Questions for Each Reading Assignment

Urban Underclass, Winter, 2020

rev 12/27/2019





Week 1

Jan 7

no reading assignment

Jan 9

Making the Second Ghetto, Ch 1-3


* What are the periods of greatest migration of Blacks to the North?

* How can housing be simultaneously abundant in one neighborhood and scarce in another?

* Who benefits from segregation? Who benefits from neighborhood transitions? Who loses?

* What is 'hidden violence', why is it hidden, and who is it hidden from?

* Who were the rioters?



Week 2

Jan 14

Making the second Ghetto, Finish the book


* What is 'Urban Renewal', and who in Chicago was behind it?

* What effect does Urban Renewal have on the supply of housing for blacks?

* Why was Chicago's black congressman, William L. Dawson, unwilling or unable to fight for racial equality?

* What role to black politicians have in maintaining the ghetto?

* How was Hyde Park's response to black immigration different from Englewood's? How was Hyde Park's response similar to the response of other white neighborhoods?



On Ch 4-5:

* What is 'Urban Renewal', and who in Chicago was behind it?

* What effect does Urban Renewal have on the supply of housing for blacks?

* Why was Chicago's black congressman, William L. Dawson, unwilling or unable to fight for racial equality?

* What role to black politicians have in maintaining the ghetto?

* How was Hyde Park's response to black immigration different from Englewood's? How was Hyde Park's response similar to the response of other white neighborhoods?



On the remainder of the book:

* What happens to St. Clair Drake when he tries to buy a house in Hyde Park?

* What percentage of Blacks owned homes in Chicago in 1939, and how does this compare to other groups? What is significance for individuals and communities of low home ownership and high turnover?

* Why do the White Ethnics of Englewood and Cicero resent the University of Chicago?

* When Chicago finally does build large housing projects (Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor Homes) to house blacks, what are the political terms and effects of their construction?

* What was Chicago's response to court- ordered desegregation?



Jan 16

Wilson: Declining Significance of Race, Intro and Ch1-3

Declining Significance of Race, Intro and Ch 1-3



* What is Marxist economic theory and how does Wilson use it to explain black-white relations?

* What is the Split Labor Market theory, how does it differ from what Wilson describes as classical Marxism, and how does Wilson use the Split Labor Market to explain black-white relations?

* What types of labor and economic systems increase conflict between racial groups?

* What is the significance of class stratification within black society?

* How did the end of slavery and the rise of industrialization change life for black Americans?


Week 3

Jan 21

 Declining Significance of Race, Ch 4-8


* Why did black workers end up as strike breakers in the mid 20th century?

* What are the “buffer institutions” described by Wilson and by Katznelson?

* What are the trends in black and white unemployment?

* How does Wilson characterize the Civil Rights movement?

* How does Wilson respond to his critics?

Jan 23

American Apartheid, preface + Ch 1-2


* What are the key elements of segregation and what are its effects? How does a disadvantaged neighborhood magnify the effects of individual poverty?

* How was the Black ghetto in the early 20th Century different from the Italian and Polish ghettos? What accounts for the difference?

* What is the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, how did HOLC evaluate credit worthiness, and what effect did this evaluation system have? What role did U.S. Government agencies play in establishing the practice of 'redlining'?

* Who benefits from federally guaranteed private mortgage loans? Who loses?

* What were the objective criteria that the FHA used in its loan criteria? Did the criteria favor new construction or renovation of existing structures?



Week 4




Jan 28

American Apartheid, Ch 3-5


* Think about the measures of segregation, especially the most commonly used one, the Index of Dissimilarity (which Massey and Denton refer to on the tables as simply 'segregation'). What is the definition (in words, not formula) of this index? How do Massey and Denton define high segregation vs. moderate segregation? Are the distinctions arbitrary? Note that the Index of Dissimilarity compares only two groups at a time, and comment on the suitability of this in an increasingly multicultural urban US.

* Tables 3.3 and 3.1 both show trends decreasing segregation between Blacks and Whites. How do Massey and Denton interpret these tables?

* How do Massey and Denton address the question of race versus class as a source for segregation? How are Massey and Denton critical of Wilson?

* How do Massey and Denton evaluate the importance of self-segregation, that is how much do Blacks prefer to live in an all-Black neighborhood?

* What do housing audit studies show?

* Why does housing segregation worsen and concentrate poverty?

* Why are neighborhood effects important?


Jan 30

American Apartheid, finish the book


* How does residential segregation lead to Black political isolation?

* How does residential segregation lead to linguistic bifurcation (e.g. Ebonics vs. Standard English), and how does ghetto isolation lead to an oppositional counter culture? In what sense are Massey and Denton relying on a 'culture of poverty' argument?

* What is the story of how the Fair Housing Act came to be passed in 1968, and how did the enforcement provisions get taken out? What is the social significance of the lack of enforcement of the FHA?

* How far does the US department of Housing and Urban Development go to desegregate housing under their direct control (public housing projects)? What does the final judgment in the Gautreaux case say about HUD?

* Describe the intent and significance of the following: The Fair Housing Act (1968) the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (1975) the Community Reinvestment Act (1977), Amendments to the Fair Housing Act (1988)

* What is 'integration maintenance'?

* In the final analysis: What public policies created the ghetto, and what public policies have reinforced the ghetto? How can the ghetto be dismantled?


Week 5




Feb 4

In Class Midterm Exam



Feb 6

The Power Broker, Ch 10-15


* How, according to Caro, did Robert Moses craft the Long Island Parks Commision Act of 1924, and what does this tell us about legislative democracy?

* What kinds powers were hidden in the 1924 parks act, and how did Robert Moses use these powers?

