Today’s book, The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander), goes well with yesterday’s book, Just Mercy. It’s a powerful, eye-opening read. In the foreword to the book, Cornel West says, “Once you read it, you have crossed the Rubicon, and there is no return to sleepwalking.”
That’s what so many of these diverse books do for us. They wake us up. And most of us didn’t even know we were asleep.
West also says: “Her subtle analysis shifts our attention from the racial symbol of America’s achievement [electing a black President] to the actual substance of America’s shame: the massive use of state power to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of precious poor, black, male (and, increasingly, female) in the name of a bogus ‘War on Drugs.’ And her nuanced, historical narrative tracing the unconscionable treatment and brutal control of black people–slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration–takes us beneath the political surfaces and lays bare the structures of a racial caste system alive and well in the age of colorblindness.” (p. x)
The more and more and more books I read, the more disturbed I become by the fact that so many of us Americans (white Americans in particular) have listened to, learned about, and believed a historical narrative that has effectively ignored, glossed over, prettied up, lied about what ACTUALLY has been happening in this country over the past 100 (200, 400) years.
It’s a shock to the system when you start learning the truth. But it is so worth it.
The author explains that she has written this book for a very specific audience–people who care deeply about racial justice but might not be aware of “the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration.”
In other words, she says, she’s writing this book for the person she was 10 years ago.
The U.S. has moved from one racial caste system to another over the relatively short time it has been a country. First, slavery. White people owned black people. Then, sharecropping. After slavery “ended,” black people could often find no jobs but to actually go back to work for the people who once owned them. They were technically “free” but made almost no money working the fields and had no way to fight for their rights. Then, segregation. People of color were kept out of basically everywhere. And, if they were allowed in, there were separate lines/entrances/seats for “white” and for “colored.”
And now? Mass incarceration.
“The fact that more than half of the young black men in many large American cities are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not–as many argue–just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work.” (16)
In other words, people of color get pulled over more, arrested more, fined more, imprisoned more. Disproportionate to their crimes.
The facts don’t lie.
If you don’t think you’re up for reading a whole book about this but want to know more, I highly highly recommend Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary, 13th. It’s so powerful.
Here’s the trailer:
(All links are Amazon Associate links.)