Khalil Gibran Muhammad is a professor of history, race, and public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. He is a former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library and the world’s leading library and archive of global black history, and a former associate professor at Indiana University. Muhammad's scholarship examines the broad intersections of race, democracy, inequality, and criminal justice in modern U.S. history. He is a contributor to a 2014 National Research Council study, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, and is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (2010), which won the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Prize. Much of his work has been featured in national print and broadcast media outlets, including the New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, National Public Radio, Moyers and Company, and msnbc. He has appeared in a number of feature-length documentaries, including Slavery by Another Name (2012) and the Oscar-nominated 13th (2016). He has been an associate editor of the Journal of American History and an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice. In 2017, he received the Distinguished Service Medal from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He currently serves on the boards of the Museum of Modern Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Vera Institute, and The Nation magazine, and on the advisory boards of the Cure Violence, The HistoryMakers, and the Lapidus Center for the Study of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center.
Well known are the bleak statistics of incarceration that make America the world’s leading jailer. Racial disparities frame much of the debate about the disproportionate impact of police and prisons on black and brown lives and increasingly poor, rural whites. How does history inform our present moment and help guide us to a greater cultural understanding of how we think about crime and punishment? Are we unwittingly repeating mistakes from the past? How are we supposed to balance individual accountability with social responsibility? By taking the long view, this talk reveals how so much of what defines the crisis of mass incarceration today are rooted in a set of old ideas. And that the solution to today’s problems also grow out of our examples from our history.