Beacon Press: Against Civility
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Against Civility

The Hidden Racism in Our Obsession with Civility

Author: Alex Zamalin

The first history of racial injustice to examine how civility and white supremacy are linked, and a call for citizens who care about social justice to abandon civility and practice civic radicalism

The idea and practice of civility has always been wielded to silence dissent, repress political participation, and justify violence upon people of color. Although many progressives today are told that we need to be more polite and thoughtful, less rancorous and angry, when we talk about race in America, civility maintains rather than disrupts racial injustice.

Spanning two hundred years, Zamalin’s accessible blend of intellectual history, political biography, and contemporary political criticism shows that civility has never been neutral in its political uses and impacts. The best way to tackle racial inequality is through “civic radicalism,” an alternative to civility found in the actions of Black radical leaders including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Audre Lorde. Civic radicals shock and provoke people. They name injustice and who is responsible for it. They protest, march, strike, boycott, and mobilize collectively rather than form alliances with those who fundamentally oppose them.

In Against Civility, citizens who care deeply about racial and socioeconomic equality will see that they need to abandon this concept of discreet politeness when it comes to racial justice and instead more fully support disruptive actions and calls for liberation, which have already begun with movements like #MeToo, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and Black Lives Matter.
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“How could anything be more appropriate to today’s audacious struggles than this brilliant unmasking of the polite rhetoric of oppression? Zamalin topples a lot of hypocritical statuary.”
—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

“Zamalin’s monumental work reminds us of the crucial role organizing and activism play in American democracy. Zamalin asks if civility works to combat racism and looks at the historical record to answer this important question. His work fundamentally reframes our understanding of the value of civility and how civility reinforces the very structures and cultures we are seeking to change in order to create a more equitable society. This is a must-read book to help us conceptualize liberation for a well-functioning multiracial democracy.”
—Dorian Warren, president of Community Change

“Zamalin writes a compelling story of the use and abuse of ‘civility’ and ‘reconciliation’ rhetoric across the broad sweep of US history. From slaveholders like John C. Calhoun to contemporary right-wing politicians like Donald Trump, elite whites figure prominently in this narrative. Whites’ civility framing routinely normalizes white supremacist and other anti-democratic activists but negatively frames black anti-racist protesters by insisting that the latter, who are actually seeking real democracy, are somehow ‘uncivilized.’”
—Joe Feagin, Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University and author of The White Racial Frame

“A provocative account of the civic harm that can lurk behind seemingly reasoned calls for ‘civility.’ From opponents of abolitionism in the nineteenth century to BLM counter-protesters in the twenty-first, Zamalin shows how it has often been an insistence on ‘civility’ that ironically justifies and unleashes the gnashing dogs of the Right’s anti-democratic agenda. Who would ever be wary of something as benevolent sounding as ‘civility’? Turns out, we should all be.”
—Matthew Frye Jacobson, author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race


Against Civility

ISBN: 978-080702654-0
Publication Date: 2/2/2021
Size:6 x 9
Price:  $25.95
Format: Cloth
Not Yet Published
Will Ship On: February 2021
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