On ‘The New Jim Crow’, by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Michelle Alexander is a voice we need to listen to more. Not for pithy soundbites, but for reasoned, careful and critical perspectives on who we are, what our past and present can tell us and where we have gone horribly wrong. It will not be an easy lesson, but it will be a necessary one.

The New Jim Crow isn’t necessarily ‘new’ information to me. It’s clear just by reading the news and examining life in the US today that the unequal treatment of black and brown men by law enforcement and criminal justice systems proliferates. White men commit a crime and are given laughable ‘sentences’, if any sentence is handed down at all (e.g., Brock Turner, Jeffrey Epstein, etc). Black or brown men are accused of committing similar crimes, even if very little or no evidence exists, and given harsh sentences (e.g., Brian Banks). Whilst my own radar tends to pick up and focus more on cases involving sexual assault, the War on Drugs and its tendrils that weed in and out of various parts of society provides far, far too many examples of the uneven application of the law, and sadly the inability of the law to provide justice in many cases.

Mass incarceration stems not from an inherent quality in black and brown communities, but from perceptions and the specific focus placed on those communities by law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Drug use rates have remained relatively steady amongst various sub-groups for decades in the US, whereby white folks tend to use various drugs more (not less) than black and brown populations. Crime rates are tied to poverty, not race, contrary to popular perceptions and media portrayals. Yet, up to 90% of traffic stops in some parts of the US involve cars driven by black men. Law enforcement resources are placed in black and brown communities to ‘police’ for drugs and crime. In areas where both white and black individuals peddle drugs on street corners, blacks are stopped and searched (and ultimately) arrested more than whites. Hence, the perception that communities of colour are involved in more crime, simply because they are stopped more often and at higher rates than whites. It’s a systemic pattern and it has unreal and lasting consequences for those communities already burdened by being poor or less advantaged.

Perhaps one of the more tragic aspects of the War on Drugs is the long-term, lasting consequences for those caught in its web. Once arrested, rather than convicted, job prospects become less likely. Hiring discrimination persists amongst those who have faced charges (not necessarily convictions) related to drugs crimes, often for life. And, this discrimination is not only legal, it may stem from any actual wrongdoing. Public housing, education including acceptance to a university to securing financial aid to attend, social benefits, military service. All of these various means to improve one’s position and escape a cycle of poverty (and ‘crime’) are cut off from those who have sometimes done nothing more than smoke a joint. They are not violent offenders nor are they trafficking or dealing drugs. They have simply been caught with something less dangerous than drunk driving. Yet, the sentences are harsher and the consequences last a life-time. And, disproportionately, these consequences affect young, black and brown men.

It’s hard not to feel a bit hopeless after reading The New Jim Crow; as a book, it offers very little hope. However, knowledge is power, and understanding the pervasiveness of a racialised social control measure such as mass incarceration and the role of the War on Drugs in creating it can help us to finally address the nation’s troubled history vis-a-vis race. By addressing this trouble history, the aim is not to attain colourblindness, but to become colour conscious. From slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, the connections are clear. Ignoring them will not eliminate our race-related tensions. Throwing shade on those historic tensions and the various systemic biases related to them, whether intentional or not, will help to finally reach something akin to genuine equity and justice.

This book deserves widespread distribution and careful thought and discussion, not simply for the brilliant and thorough research of crime statistics and legal decisions for much of the last 150 years in the United States. But, because it allows us to understand our collective social flaws and provides hope that we can actually address these issues, if only to tackle the hard tasks. At a time when we see those racial tensions intensifying thanks to an administration hell-bent on demonising the other, this may be the hardest task of all. But, it is also incredibly necessary for the future for all of us.





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On ‘No Friend But the Mountains’ by Behrouz Boochani

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus PrisonNo Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t really sure what I thought about this book until I finished it. This book was certainly not an easy read; but, it is a necessary read.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurd originally from Iran, has been detained on Manus Island off the coast of Australia since 2013. Six years, without any indication of when he may be freed.

He is neither a refugee nor a migrant. He is neither here nor there, but trapped in legal limbo, imprisoned without a charge or end date in sight. His only crime was seeking refuge from a life largely untenable in his homeland. No trial, no hearing, no consideration preceded his detention.

He is sadly not alone.

This book does not provide a justification for why he left Iran, risking his life along the route and now ‘living’ in conditions we can only imagine because of his writing. He dwells not on why he left Iran, but on the ‘life’ he and those like him now live day in and day out on Manus. His reasons for seeking refuge are not the issue; the conditions under which he and others like him must exist are.

