The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I wish every 16 year old Black teen in America was mandated to read this book. Let me tell you why:
Michelle Alexander is a lawyer who previously directed the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. In this book, she unleashes tons of of research not just to cover the prison industrial complex, but to cover what happens from the very start to get so many Black men there. Starting from the War on Drugs, the mass incentives given to police departments to lock up as many people as possible, the tactics used to arrest as many Black people as possible, the court cases that made such tactics legal, the stats that illustrate how Black men are disproportionately targeted for crimes that white men commit in much higher numbers, the people and industries who benefit from the high numbers of black men and women in prison, the long lasting effects of prison (no voting, little access to aid in education and social welfare, break down of family and community) which create a revolving door back to prison, and how and why she believes the prison system is the legalized way to put Black people back in the position that so many of our grandparents dealt with in the times of Jim Crow in the South.
Much of the info is eye opening and will make the most dedicated American reconsider their loyalties. I kind of already knew some of what she shared, but not all. The truths in this book made me so angry that it took nearly three months for me to complete, but it was also helpful in better understanding the conditions that have led to so many Black men behind bars. She also gives the information in a way that keeps the reader very engaged, so that even though it is filled mainly with politics, law, and history, it was still extremely interesting.
I feel like if people knew the information in this book, they would do better. Period.
I’d recommend this to those interested in American history, Black history, the American justice system, American law enforcement, racial profiling, the history and effects of the prison industrial complex, and the history of the War on Drugs.
Open City by Teju Cole
Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past.
But it is not only a physical landscape he covers; Julius crisscrosses social territory as well, encountering people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.
Teju Cole is a very smart, articulate writer. I am fascinated by how his mind works. Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this novel. It is very literary, and though I am wont to enjoy books that fall into this genre of fiction, this story was more dull than interesting, which caused me to fight through to the very end.
Cole is extremely descriptive, giving a massive amount of history and other intricate details about the architecture that Julian encounters during his daily walks. The people that he meets along the way are treated with a similar kind of dignity, like relics and landmarks whose circumstances and actions must be explained, even if it has nothing to do with the actual point of the story. This book is definitely a written portrait of the human condition, with Julian meeting people from all walks of life, various cultures and countries, and sharing how their interactions affect him.
Julian came across more dull than his acquaintances, though, which made it very hard to enjoy the book. I can hate or have disdain for a main character, but being bored by him is torturous. Cole made up for it with the smart and slightly humorous minor characters scattered throughout the book.
I’d recommend this for those who have a deep affection for literary fiction.
“What if we lived here together” is what I wanted to ask kinda loudly over the Roberta Flack playing at the end of Waiting To Exhale. I sat quietly, facing David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, wondering if now was a good time to read it. I want to speak to her about coming into this space. She’s already occupying so much of my time. So much of everything that pulses hard. Starting a book now isn’t the smartest idea. Asking her to bring her books to my bookshelf is important. It’s worth throwing away that extra copy of Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends, making Post-Blackness, The Browder Files, and the magazines Niema gave me vertical. There’s space here. There’s a man here who believes children could run through the house dirtying up everything as long as they know how to clean. And she’s smiling, believing the four women she’s watching ended on a happy note. I don’t have the guts to tell her about what Johnny said was going to happen in part two.
“I,” I start, and she turns to look at my lips moving, rehearsing for some grand proposal. “I think it’d be good idea if you brought a few books over and left them on my shelf.” I’m a writer, and this is as good as it gets. She didn’t need a ring, just the ability to borrow a bookmark whenever she needed, or unwritten or unspoken permission to take my copy of Cecil Brown’s The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger with the original cover. “You gonna clear off space for me? What about the bedroom,” asked liked a woman who learned from a mother who probably loved men who spoke in circles. “There’s space there too,” I said, being a man who hates squares.
As we do every year, my book club met in June for a coed meeting to discuss a books based on a gender related topic. This year, we chose We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, bell hooks ode to Black men in America.
hooks took us on a journey through American history while explaining the whos, whats, whens, and whys surrounding the lack of direction and responsibility within the Black community. She explains how the introduction of white male patriarchy was extremely damaging to African men brought to America in shackles because they were bombarded by the image of men taking financial care of their families, while being members of a society that would not allow them to due so because of their status as slaves. With the abolition of slavery, came the black codes, KKK, segregation, and other discriminatory practices that prevented Black men from fitting into the American definition of “man”. Left to do little or nothing for their families, many have turned to either lives of crime or laziness, relying on the women in their lives to be responsible for Black households.
Very interesting stuff. Due to my background in Black/African American studies I was aware of much of the information shared, but it was still eye opening to read hooks’ point of view and review her research.
The book was extremely textbook-ish though, so many within the book club complained about it being boring and a lot of people gave up on it. I admit that after the first few chapters, I felt like something was missing. I kind of expected to read of the “cool” of Black men, how and why they are envied, where it originated from and what aesthetically and culturally makes them so cool, but the book seemed to solely rely on explaining why Black men have not been able to be the best they can be; their coolness resulting in them being treated like second class citizens. Nothing is wrong with that kind of subject matter, but the title seems to be a bit misleading.
Regardless, the book discussion resulted in a raucous, sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious discussion between the men and women within our group. Throw in BBQ, other good eats, and Tropical Orgasms (our signature drink) and a great time was had by all.