Books By Women: The New Jim Crow

For anyone interested in racial justice, this nonfiction book is a must read. Michelle Alexander writes an academic and accessible text on how the American prison system is the new form of racial segregation and control, targeting mainly black and brown men. She argues that the prison industrial complex is the new Jim Crow.

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I first read this book last December and with every page I was floored by own ignorance. Of course, I was vaguely aware of NYC’s “stop and frisk” laws and racial profiling, but from my privileged position as a white-passing young woman from suburban Connecticut, the experiences of those convicted as felons (often for petty drug crimes) was an alternate reality. The brutality of dystopian governments and police was happening in the neighborhood bordering mine, not just within the pages of fiction I read. That’s the thing about this book: it puts together the dots in a way that is instantly clear and leaves you wondering, How was I ever so blind? I know there is still so much more for to learn.

The second time I read this book, was in the past few months, reading the text with junior and seniors in high school. This is probably what makes Alexander’s text even more of a game changer in how we talk about race and racial justice: it’s accessible. She breaks down the complexities of the legal system without dumbing them down. She explains the history of SWAT teams, the War on Drugs and how police make their arrests and receive their funding. She digs into the root causes of the imprisonment of young men of color and you learn something with ever page. People who have a greater background in racial justice can still benefit from the clarity and precision of her argument.

I wish this book were written today. It would have been a very different book, or at least a book that included information on the murders of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Sandra Bland to name a few. She might have included information on die-ins and Black Lives Matter. But maybe not. It may have been outside the scope of her research at the time. Hopefully in subsequent editions of the text, she will include a forward or an additional chapter.

One aspect of her work I appreciate the most is her acknowledgment of the areas she does not cover. She tells the reader right from the start that this book focuses on the incarceration of men of color, though she knows women of color are also suffering.

The book is (obviously) heavy material, but I would recommend it. It’s a necessary read for necessary conversations Americans need to start having about race, segregation and incarceration.

Keep reading. Even when it’s hard and even when you’re challenged and floored by ideas, keep reading. Next up The Terrorists of Irustan. 

Honor the Dead Don’t Honor the War

Every year for Memorial Day my family would march down our street set up lawn chairs along the main road and watch the Memorial Day Parade. Everyone from the boy scouts, to the girl scouts, to the high school marching band, to the fire department would get to march in the parade.

I didn’t think about it until this year but Memorial Day is a poorly disguised day to honor the glorious tradition of America.   I have family who are veterans and I’m not writing as an excuse to dishonor those who gave their lives. However, it is in terrible taste to create a holiday where everyone is taught to blindly love the wars America has fought.

My whole life, I’ve been told that we’re honoring the dead’s sacrifice for the living so we can have freedom today. But in reality, we’re honoring war. We’re honoring a tradition of white men who fight for some abstract idea of America. What does this even mean? We may have a democracy in theory but how many people actually feel they have a voice and can make change? Although America was founded under the banner of representation, we were never an egalitarian country: the founding fathers wrote up the Constitution to protect the interests of the rich white male. And that is the same interest of most of the wars we’ve fought in since.

I understand that’s a big generalization, but from my experience being taught to be patriotic and uphold the values of American freedom and democracy I’ve found that as we get older we’re never really told the truth. Sure we find out that our founding fathers owned slaves and that the Civil War wasn’t actually fought over slavery, but we turn the wars America has fought in, into an impossible good vs evil struggle. And America is always the good guys.

I once argued with a friend’s boyfriend about America’s involvement in WWII. He told me that if America hadn’t gotten involved the world would have been lost. First, how can you prove this? Second, this is giving America a hero complex. This is completely ignoring the terrible racism America had against Japanese Americans even before the internment camps, ignoring that Pearl Harbor happened because America cut of Japan’s oil supply, and ignoring that America didn’t open our borders to Jews. There is so much more going on here than good vs evil and America’s great altruism to save the world.

It’s a great idea to have a holiday honoring the dead. However, we’re honoring America’s wars instead. We’re honoring the racism inherent in our system which segregated blacks and whites–racism which still affects people of color today. We’re honoring the lie of self determination we fought for in WWII, while America still held onto colonies and continued to racially oppress its own people. We’re honoring the numerous rapes and war crimes of Vietnam.

My home town is majority white and could be the quintessential American suburb: great school system, affluent area, white population. This is reflected in our Memorial Day parade where almost everyone who walks down the main road is white, middle class and raising high the American banner of white supremacy and patriarchy.

If we really wanted to do something for our troops, how about we implement a program where soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not encouraged to be islamophobic and racist. How about we protect the Bradley Mannings of the world instead of imprisoning them as threats to national security? What the women of the armed forces? They are suffering through sexual assault at increasing rates by other American troops. And this is the tradition we are honoring: one of violence against everyone.

This parade I had gone to since I was a child is a facade to further imbed American nationalism. I do not feel comfortable supporting a parade which perpetuates ideas of racism, patriarchy and violence.

By all means, honor the dead, but there are no heroes of war.