What makes this work even more impressive is that he wrote it entirely on a mobile phone from Manus Island.

As we in the West demonise those who seek refuge, we justify the conditions under which we detain them when the flee unimaginable suffering and conditions of systemic violence. We do not consider how bad it must be if individuals will leave their homes with only what they wear or what they can carry in order to seek something better. Nor do we consider the toil of confinement or the inhumanity of how we discuss and treat those individuals seeking refuge when they exist in limbo. As discussions about the detention of children reach a fevered pitch in the US, Boochani’s work provides not just the meaning of indefinite detention on the psyche of an adult man, but a critical examination of it from inside. And, it leaves me shuddering. Imagine, then, what such confinement and conditions mean to a child, separated from their parents and left to fend for themselves or rely on other children for their care.

This work is important. And, we should all be shamed by it so long as we allow such practices to continue, regardless of country of origin or country of destination or country of detention.

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Simple, necessary changes

l’ll be honest — climate change has become one of the things that keeps me up at night. The more I read, the more I fear for the future world we will likely face. It may not be a world I personally face, but I definitely fear the world we leave for the next generation.

So, I’m taking more steps to limit the impact my life has on the lives of those who follow me.

We use LEDs more these days, after seeing first-hand how much brighter they are during the long, cold and beyond-dark winter months in Helsinki. I no longer drive since my US driver’s licence expired more than a decade ago. I walk when I have the time more often than not. And, since last September I’ve been a vegetarian (completely unrelated, but now I can’t imagine going back). For those who understand my undying devotion to every single cheese ever made, I now eat about half if not a quarter of what I once consumed. And, because y’all understand you’ll need to pry my coffee cup from my cold dead hand, oddly, I prefer Oatly for my daily java jolts. I tried it after being dazzled by a rather witty ad blitz earlier this year, and it’s actually quite tasty. Since they also make other non-dairy ‘dairy-like products, I’ve tried them and like them as well.

I’m fairly certain my own carbon footprint sucks. But, I’m working on as many changes as possible to reduce it as much as possible. And, my life is largely unchanged if not fitter. Walking (and running) about 50 km per week has it’s benefits, from reducing my carbon footprint to allowing me to process the anxiety related to it.

You don’t need to go to extremes to reduce your carbon footprint. Small changes can make a huge difference. If you aren’t that concerned about the world you’ll inhabit in your own future, perhaps you’ll pause to think about the world your children and grandchildren will be forced to endure. That world may not be nearly as beautiful nor as hospitable, and that’s on us. Particularly if we continue to shirk our collective responsibility to implement incredibly simple changes in addition to larger ones that might just save us all.

Words matter

Words matter. The words we use and choose reflect where and upon what we place importance. They convey our emotions; they create our narratives, and help others understand our positions as well as our passions. We all need to choose them a bit more carefully and with far more thought, particularly on those issues which are most important to us.

As various white men in the US decide that women must be incubators in some states, the world is melting. Rather than do something that requires immediate action and would potentially save countless thousands if not millions of humans lives (never mind plant and animal species) from the very real possibility of the devastating coming climate crisis we’ve created and accelerated, let’s instead focus on forcing women to breed.

Thank you, The Guardian, for changing your language and not sugar-coating your coverage. Climate crisis, climate heating, species extinction, and all that comes with it petrifies me. Because I’d like to see my friends’ children thrive and live long lives to enjoy their own children and so on.

And, I’d like that world in which they live to feature more than mere pictures of various creatures that once existed.

Just stop

I am so terribly weary from being a woman at the moment.

Last summer, a friend visiting Helsinki brought along pictures from the Women’s Rights March in DC from 1992, I believe. One of the signs from that day that my friends and I carried read, ‘US out of my uterus’. And, here we are

It’s not just the laws, governing and policing of lady bits going on. Or the pain and uncertainty that women living in those specific parts of the US or world will or currently feel given the limited options available to them. Or even the desperate measures they’re likely to resort to given their realities.

It’s primarily the vitriol and misogynistic context and tone to comment after comment after comment from men directed at women. To me, to women I know and to women I’ll likely never meet. It’s been seemingly constant since the fiasco and farce that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

And, frankly, I’m just tired of it all. Increasingly, I find that I genuinely do not like many, many, many men. [Thankfully, I married a feminist who gets this and shares my outrage, and call many other woke men friends. I do not dislike, y’all, if that wasn’t obvious already.]

