children were vastly inferior to those of others, it would be reasonable to regard these disadvantaged children as members of the lowest stratum in a descent-based social hierarchy. When such a hierarchy is, and has long been, marked by racial distinctions, equal citizenship, in any meaningful sense, does not obtain. In a society with an established democratic tradition, such a quasi-feudal order does not warrant the allegiance of its most disadvantaged members, especially when these persons are racially stigmatized. Indeed, the existence of such an order creates the suspicion that, despite the society's ostensible commitment to equal civil rights, white supremacy has simply taken a new form.
- p. 133
- Despite making up only 13 percent of the male population of the United States, black men constitute almost half of the male prison population, and on any given day, nearly a third of all black men in their twenties are in prison, on probation, or on parole. These black men are overwhelmingly from ghetto communities. The high levels of police surveillance, racial profiling, stiff penalties for minor parole violations, felon disenfranchisement laws, and general harassment of young urban blacks intensify their hostility toward the criminal justice system, and invite urban blacks to conclude that they are living under a race-based police state whose intent is to prevent them from enjoying all the benefits of equal citizenship and to contain social unrest.
- p. 142
- If an unjust basic structure is a significant causal factor in explaining the rise and persistence of ghetto conditions and such conditions diminish the life prospects of citizens who live under them, the fact that some from the ghetto are still able to improve their lot through legitimate means and ultimately to leave the ghetto does not invalidate the claim for redress of those who remain behind.
- p. 143
- Any affluent, mass-consumer, capitalist society will encourage—indeed actively cultivate—the ambition to live comfortably (if not get rich). This is, after all, how such economies reproduce themselves: by creating continual mass desire for a wide range of consumer goods and services. If such a society only guarantees the constitutional essentials, however, without providing every citizen with a real opportunity to reach the goal of material comfort, then it is far from obvious that those who, because of lack of resources, are inhibited in this pursuit are being unreasonable when they choose crime as an alternative to subsistence living.
- p. 148