Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) - Columbus, OH discussion

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
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JAN/FEB - The New Jim Crow > Introduction & Chapter 1 Discussion Thread

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message 1: by SURJ (last edited Jan 12, 2018 10:27AM) (new)

SURJ Columbus | 19 comments Mod
Welcome to our first book discussion! This is a new process, so we can tweak it as we find what works. To maintain flexibility, read the book at your own pace, and come back to our discussion board to pose questions and respond to others as you make your way through the book. I've decided that to keep things organized, it may be best to create separate discussion threads for each set of chapters.

To just start us off, here are some potential discussion questions that may help prompt you in your comments, but feel free to discuss whatever you want! I will be reading the book alongside all of you, so these are just questions that I've found online:

Intro & Chapter 1 Questions:
1. What reasons would you have for deciding that the increase in the rate of incarceration reflects the racism in US society?

2. What strategies have wealthier whites used to divide poor whites from African Americans in the past and in the present?

3. How do you feel about describing mass incarceration as a caste
system? What might it mean for a nation to be home to a caste-like system while claiming democracy as its foundation?


Caitlyn (catalina245) | 8 comments There was so much to unpack in these two chapters. I took notes on a Google Doc while I was reading, and I ended up taking 6 pages of notes!

I think the main thing that really stuck out to me and provided that "aha!" moment was the pattern that Alexander explains throughout chapter 2 of the institution of a (racialized) system of control, the collapse of said system followed by a period of confusion and transition in which a new means of control is sought out, the intensification of racial backlash, and finally a new form of racialized control takes hold. Most interesting to me was the fact that a crucial part of each cycle of this pattern was that at a certain point, poor whites and blacks united against the elite, and race was then used as a wedge to keep blacks on the bottom while also maintaining the economic status quo.

I have long known of President Johnson's infamous quote, "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." This always rung true to me, but I never realized how prevalent throughout history this concept actually was and how important this realization was to wealthy whites in maintaining their economic and racial status.

What this pattern proves to me is that in order for us to ever truly see racial justice, we also need to fight for economic justice and bring poor whites into the conversation -- even those who don't tend to stand with us on racial issues. In some ways, this feels frustrating. Why should we have to spend time bringing people into the conversation who may hold racial views that are antithetical to what we are fighting for? However, it is important to remember that no matter how vile and inexcusable those views are, they are often born and bred out of fear -- fear that is stoked by the elite "powers that be" who purposely stoke that fear in order to keep ALL of us in line. If we can get poor and working class whites on our side by exposing the wizard behind the curtain, we are much more likely to create a true social revolution in which our entire power system (including systems of both racialized and economic control) can be overturned.

If anything, Chapter 1 helped me realize how important the work being done by SURJ actually is as a means of reaching out to and calling in white people to the movement for justice. Alexander's examples showed that movements are truly powerful -- and threatening to the power structure -- when people of all races are united. So it makes me even more excited to do this work, and to help bring more and more individuals from all backgrounds into the movement.

Another question that I'll pose to you all, and that I'd like to continue thinking on: In what ways do we see wedges being driven between poor/working class whites and POC today? One example I'm thinking of is the crackdown on immigration and the intense focus and sensationalization of crime committed by illegal immigrants (when stats show that immigrants are actually on the whole LESS likely to commit crime).

What other examples can you think of?


message 3: by Edie (new) - added it

Edie Driskill (emdriskill) | 3 comments The biggest reaction I had to this chapter was her use of the word :caste:. I have read most of these concepts discussed and expanded on in a couple dozen books and a few movies. I can`t recall the term being used with the emphasis that she is using it. It helped me think of all people oppressed by racist policies as one group, regardless of race. I wondered why it didn't stick with other authors. Was it too accurate? Or maybe to antiquated a term?


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