The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America

Regular price $ 29.95

by Lawrence T. Brown

John Hopkins University Press

1/26/2021, hardcover

SKU: 9781421439877


How can American cities promote racial equity, end redlining, and reverse the damaging health -- and wealth-related effects of segregation?

The world gasped in April 2015 as Baltimore erupted and Black Lives Matter activists, incensed by Freddie Gray's brutal death in police custody, shut down highways and marched on city streets. In The Black Butterfly -- a reference to the fact that Baltimore's majority-Black population spreads out on both sides of the coveted strip of real estate running down the center of the city like a butterfly's wings -- Lawrence T. Brown reveals that ongoing historical trauma caused by a combination of policies, practices, systems, and budgets is at the root of uprisings and crises in hypersegregated cities around the country.

Putting Baltimore under a microscope, Brown looks closely at the causes of segregation, many of which exist in current legislation and regulatory policy despite the common belief that overtly racist policies are a thing of the past. Drawing on social science research, policy analysis, and archival materials, Brown reveals the long history of racial segregation's impact on health, from toxic pollution to police brutality. Beginning with an analysis of the current political moment, Brown delves into how Baltimore's history influenced actions in sister cities like St. Louis and Cleveland, as well as its adoption of increasingly oppressive techniques from cities like Chicago.

But there is reason to hope. Throughout the book, Brown offers a clear five-step plan for activists, nonprofits, and public officials to achieve racial equity. Not content to simply describe and decry urban problems, Brown offers up a wide range of innovative solutions to help heal and restore redlined Black neighborhoods, including municipal reparations. Persuasively arguing that because urban apartheid was intentionally erected it can be intentionally dismantled, The Black Butterfly demonstrates that America cannot reflect that Black lives matter until we see how Black neighborhoods matter.


"The Black Butterfly dissects American apartheid with unflinching precision and poignancy, weaving together fresh historical accounts with undiluted analysis of our present moment. Coupling diagnosis with prescription, this book provides readers with the necessary tools to dismantle spatial inequity and develop policies and practices for thriving Black neighborhoods and communities!" -- Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University, author of Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code

"Describing the myriad policies that have created the crises of apartheid in Baltimore, this book analyzes the dilemma of African Americans living in hypersegregated cities while proposing new solutions. A highly original, excellently written work, The Black Butterfly will appeal to urban studies scholars, anyone involved in Black studies, and policymakers at many levels. I have the highest regard for Dr. Brown; his broad understanding of urban policy and its outcomes for the health of Baltimore, especially its Black population, is refreshing and important." -- Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, The New School, coauthor of From Enforcers to Guardians: A Public Health Primer on Ending Police Violence

About the Author:

Lawrence T. Brown is the founder and director of the Black Butterfly Project, a racial equity education and consulting firm in Baltimore City. From 2013-2019, he served as an assistant and associate professor at Morgan State University in the School of Community Health and Policy, where he launched the #BmoreLeadFree initiative. In 2020, he directed the US COVID Atlas work and response for the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program in partnership with the University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science.