Most of this rant will seem likely to the men feeling secure in their positions and who truly welcome equality with their uterus-possessing friends. We thank, y’all. Seriously. So, help us get this message out, eh?

If you claim to be an ally or want to know how to be one, here’s an idea: Just stop, listen / read our words, try to understand our despair and anger, and ask instead how you can help support the women in your life rather than tell them what they should feel or how they should act. [Mansplaining 101 from a woman’s perspective.]

And, if you feel it’s necessary to make snarky comments to someone you don’t know because of the safety of your keyboard, really? [Mansplaining 101 from a man’s perspective, because this is 2019 and women are still not taken seriously. And, hence, this post and my rage.]

Unless you have lived your entire life since puberty dealing with period shame,

Unless you have held your breath waiting for your period to come because various methods fail on occasion,

Unless you have watched as your idea was shot down or dismissed by someone in authority only to hear a man in the room say literally the same exact thing and be congratulated for their brilliance, 

Unless you have been told stop beingso emotional‘ or ‘overly hormonal’ when you disagree with a man, 

Unless you’ve been told on numerous occasions that you’re being a bitch so it must just be ‘that time of the month‘ [NB: this link is a fucking gem of an example of everything which induces rage in me at the moment in that sort of cumulative sort of way from a lifetime of it],

Unless you have had to wrestle and wiggle your way out of the clutches of *that* dude,

Unless you’ve been genuinely terrified that you won’t be able to wrestle and wiggle away *this* time,

Unless you’ve had to justify what you were wearing, or how flirty you were or weren’t or that no really does means no,

Just stop.

Stop telling me what I should say, what I should do, what I should feel or any other thing I do with my body or my mind. This is my body. This is my mind. And, these are my emotions.

And, I own them. All.

dont-tread-on-me825793

Image credit: Anne Lesniak.

Further reading:

Three books that I think every single person on the planet should read right now:

On ‘Shrill’, by Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Witty. Brutally honest. Raw. Genuine. Empowering. Righteous. And unapologetic.

I love this book. So, so much. And I love that I feel more empowered reading it.

Thank you, Lindy. You rock, girlfriend! I have no idea what you look like, but you embody beauty beyond measure.

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On #Web30

A day late, but who cares? Here’s to the #Web30.

I use an image in my grant writing courses of a user experiencing a 404 error when they attempt to connect to the internet. Finland, given its near-compulsive internet use, quite naturally grants each of its citizens access to the internet as a basic right. Finland was the first country to grant this right, and did so in 2009.

I fondly reminisce lament the utter misery and frustration of attempting to connect to servers via dial-up connections oh so typical up until the early 2000s, and the glacially slow uploading speed at times losing a race againgst a turtle on quaaludes. My students, however, will never understand slow connection speeds or the inability to connect instantaneously and whenever or wherever they like. [Seriously, there are so few places in Finland where you cannot access the internet via at least 3G services. It’s at once fantastic and impressive, and annoying until opting for air plane mode.]

I well remember accessing my email via main frame access when in graduate school. It was so simple and so utterly thrilling to see ‘new messages’ then. Not so much now, as the inbox glutter and spam take on lives of their own.

Funny how our vocabulary has shifted as well in the last 30 years to accommodate this not-so-new technology.

As much as online life can annoy and rile me, particularly when viewing the news these days, it still thrills me.

Chatting with a friend or family on the other side of the globe in real-time. Organising events and rallying interest for one cause or another amongst strangers. Catching up with folks I’ve not seen in years. Planning meet ups in countries none of us live in. Bonding with individuals I’ve never met in person over shared interests and passions. Supporting causes and garnering support for issues that are important to me. And, work. Being able to work from literally anywhere at any time, as long as there is a stable internet connection.

It’s mind-blowing and brilliant. And necessitates new ways of both minimising procrastination and protecting myself from those workaholic and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I love digital life, and all that affords us. I also fear it at times, mostly because of misuse by nefarious individuals and interests.

Whilst we all continue to learn how to safeguard the web and address the challenges online life presents us, we must also continue to ensure that everyone everywhere has equal, open and safe access to the internet. Just as individuals in the ‘real world’ face threats to their privacy, security and fundamental rights, those threats also affect the virtual world we now increasingly inhabit. 

Let’s also ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits of the web. Even if they’ll never know the annoying sound of the busy dial-up connection tone.

To safe guard the online community as a whole and demonstrate your commitment to an open web, get involved via A Contract for the Web

30th-anniversary-of-the-world-wide-web-4871946884874240-2xa