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.





View all my reviews

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.

On ‘On Tyranny’, by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two minutes in to this book, I said to my husband, ‘This should be required reading for every single person in the United States.’

Two minutes later, I amended that absolutely everyone. Everywhere.

The last two-plus years have been a surreal nightmare for anyone longing for a just, fact- or evidence-based world, ruled by democratic principles or adherent and respectful to the rule of law. We should have understood how fragile our democracies were. We should have known how easy it is for the likes of the Trumps and the Farages of the world to rile up racist, classist, xenophobic, misogynistic sentiments.

We should not be surprised by how quickly this all becomes the new normal. It’s all intended to exhaust us and wear us down. And, I fear it’s working a little too well.

I lived in Moscow as the keys to the kingdom passed from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. And, I watched as the masses ignored his assault on the budding free press and democratic infancy of the post-Soviet era that favoured rampant oligarchy and corruption and as Putin crushed any sort of dissent or criticism. In a world run by those with the most power, it mattered not that one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet criticised Putin. He lost and ended up behind bars and silenced, because he pissed of Putin. I watched in horror as Russians declared their love for the man with the stone-cold stare who craved power above all. And, he still does.

Everyone–everyone—needs to read this book. And, keep it close to them as we watch the shit storm in the US primarily but elsewhere continue. And, everyone must understand that we are teetering awfully close to full-on, full-scale tyranny.

I’ll be reading this book again and again and again.

View all my reviews

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.

On ‘Not That Bad’, edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape CultureNot That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This should be required reading for every single man and boy, particularly for those who continue to objectify women and girls, who think we’re just ‘asking for it’ because of how we look or dress, or that catcalling and leers and unwelcome attention are simply their way of telling us we look good.

This should be required reading for all those who question women and girls who step forward and name their harassers and attackers. Who scream foul when we who have survived remember some details so, so vividly and others escape us. We lived through our nightmares, and we continue to do so years later.

And, this should be read aloud every single minute of every single day out loud to Brett Kavanaugh. Just play it in his inner ear and mind on endless repeat until he and those who enabled him get it. In fact, the same treatment should apply to all those who supported and voted for his nomination and confirmation to sit on the Supreme Court. Because watching Dr Blasey-Ford reminded all of us who do not need reminding that it was just that bad.

Here’s to the survivors.

View all my reviews

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

The insanity of Helms-Burton today

The headlines this week are making my head hurt. This one in particular.
 
For 60 years, the US embargo against Cuba has not at all affected those in power; it has, however, impacted the average every day lives of Cubans. People like you and me. 
 
Having visited that tiny island nation of immense beauty and unimaginable and boundless kindness before, during and after President Obama’s attempts to normalise the relationship between DC and Havana, I can tell you, Cuban people’s lives were improving in the wake of that process. And, that change was coming from within and at the hands of Cubans, the very people who should, who MUST, decide the fate of their own country.
 
Senator Marco Rubio and his ilk know fuck all about today’s Cuba other than the bitter pill of one-sided history written by those who pilfered Cuba’s resources and enjoyed immense privilege and wealth at the hands of the poor and powerless before fleeing to Miami. Like them or hate them, resent them or respect them with a huge asterisk, those who inspired the Revolution brought education, healthcare and running water and electricity to those who previously did not enjoy such ‘luxuries’. Most Cubans today recognise the silliness within their own country, whilst simultaneously understanding that the Revolution brought things that they do want and now expect. Problems, of course, persist in Cuba. But, the Castros — Fidel and Raul, specifically — no longer hold the reins. For fuck’s sake, people, Fidel is dead.
So, can we please, move one from nonsense, ineffective and failed policies?!
Change is coming to Cuba, despite US sanctions and vilification. But, that change is coming at the discretion and based on the ideas of Cubans in Cuba — not from those who sit comfortably and bitterly in Florida pining for a country rifled by inequality. [Hmm… Irony is hilarious, eh?]
But, rehashing and rebranding 60 years of sour grapes will not hurt the Cuban government; it will hurt Cubans — every day, normal Cubans like my family and friends there. And, frankly, that pisses me off. 
 

20151214_114716

A taxi, driven by Dari, featured an American flag.