Available 08/18/2020

N*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the Law

by Jody David Armour

Foreword By Melina Abdullah
Introduction By Larry Krasner

Racialized mass incarceration is not just cell blocks brimming with black bodies. It’s a pervasive and deep-seated way of talking and thinking about morality, law, and politics in matters of blame and punishment; it’s a punitive impulse and retributive urge that runs so strong and deep in most Americans that taming it will take a revolution in consciousness.

Through radical critiques of conventional morality, conventional legal theory, and conventional politics in criminal justice matters, this book fuels this revolution. Drawing on the phenomenon moral philosophers call moral luck, Armour’s book humanizes these most otherized, monsterized criminals by challenging the wide-spread belief that there is a deep and wide moral gulf between “them” and law-abiding, noncriminal, nonviolent “us.” Legally, N*gga Theory roots out where bias lives in the black letter law and adjudication of just deserts; that is, it shows how murderers and other morally condemnable criminals are not merely “found” in criminal trials like discoverable facts of nature, but rather they are socially constructed, often by racially biased prosecutors, judges, and jurors. And politically, Armour both examines and exemplifies the way a transgressive word or symbol, like the troublesome and disreputable N-word itself, can, when wielded with care and precision by critical black writers and artists, signal a sharp rejection of respectability politics, promote political solidarity with the most reviled black criminals, and spark a revolution in consciousness about racialized mass incarceration.

“When Jody Armour invited me to write the foreword, his brilliance, commitment, and deep love for our people took precedent over my own discomfort with the N-word. His work has challenged me to be deeply introspective, to grapple with my identity, my beliefs, and my outward praxis. It has forced me to question and to grow. This volume is not about the word, but about the imposed dichotomy between ‘black people’ and ‘n*****s.’ It is about the strategic and ethical decision to align with n****s, especially when we have the option to be seen as ‘good Negroes’.”  —Melina Abdullah, chair of Pan-African studies, California State University, Los Angeles and co-founder of Black Lives Matter chapter in LA.

“He’s brilliant and a kindred spirit. Amazing.” —Frank Wilderson III, Chair of African American Studies at University of California-Irvine and author of Afropessimism

“This hopeful and aspirational book reminds us to see individuals and their lives, including the details, however unexpected. He lets us see how within his beloved black community the politics of division do sweeping harm that no amount of success can shake.” —Larry Krasner, District Attorney, Philadelphia


About The Authors

Jody David Armour is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California. He has been a member of the faculty since 1995. Armour’s expertise ranges from personal injury claims to claims about the relationship between racial justice, criminal justice, and the rule of law. Armour studies the intersection of race and legal decision making as well as torts and tort reform movements.

Melina Abdullah is Professor and former Chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Southern California in Political Science and her B.A. from Howard University in African American Studies. She was appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014 and is a recognized expert on race, gender, class, and social movements. Abdullah is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, with subjects ranging from political coalition building to womanist mothering.