Race and the Politics of Deception

The Making of an American City

208 pages

4 maps, 15 b/w photos, and 2 figures

January, 2017

ISBN: 9781479866090



Add to Cart Available: 12/9/2016

Also available in


Christopher Mele is an urban sociologist at the University at Buffalo. He is the author or editor of several books, including Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate, and Resistance in New York City.

All books by Christopher Mele

What is the relationship between race and space, and how do racial politics inform the organization and development of urban locales?
In Race and the Politics of Deception, Christopher Mele unpacks America’s history of dealing with racial problems through the inequitable use of public space.  Mele focuses on Chester, Pennsylvania—a small city comprised of primarily low-income, black residents, roughly twenty miles south of Philadelphia.  Like many cities throughout the United States, Chester is experiencing post-industrial decline.  A development plan touted as a way to “save” the city, proposes to turn one section into a desirable waterfront destination, while leaving the rest of the struggling residents in fractured communities.  Dividing the city into spaces of tourism and consumption versus the everyday spaces of low-income residents, Mele argues, segregates the community by creating a racialized divide.  While these development plans are described as socially inclusive and economically revitalizing, Mele asserts that political leaders and real estate developers intentionally exclude certain types of people—most often, low-income people of color.
Race and the Politics of Deception provides a revealing look at how our ever-changing landscape is being strategically divided along lines of class and race.


  • "Race and the Politics of Deception is a classic study which painstakingly details cities development and demise alongside their being inextricably tied to race and space. Mele's relational approach outlining contemporary urban social life—deindustrialization, globalization, and continued structural inequality—adds to the social history of cities and the structural inequality plaguing American cities and their residents. A great read!"

    —Marlese Durr, co-editor of Race, Work, and Family in the Lives of African Americans

  • “A warning to all who think they fully understand the forces that created white suburbs and poor inner cities—you do not, and you need to read this book! It makes a compelling argument, backed up with detailed data, on how the politicians, business leaders, and developers in a typical American city manipulated race to their own ends—namely profit, not redevelopment. This book is a fascinating and often disturbing look at how racial inequality shapes urban America.”

    —Nancy Denton, co-author of American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

  • "A strength of the book is a good number of concrete accounts of how the local politics of urban development is consistently and strategically anchored in the ideologies and rhetoric of race."


  • "The first impression you get when reading Race and the Politics of Deception is the feeling that you’re reading a literary work . . . Mele’s easy-going and fluid treatment of tricky concepts, like color-blindness, post-raciality, and blockbusting, to name a few, renders them accessible to a wider audience, thus making the reading process even more enjoyable."​

    —Elyes Hanafi, Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography

  • "By not only recounting a tale of past racism and urban development, but examining how a ‘new’ racism inscribes an old white supremacy onto the boneyards of contemporary spaces of exploitation, Mele neatly explains how contemporary white supremacy—not the Donald Trump alt-right kind, but the Hillary Clinton/Paul Ryan neoliberal marketized brand—will continue to haunt us all."

    —Corey Dolgon, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

  • "Race and the Politics of Deception makes a strong contribution to urban studies in exploring the dynamics of urban change within broader contexts of racial and historical inequity. Its nuanced analyses of the historical, local politics of Chester would be a fantastic teaching resource in history, urban studies, and sociology departments alike. In particular, the text serves as a prime teaching tool for historical methodologies that seek to explore race and racial politics."

    —Tali Ziv, City & Society

  • "Mele weaves an engaging, coherent, and persuasive story of racial politics from beginning to end. The book uncovers perverse path-dependent patterns of racial segregation that originated in a much earlier historical period, but that are both persistent and difficult to change."

    —Daniel T. Lichter, American Journal of Sociology

  • "What distinguishes Mele's telling from similar accounts of other cities is his focus on the agency and intentionality of urban elites and other members of the local Republican Political Machine in Chester. He uses the term race strategies to describe the strategic deployment of racial stereotypes, stigmatization, scapegoating, and color-blind ideology as a means of stirring racial animus, diverting attention from political corruption, or justifying neoliberal development policies."

    —Steven Tuttle, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

  • "Mele’s book paints a compelling picture of the Republican political 'machine' that dominated local, county and state politics . . .  He has demonstrated how business, politics and crime are seamlessly integrated into the body politic, making them often indistinguishable from one another. . . . As demonstrated by this book, urban ethnography, when undertaken with the care and skill that Mele brings to the subject matter, can provide a window into the darkest corners of urban decay."

    —Frederick T. Martens, former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

  • "In our current political moment, Race and the Politics of Deception reminds us exactly how racial deceptions continue to make America unequal, not just unequal American cities. . . . Ultimately, Mele’s careful analysis warns us that the strategic manipulation of race and racist ideologies for profit not only undermines cities like Chester, but poses a growing threat to American democracy itself."

    —Jacob S. Rugh, Contexts

  • “Christopher Mele’s Race and the Politics of Deception provides an interesting and highly readable political and economic history of Chester, Pennsylvania, a small industrial city located in the southeastern corner of the state, between Philadelphia and Wilmington.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • "Race and the Politics of Deception unmasks the brutal, insidious, and predatory politics of a political machine that raped and plundered the City of Chester, Pennsylvania...Mele’s research is rich and substantive."

    Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Book Reviews

  • "Urban America continues to be segregated and unequal. Mele demonstrates that this geography of inequality is deeply rooted in a historical legacy of racially motivated political decisions to maintain economic power and control. He clearly shows us that those claiming race neutrality are playing the game of political deception. For urban development, race, and history scholars, this book is a must-read."

    Contemporary Sociology