An exploration of the keyword “riot” reveals a phenomenon that grapples with the nexus of race, class, violence, space, power, and resistance. Attempts to define “riot” are often overtaken by efforts to scapegoat people at the center of a given confrontation. Frequently, the dominant question bandied about by popular media after a riot is “why are they destroying their own communities?” This question typifies much of the fuzzy thinking related to defining a riot—­a focus on the reactions of aggrieved communities, rather than the dynamics that provide the backdrop for the disruption itself. An analysis of the term points the way toward a clearer definition, one grounded in historical context and responsive to new theoretical interventions.

Riots in the early twentieth century were defined largely by white-­on-­black violence that occurred in the wake of significant shifts in American society (Abu Lughod 2012). Regrettably, much of the scholarship produced during this …

This essay may be found on page 179 of the printed volume.

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