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

Product Code: 8916
ISBN: 9780807055533
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Beacon Press
Pages: 184
Published Date: 02/08/2022
Availability:In stock
Price: $16.95

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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Civility Has Never Been Neutral in Its Uses and Impacts

Civility Distracts from Inequality

Civic Radicals Make Do with What They Have

Civic Radicals Speak Truth to Power

Civic Radicals Believe Racism Is Structural Rather Than Personal

Civility Is Deployed When Democratic Movements Are on the Rise and Reactionaries Are on the Ropes


“Progressives will be galvanized by this urgent and incisive call for a stiffer resistance to the status quo.” - Publishers Weekly

“An impassioned argument for public acts of resistance.” - Kirkus Reviews

“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

“At a time of national debate about the history and ongoing reality of American racism, Alex Zamalin reminds us of an important truth: while politeness may be a virtue, speaking out against injustice is the more overriding imperative. This short but powerful book, vigorously and vividly written, is both a capsule account of a long struggle for racial equality too often erased in mainstream narratives and an inspirational call for a new multiracial democracy.” - Charles W. Mills, author of The Racial Contract

“Over the past several years, ‘civility’ has become a keyword of sorts, used as a cudgel to promote the idea that respectful dialogue offers the best way through this moment. Against Civility is a refreshing tonic that urges otherwise.” - Lester Spence, professor of political science and Africana studies, Johns Hopkins

“Alex Zamalin’s Against Civility offers an insightful, cogent analysis of democracy’s racism and decay with scholarship that emphasizes the collective struggle for justice through civic radicalism. Writing against pleasantries that gloss over pandemics of violence and disposability, Zamalin charts the historical, political, and spiritual trajectories of civic radicalism to counter repression. This is vital reading.” - Joy James, author of Seeking the “Beloved Community”

Against Civility powerfully reveals how civil discourse has been weaponized throughout history to undermine anti-racism, bolster white supremacy, and oppress marginalized people. Alex Zamalin’s timely call for civic radicalism inspires and educates us all with the stories of freedom fighters, artists, scholars, and activists who disregarded respectability politics to mobilize for human rights and freedoms. Essential reading.” - Crystal Marie Fleming, PhD, professor of sociology and author of How to Be Less Stupid About Race

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