* What did Moses accomplish on Long Island in the 1920s, and how were these accomplishments perceived at the time?

* How does the building of large public infrastructure projects grease the wheels of electoral politics?

Week 6

Feb 11

There Are no Children Here, read the whole book 

Questions on the Preface and Ch. 1-19:

* Think about Kotlowitz' ethnographic study in terms of what evidence it provides for the various theories and historical narratives we have read about and discussed, including:

* What does Kotlowitz write about how the Horner project was built, and how it was maintained over the years? How does this analysis square with Hirsch's description of the making of the second ghetto in Chicago?

* What sense of physical, psychological and political isolation do the residents of the Horner homes experience? How, in other words, has their experience of segregation shaped and affected them?

* How has living in the Horner homes limited Pharoah's and Lafayette's chances for upward socioeconomic mobility?

* What kinds of geographic and physical boundaries define Pharoah's and Lafayette's worlds?

* Is there evidence for a 'Culture of Poverty'? What would a conservative critic say about the choices the Rivers family has made?

* Is there evidence in Kotlowitz's book for Wilson's theories about how the decline of heavy industry and the upward mobility of the Black middle class isolated the ghetto?


Questions (second half of the book):

* Explain the story of Craig Davis' death, and interpret it. What are the risks involved with growing up in Chicago's housing projects? How was the death treated in the press? What was the police's evidence that Craig was in fact a gang member? How did the ATF treat Craig Davis' mother?

* How does the high mortality rate, even of young innocent people in the ghetto, affect individuals' abilities to plan for the long term? How does the loss of leaders and friends affect the psyches of ghetto residents? How does it affect Lafayette and Pharoah?

* How do the Rivers family understand and experience Terrence's plea bargain and sentencing?

* What does Gwen Anderson find in the basement of LaJoe's building? Why are there perfectly good appliances rusting and rotting there? How does the new CHA chairman, Vincent Lane, attempt to deal with the problems at Horner?

* How does Lafayette get into trouble, and what is his experience of the juvenile court system like?


Feb 13

Black Wealth/ White Wealth, Intro, Ch 1-5


* How do wealth inequalities represent a 'sedimentation' of historical inequalities? Why do Oliver and Shapiro argue that Wealth is a better indicator of life chances than income?

* How does the focus on wealth constitute an answer to William Julius Wilson's argument about the declining significance of race?

* What historical processes have limited Blacks' access to wealth? What do other authors we have read have to say about this? See specifically the Homestead Acts, suburbanization, redlining, social security (and other New Deal programs such as Welfare), and discrimination in mortgage lending.

* In what sense does the income tax protect wealth? Why is the social security tax a regressive tax?

* Examine Tables 4.4, 4.5, and all the tables and figures in Chapter 5. What story do they tell about the wealth gap between Whites and Blacks in the US?

* How does limited resources constrain and narrow the choices the Rivers family makes in There Are No Children?


Week 7




Feb 18

Streetwise, chapters 1-2

Questions (Ch1-2)

* Who are the Old Heads, and why have they lost their influence in the inner city?

* What is the role of the following factors in shaping neighborhoods: real estate speculation, crime, and safety?


Feb 20

Streetwise, Finish the book

Questions (rest of book)

* How do the residents of 'The Village' deal with the residents of 'Northton', and vice-versa? What are the special issues that Blacks in the Village face?

* What are the effects of drugs on Northton, and what is the effect on the Village?

* What are the special rules for and about Black men in public places in the city?


Week 8


Feb 25

Losing Ground, Prologue, Chapter 1-4, Ch 16, Ch 17, especially p. 227-236


Plus $2 A day, Intro, Ch1-2, and Conclusion


* Why in Murray's view do welfare programs make people poor?

* How does Murray view the structural causes of poverty?

* What does Murray think of the personal and motivational causes of poverty?

* How good an analogy is Murray’s antismoking example for antipoverty and welfare policies?

* What are Murray’s three laws of social programs, and how well do they fit what we have learned about social programs in this class?


* What, according to Edin and Shaefer, are the results of welfare reform?

* What kinds of problems are faced by people whose income is less than $2 a day?

* What do Edin and Shaefer have to say about work training, minimum wage, TANF, and EITC?


Feb 27

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me, read the whole book

 * What is the meaning of the Richard Wright poem at the beginning of the book?

* What parallels can you draw, and what parallels does Coates draw, between himself and James Baldwin?

* What are the stories of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Prince Jones, Attica, and COINTELPRO and how does Coates invoke those stories?

* What does Coates have to say about the cycle of violence within his own family? Why was Coates beaten by his own father?

* What is the social impact of fear?

Week 9

March 3

Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow

read the whole book

Reading Questions:


* What are the policies, judicial decisions and political circumstances that created the war on drugs?

* How and why has the war on drugs had disparate impacts on different racial groups?

* What are some of the legal and social disabilities imposed on ex-felons in the US?

* What is the relevance of police discretion in drug cases as compared to robberies or assaults?


March 5

US DOJ “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department”

 * In what ways does the DOJ’s Ferguson report document discrimination and lack of due process in the application of justice in Ferguson? What role did revenue generation play in policing in Ferguson?

Week 10

March 10

Terry v. Ohio US Supreme Court 1968; Floyd v. New York 2013

Reading Questions:


* What were the facts of Terry v. Ohio?

* How has Terry v. Ohio been subsequently used to justify stop-and-frisk?

* How did the statistics about stop and frisk in New York support or not support the reasonable suspicions of the officers who were stopping and frisking people? How do the statistics indicate racial bias in stop-and-frisk as it was practiced in New York?


March 12

Last class, review session