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african american studies | american studies | activism

Progressive Dystopia Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco

SAVANNAH SHANGE “By locating the everyday mechanisms of the neoliberal state in a progressive school in San Francisco, Savannah Shange brings the lived experiences of social actors often only talked about as ‘black and brown bodies’ into discussions of the afterlife of slavery. And in so doing, she reveals the fissures in Afropessimism and critical anthropology. Progressive Dystopia is scholarship at its finest and an essential contribution.” —AIMEE MEREDITH COX, author of Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship

San Francisco is the endgame of gentrification, where racialized displacement means that the Black population of the city hovers just over 3 percent. The “Robeson Justice Academy” opened to serve the few remaining low-income neighborhoods of the city, with the mission of offering liberatory, social justice–themed education to youth of color. While it features a progressive curriculum where students read Frantz Fanon and Audre Lorde, the majority Latinx school also has the district’s highest suspension rates for Black students. In Progressive Dystopia Savannah Shange explores the potential for reconciling the school’s marginalization of Black students with its sincere pursuit of multiracial uplift and solidarity. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and six years of experience teaching at the school, Shange outlines how the school fails its students and the community because it operates within a space predicated on antiblackness. Seeing San Francisco as a social laboratory for how Black communities survive the end of their worlds, Shange argues for abolition over either revolution or progressive reform as the needed path toward Black freedom.



November 224 pages, 4 illustrations paper, 978-1-4780-0668-8 $25.95/£20.99 cloth, 978-1-4780-0576-6 $99.95/£83.00

From Chapter 7

Like Zahra, Amma, and a few other staff members of color featured in the narrative of this study, I fell out of love with the place I had poured hope into. Gaslit by our revolutionary paramour, we don’t work there anymore. At the same time, most of the staff members of color featured here still make it up the hill every day before 8:00 a.m. . . . One school counselor quit her job at Robeson out of frustration with its inability to live up to its social justice vision, and yet continued to send her own child there because it was the best option in the city for her as a parent. If Robeson is the best-case scenario—and it still fails the basic needs of Black youth and educators in southeast San Francisco—what does that reveal about the political imaginaries that shape social reforms aimed at the democratization of social services like education and health care?

Savannah Shange is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and principal faculty in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


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Duke University Press Fall and Winter 2019 Catalog  

The Fall & Winter 2019 catalog from Duke University Press.

Duke University Press Fall and Winter 2019 Catalog  

The Fall & Winter 2019 catalog from Duke University Press.