David Wilson is Professor of Social and Cultural Geography and a member of the unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an internationally recognized, interdisciplinary scholar and his work has contributed significantly to numerous fields including geography, sociology, urban and regional planning, and political science. Wilson has been a visiting scholar at universities in China, Germany, and Canada. He was recently listed in a global study of urban geographers as the eleventh most productive scholar in this field in the world. He is the author of Inventing Black-On-Black Violence: Discourse, Space, and Representation (2005), Cities and Race: America’s New Black Ghetto (2006), and the co-editor of The Routledge Handbook on Spaces of Urban Politics (2018).

In his lecture, Wilson described the history of the “Black-on-Black violence” discourse in the United States. After 1980, accelerating urban decline, deindustrialization, and the political consequences of the 1970s brought this discourse to the fore of American consciousness. While Wilson did not dispute the fact that from 1980-1984 violence involving Black perpetrators and victims did increase, he argued that this was not surprising: violence rates are known to correlate with poverty rates. This phenomenon could have been called “poverty-stricken youth on poverty-stricken youth violence,” or “disenfranchised youth on disenfranchised youth violence,” or even “youth in deindustrialized space on youth in deindustrialized space violence.” These would emphasize the changing economy, how economic structures benefit some while harming others. But, Wilson argued that by labeling it “Black-on-Black violence,” commenters centred race as the critical variable to understanding violence. While this discourse was new, it was also old: it drew on a long history of ideas about the subculture of poverty, even as it accelerated the demonization of Black poor communities. The discourse coded young Black children, allowing people to know the character of a child by seeing and interpreting their body, how they dress or walk. Discussions of “Black-on-Black violence” was simultaneously about violence and about the world through which we are to understand the violence, bolstering the idea of ‘superpredators’ and ‘welfare queens’ that enabled successive governments to claw back social supports while strengthening the surveillance and discipline of Black populations.

David Wilson delivers his Dunning Trust lecture in February 2011.
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