I am reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander as part of an online book club. This is an opportunity for me to learn and grow. As I read, I will share my reflections on each chapter and how it relates to me as an educator.
“Proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating the law or the new limits of acceptable political discourse, by demanding “law and order” rather than “segregation forever.”
This quote ended the section in chapter 1 titled, “The Death of Jim Crow.” Unfortunately, I don’t have a page number to reference because I am reading this on my Kindle.
Wow! This made so much sense to me. As I look back on our country’s history of racial hierarchy beginning with slavery and moving into the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement, I can say oh my gosh, I see it now. I see how the powerful in our country (read: white elite) continue to try to keep “black people in their place.” I certainly did not learn this perspective in high school. Instead, I learned about the major events in our country related to race– slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, and the Civil Rights Movement. Wasn’t racism supposed to stop there? According to our history books, yes. Everything was supposed to be wrapped up in a neat little bow and forgotten about. If we no longer had segregation, we weren’t racist, right? Wrong.
In chapter 1, Alexander clearly outlines how we have gotten to where we are today – mass incarceration of our Black and Latino men. She argues that Jim Crow, and the subsequent mistreatment of African Americans did not end. It simply changed its appearance. But appearances can certainly be deceiving. While it may appear to the people of my generation (born after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, after segregation and the Jim Crow laws were seemingly dismantled) that we grew up in a country “where all men were created equal,” we simply did not. We actually grew up in a country where the white elite were doing everything they could to continue to have a racial hierarchy, but without making it seem so blatant, hence the demand of “law and order” during the “War on Drugs” in the 80’s. That demand for “law and order” continues today. Our country has not evolved and changed over time when it comes to race relations. Instead, we continue to change the appearance of what racism looks like. We live in a country of systemic racism. Since slavery, we have lived in a country of systemic racism. Sure, we don’t have segregation laws anymore, but instead we have created systems that consistently keep black men and women from having the same privileges that we as white people have. That is racism.
For me, this reflection is all about awareness. In order for me to successfully engage in conversations with colleagues about race and equity for our students of color, I must be aware. Aware of my own biases, aware of how my experiences with race have shaped me, and aware of the history of the racism that still permeates our country. So, I will continue to read and learn more about our country’s history. I will continue to have conversations with colleagues and friends who have different experiences than my own. I will continue to learn from other perspectives. I will continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I have to. We have to. Our future depends on it.
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