Here to Learn Book Club: Education on Race in America discussion

The New Jim Crow Discussion - Main Discussion

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message 1: by Carly (new)

Carly (carlya2z) | 40 comments Mod
Hello all!

I'd really love to hear what you all think of this book. Feel free to add to the discussion either here or on Facebook. I've posted some quotations from the text there that really stood out to me; feel free to use those as a jumping-off point.

I think it's essential to have a book like this that frames race in America, which can often feel like a minefield, from a broad, historical perspective. It helps me assimilate all of my (limited) knowledge about race into one essential idea and see where narratives often get twisted around by those who aren't seeing the struggle as it relates to history and who aren't seeing themselves in those people who once supported slavery and Jim Crow. I think it's really interesting that Alexander insists that these aren't "bad" people. They genuinely think that they behave in ways that benefit this country and themselves; they just aren't seeing (and many refuse to see) the parallels between their views and those that have oppressed African Americans for the entirety of our history.

One of Alexander's points that has been with me since I finished the book a few weeks ago is this:

"Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That's what it means to be black." p.192

This is a really difficult thing to ask oneself. Do I tend to think of African Americans as criminals, even if unconsciously? Do I feel scared or tense or full of pity or superior? What are my basic assumptions about people of color?

I have found that I harbor many assumptions about all kinds of things and people that I don't even realize. What has helped me is to actually write them out on paper. This is gut-wrenching, but it is very necessary - the only way to begin undoing what has been conditioned in me. I still have a long way to go, but I'm really grateful to people like Alexander who insist on making me see.

message 2: by Carly (new)

Carly (carlya2z) | 40 comments Mod

Thank you for your comments! I'm glad this book could allow both of us to consider some things we hadn't before.

Public defenders, especially in Louisiana... it's so bad it's difficult to think about. They're currently in a class-action lawsuit about how bad the situation is and, like you, I'd like to know the factors that went into this and wonder how it's possible to make it better. I wish I had recommendations for you, but if I come across anything, I will let you know!

I'm reading a book now called Race Matters by Cornel West which touches on some of the issues brought up in The New Jim Crow in a different light. He goes further into the idea that much of this criminal behavior is due to what he calls the "nihilistic problem", meaning a crisis of identity and self-love among individuals in black America, and talks about how conservatives vs. liberals think about issues like racialized criminal justice. Mainly that conservatives tend to grab onto the idea that personal responsibility is the only factor (ignoring structural realities) and liberals tend to believe that structures are the only factor (at the expense of personal responsibility). Very good read if you're interested in exploring that direction as well.

Thanks for participating, Kit! I look forward to more discussions.

message 3: by Shana (last edited Apr 04, 2018 09:03AM) (new)

Shana Rothwell | 4 comments I think the New Jim Crow is a very important book and should be required reading for high school and college students. Michelle Alexander conducts meaningful research and provides the historical context to back up her legitimate claim that slavery shifted to Jim Crow which has now shifted to incarceration. Anyone who cares about race relations or criminal justice needs to read it.

I was in law school when I read it, and still I learned so much! It is a lot of information to digest. She illustrates how black, brown, and poor people are discriminated against throughout each and every stage of the criminal justice system. She takes on this huge societal problem and how it has developed over generations.

I've found it difficult to find others who emphasize with so-called criminals and most people just outright dismiss the opinions, views, rights of anyone with a felony conviction. She highlights how this has been used by the media, politicians, government, etc. to discriminate against groups of people. I can't stress enough how important this book is!

message 4: by Carly (new)

Carly (carlya2z) | 40 comments Mod
Thank you Shana!

I totally agree. I hope this book, along with the high-profile documentary 13th, raises our overall consciousness enough that change is quickly inevitable.

In my American experience, we have such a dreadful sense that those who are behind bars aren't even human. Which of course leaves us with no responsibility to fix the issues. I wonder what matter of urgency has to happen before this is seen for what it is and before it is fixed.

message 5: by Shana (new)

Shana Rothwell | 4 comments Yes, after reading the book that was something I thought about a lot. How can this generation get people to care about those behind bars? During the civil rights movement, the leaders knew that the only way to get people to care about so called Negroes was for them to actually see the mistreatment going on. The movement was so successful because of television and it's kind of like the boom of social media. Suddenly we can see all the unfairness happening in this country and abroad.

The only problem is people are afraid of criminals and that they'll be victimized if they side with criminals. A lot of that fear is racial. I don't know but my best idea is that poor people need better representation. Maybe if we provide more access to better legal resources, things will get better. The public defender office is way too underfunded and overworked. With all the money made from the courts through court fees, you'd think more money would be going to PD's but not so. I would love to see non-profit law firms with quality lawyers across the nation.

message 6: by Carly (new)

Carly (carlya2z) | 40 comments Mod
I think you're right, Shana.

Since there's also a stigma against poor people (i.e., it's their own fault for being poor, so why should we provide resources?), I can't imagine our PDs getting better funded. It's not sexy enough. There's not enough associated rage.

I think the change would have to come from the private sector. There are of course many nonprofits doing excellent work in this area, but they're generally so overworked and facing such a giant, difficult, apathetic system, I'm not sure to what extent they could affect a sea change. The banner needs to be taken up by someone/something with deep pockets and major influence.

The problem, though, in addition to the ones you mentioned, is that there are so many other issues now taking up people's rage that are front and center: gun control, #metoo, the murdering of unarmed people of color by police. They're all seen as separate issues even though, as Alexander points out, so much of it is related. So we feel like there is so much to be outraged about that it's too exhausting and we turn off.

At least in these issues, we have the video evidence, the passionate testimonies, the protests, the savvy to band together over a hashtag. When convicted individuals are released, their voices are suppressed, their lives are mitigated, their resources are desperately limited. People have forgotten about them, and many feel (and are) so isolated that making a movement out of it must seem a long shot.

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