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Confronting the North’s South: On Race and Violence in the United States

Elliot Currie

More than any other ‘Northern’ country, the United States is distinctive in the degree to which its social, economic, and cultural development has been entwined with the global South from the beginning: and we cannot adequately understand the state of crime and punishment in the US without taking that uniquely ‘Southern’ history into account. In this paper, I sketch some of the dimensions of one crucial reflection of that Southern legacy: the extraordinary racial disparities in the experience of violent death between African-Americans and Whites. These disparities contribute substantially to radically different patterns of life and death between the races, and constitute a genuine social and public health emergency. But their structural roots remain largely unaddressed; and in some respects, the prospects for seriously confronting these fundamental inequalities may be receding.