Tag Archives: racism

BOOK REVIEW: THE NEW JIM CROW Reviewed by Alan Berndt-Dreyer

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York: The New Press, 2010 and 2012). Xvii and 312.

Reviewed by Alan Berndt-Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

It has been a long journey for me from the rural, yet diverse community of Western Nebraska to the streets of the Harambee neighborhood in Milwaukee and back to seminary. Along the way I have had the opportunity to encounter races other than my own and more importantly, my own aversion to defining race that has led to colorblindness. This colorblindness has not been helpful for me or for others.  Through the course of living a year in a predominately African American neighborhood I have seen the effects of my and the nation’s colorblindness in helping to create and maintain, as the author rightly calls it, a racial caste system.

Through her book, Michelle Alexander lays out argument after argument, fact after fact, to support her thesis: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Alexander points to the very same constitutional amendment that abolished slavery as the one that allows the one who is a criminal to be a slave to the state. As we know; one must pay their debt to society.  Just 110 years after the emancipation proclamation and a decade after a successful civil rights movement, the start of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration moved in to redefine racial minorities, particularly African Americans, in terms of being a criminal. Being labeled a criminal puts every obstacle in the way  of reintegration into society. Who wants to argue on behalf of one labeled a criminal?

Michelle Alexander successfully argues that this “New Jim Crow” has been created through the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was started by President Ronald Reagan on the verge of seeing penal prisons on their way out.  The War on Drugs systemically has given police in our country the legal right to racially profile along with the financial incentives to do so. Moreover, prosecutors have incentive to pick all-white juries, as well as try to bring as many charges as possible against people of color. Though drug use and sales are equal across the races in America, blacks and browns are targeted unfairly, but legally, through many cases judged by the Supreme Court to be constitutional. Furthermore, drugs that are common to those who are white carry a much lighter sentence than those more common to those who are black. These are just a few of the hundreds of cases and examples that she brings forward to support her case.

Though Alexander’s book is devastating in example after example of racial discrimination and the effects of that discrimination, she remains hopeful and determined that this new racial caste system should and will fall. The core of the book comes not in the first five chapters where she builds the case that a new racial caste has been created, but in the final chapter where she addresses colorblindness. Colorblindness to an issue doesn’t mean that the issue isn’t there. As we are made aware of the issues of race that still pervade our society and will continue to as sinful human institutions it becomes clear that colorblindness to racial disparities equals endorsement. It becomes increasingly important to focus on race, not because we want to endorse racism, but because race is a factor in how a person is treated. It is a responsibility that a person act on behalf of brothers and sisters who are put most at odds with society. By naming the evil in our society, even if that means giving up our illusion of a colorblind society that has moved past racism, we are able to continuously be concerned with those who are often positioned as the least. By becoming aware of our false colorblindness we are able to discuss frankly the welfare of not only our neighbors, but ourselves as well. We are all affected when one is affected. This is the crux of the book and the hope that this new Jim Crow will be the last.

FREEDOM TO LOVE AS GOD LOVES by Lynn Robinson, WTS, 2012

 As a sixth grader I stood in front of the 12th stop in the cycle of the Stations of the Cross. It was a time to reflect and commemorate the death and life of Christ standing at each station. As a sixth grader I was already experiencing the joys and sorrows, the anguish and grief of life: abandonment, abuse, hunger and thirst.  I felt compelled to stop and look at Jesus hanging on the cross: nails in hands and feet and crown of thorns.

 God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son. I thought, “God, if this is true, if you are real and are who they say you are, and if you possess such love, then I want to know it. God I want to know that I am included in that love.” And as I prayed I felt a strong inward response saying, “I am real and you will know me. I love you and you will tell others about me.”

 Crowds followed: the despised ones, those kicked around by the nations, laborers enslaved because of the demands of the ruling class. Looking around in the world today, the crowds could be made up of those who are marginalized, oppressed, hated, homeless, victims of genocide, victims of racism and classism, a woman who might soon be beaten to death in her home, the hungry, the poor, the grieving families who’ve suffered loss of loved ones in the name of country, in the name of  self-preservation; those in the wilderness between Mexico and the United States; those standing their ground; those on the ground; the politically correct, the high, middle and low on the economic ladder. Can it be said that all want to see Jesus?

 But Jesus said, “Time’s up.” The time had come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. The continuous, unlimited power to draw us through this present world and on into eternity comes from Jesus laying down his life for us. No one could take it from him.

 In spite of the conditions of the world and the crowds’ context, the death of Jesus, the true light which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. The ones who believe need not walk in the power of the world, living in darkness. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overtake it. In the death of Christ the believing ones can have communion and fellowship with God in Christ and be children of light for themselves and for the world.

 In the language of liberation theology: the inexplicable, reprehensible, oppressive spirit of racism, classism and gender inequality is no longer empowered to determine voice, identity or station of persons. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Living according to the world’s expectations, the world’s vision and the world’s way of doing things destroys life. We are called to be countercultural. Loving the world as God loves the world, in Christ reconciling the world in love, is a reckless counterculture love. It is eternal.

 Christ, lifted and crucified will never stop drawing us in because God in Christ has reconciled all to God’s self. It is finished. It is complete. Walking in darkness means our vision is restricted to that darkness.  We serve God in Christ when we follow after Jesus in love.  God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

 There will be many occasions where conditions in the world trouble the soul but the believing ones continue to walk in the light of liberty and freedom.  In the world there is the darkness of isolation, abandonment, marginalization and compartmentalization, mistreatment and misunderstanding, and yet none of these conditions inhibit the love of God in Christ or relationship with God in Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ there is freedom to love one another just as God in Christ has loved us.