Progressive Dystopia

Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: November 2019

Author: Savannah Shange

Subjects
African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology, Critical Ethnic Studies

San Francisco is the endgame of gentrification, where racialized displacement means that the Black population of the city hovers at 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 including 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 revolution or progressive reform as the needed path toward Black freedom.

Praise

"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

“Who's afraid of dystopia? Not Savannah Shange, whose provocative and audacious book exposes ‘progressive’ multiracial social justice initiatives for what they are: a golden noose. ‘Winning,’ she argues, does not disrupt state logics of captivity, containment, accumulation, and antiblackness. And fighting for utopias yet to be without attending to the dystopian present that is for the folks trapped in this ongoing settler-colonial catastrophe will not make us free. Instead, Shange applies an abolitionist frame to reveal how Black and Brown kids who defy their saviors, disrupt liberal teleologies, and map new territory make the road toward freedom by walking, talking, dancing, fighting, and thinking. Unsettling, persuasive, and beautiful, Progressive Dystopia is one of those rare books that will make you rethink everything.” — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“At the center of Savannah Shange's powerful analysis in progressive dystopia: abolition, anthropology, and race in the new San Francisco are the multiple and seemingly conflicting forces brought to bear on the Black girls and boys who attend the Robeson Justice Academy in the contested space that makes up Frisco. Shange theorizes a set of ‘common sense’ ‘progressive’ logics that reproduce the carceral—what she names progressive dystopia and carceral progressivism—and then the willful defiance that characterizes the refusals and political demands of the Black girl students, in particular, who refuse to bear and internalize what Hartman names as ‘burdened individualism.’ This is a profoundly important book.” — Christina Sharpe, author of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being

"Progressive Dystopia is a discerning and devoted read for scholars interested in progressive politics, studies of statecraft, and abolitionist approaches to combating anti-Blackness. Shange’s work is a powerful project with serious ramifications for scholars across many fields of study." — Julio Alicea, Antipode

"[Progressive Dystopia] is radically different from other school ethnographies. ... Shange operates in a different discursive universe. ... [It] is one of the most ambitious ethnographies I have read: it creates new territory for what to do with and through ethnography. It is a decolonizing act." — Annegret Staiger, Anthropological Quarterly

“In her pathbreaking first book, Savannah Shange calls for an abolitionist anthropology that begins at the end of the world, with what Black folks teach us about how to survive the apocalypse…. This text will benefit a variety of readers. Undergraduates can learn from thorough readings of the Black anthropological canon and germinal Black studies scholarship. Graduate students will benefit from the model of abolitionist anthropology as ethic and methodology and ethnographic research that is at once agile, grounded, and accountable. It will also be of use to educators, activists, and anyone working within, against, and beyond the state in the service of Black lives.” — Amelia Simone Herbert, Transforming Anthropology

"Progressive Dystopia casts an honest light on the realities of progressive educational initiatives based around social and racial justice. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the complexities and limitations of anti-racist efforts in the age of neoliberalism, and especially anyone with an interest in anti-racist or social-justice education.… This book would also be valuable to anyone interested in qualitative research, and particularly as an example of participant observation in an educational setting."

— Amy Ernestes, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"It is never enough to persist within the oppressive landscapes we are given without committing to dismantling them. In mission and methodology, Shange offers us an abolitionist anthropology from which to conceive and commit to the liberation of Black life." — Diana Gamez & Janelle Levy, Other Education

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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
1. #OurLivesMatter: Mapping an Abolitionist Anthropology  1
2. "A Long History of Seeing": Historicizing the Progressive Dystopia  22
3. "Why Can't We Learn African?": Academic Pathways, Coalition Pedagogy, and the Demands of Abolition  44
4. The Kids in the Hall: Space and Governance in Frisco's Plantation Futures  66
5. Ordinary Departures: Flesh, Bodies, and Border Management at Robeson  92
6. Black Skin, Brown Masks: Carceral Progressivism and the Co-optation of Xicanx Nationalism  123
7. My Afterlife Got Afterlives  151
Appendix  161
Notes  169
References  183
Index  201
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Co-Winner of the 2020 Gregory Bateson Prize, presented by the Society for Cultural Anthropology


Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0668-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0576-6
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