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A New Year’s Resolution, discovering the New Jim Crow

I just followed up on a resolution I made for the New Year 2016, and the timing turned out to be very important. It was a resolution that Mark Zuckerberg made for 2015 that strongly influenced my decision. I have wanted to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for a number of years now. The book has been out since 2012. There has been a lot of talk about it in my Quaker community. Then I read about Zuckerberg’s resolution after he visited San Quentin prison last October . His visit was the result of his resolution to read the book earlier in the year. Reading it has led him to the issue of prison reform and the mass incarceration.
Like Zuckerberg, I had a number of books on my “to read” list and wanted to obtain as many as I could from the public library. The other books were easily obtainable, but the waiting list to check out Alexander’s book was months’ long. I could have put a reservation in and waited, but I decided to just keep checking back until a copy was available on the shelf. In June, I was at Pacific Yearly Meeting, a Quaker gathering in Marin County. As at every gathering, my friends Sandy and Tom Farley ran a bookstore they call Earthlight Books. I was actually there to buy another book and decided to include the New Jim Crow in my purchase. I decided I could pass it along to someone else after finishing it.
At the time, I was still recovering from the shock of the horrendous shootings in Orlando that month. I was able to find healing at yearly meeting, as well as at the baseball game I previously blogged about and by attending SF Pride on the last Sunday of the month. On the evening of July 4th, I passed on the opportunity to watch fireworks. Instead, I opened Alexander’s book and started to read. Within a few days, the lives of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille,would be cut short by their encounters with police. I joined a peaceful protest in downtown Oakland on Thursday, sharing pictures on Twitter. It was on Twitter that I read the news coming out of Dallas. Coming away from the protest, I committed myself to finishing that book as soon as possible. I finished reading on Sunday night.
The purpose of this blog entry is to strongly urge everyone to get a copy of The New Jim Crow and read it right away. Whether you find it on the shelf of your local library or bookstore, find it and read it. You will not regret it. In fact, it is imperative that you read it before the November election.
As a white male, I must admit I was a bit skeptical as I read the beginning chapter. I was looking for holes in Alexander’s theory. “Yes, but what about…?” I would keep thinking to myself. Fortunately, Alexander gave a lot of thought to the same concerns. By the end of the book, all of the pieces of the puzzle came together for me. So, if you experience the same skepticism, just keep an open mind and keep reading.
The main focus of the book is the war on drugs and how that war has been selectively fought in the black ghettos. Racism against African Americans did not end with the outlawing of segregation, anymore than it didn’t end with the outlawing of slavery. Instead, it has evolved so not appear so blatant. It hides behind a mask of deniability and preys on our racial biases. While denying explicit bias, it is our implicit bias that subconsciously influences our behavior. An example is the story the late Robert Maynard told when he was the publisher of the Oakland Tribune. Walking the streets of downtown Oakland at night, he noticed that when he encountered groups of white women walking toward him, they would always cross the street and walk on the opposite side. They were fearful of coming in close contact with a black man, even one dressed in a business suit and tie.
Alexander’s most convincing argument is found in the subtitle, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of colorblindness.” It is this illusion of colorblindness that allows the New Jim Crow to perpetuate while appearing to be non-racist. It is this plausible deniability that manifests in very ugly politics. Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin want to convince us that the Black Lives Matter activists are the racists. Donald Trump calls for “Law and Order” just as Nixon did in 1968.
I hope that you will answer this call to make that resolution to yourself. After reading it, I invite you to comment to this blog. I would be happy to start a respectful conversation.

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July 12, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment