Tag Archives: social justice

The New Jim Crow

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

After centuries of effort to establish a country in which people can supposedly pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, our society has reached a generation in which we can point to a former Black president and declare that we are a post-racial society. Or are we? In a thoroughly researched and relentless retelling of the social history of the United States, Michelle Alexander makes that argument that not only has the U.S. failed to achieve this goal, but rather has maintained a carefully calculated and redesigned system founded on racial oppression in the form of mass incarceration. As a direct result of the War on Drugs, Black and brown men have been incarcerated at astonishing rates, suffering social, financial, and political exclusion that endures long after completing a prison sentence. These actions have been legitimated by overtly by policies, funding allocations, and court decisions, and insidiously by pitting the poorest and most marginalized Americans against each other to ensure factions do not come together to enact a change in power, much less an entire restructuring of the social system. And all within a supposedly post-racial society.

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander is an astounding, horrifying, and unfortunately believable study of how the institution of slavery eventually led to the institution of mass incarceration. The transition of racist sentiment from overt acts of hostility to unnoticeable (to Whites) microaggressions has created a culture in which racism is abhorred and unable to be discussed. As a result, issues defined by racial boundaries, particularly mass incarceration, are also not up for discussion. Alexander supports her connections among slavery, Jim Crow, and colorblindness with an exhaustive list of research, court decisions, and policies. More importantly, she demonstrates the racism inherent in the War on Drugs with the exact same research, although explicit claims of racist actions cannot be made in a supposedly colorblind society (another Catch-22 upheld by court review). After delineating each of these devastating connections, Alexander then goes on to describe the long-term impact of the War on Drugs on the individuals and communities most impacted by them. Deprived on basic human dignity and relegated to a life of presumed criminality, the men locked behind bars for petty drug crimes face a lifetime of punishment, even if they do not receive a life sentence.

Wow! This book…wow! I would like to call it unbelievable, except that Alexander clearly supports each and every argument she makes throughout the book. Not to be glanced through, this book needs to be fully digested, and preferably regurgitated in conversation with others. My one criticism is that although she excellently calls out racism despite the supposed colorblindness of U.S. society, I felt that some of her arguments were not as nuanced in relation to gender norms, and particularly expected male behavior. Regardless of the dense reading and occasional gendered statements, this book is an absolute must-read!

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Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

By Justin Holcomb and Lindsey Holcomb

For most survivors of sexual assault, the struggle to come to terms with such a horrific violation of one’s personal and physical boundaries can present a challenge that seem insurmountable. For some survivors, this struggle is further complicated by questions of sin and how to reconcile Biblical teachings with the traumatic violation that occurred. This book aims to address concerns specific to Christian religious teachings about sin, morality, transgressions against others and God, and the possibility healing and recovery after having experienced sexual assault. The authors discuss the emotional impact of sexual assault and different responses victims may experience, and then offer religious interpretations and teachings that show the ways by which faith in God and Jesus Christ offer solace, healing, and redemption. Throughout the book and in each chapter, the authors return to the notion of grace and disgrace, emphasizing the unconditionality of each. Early on, the authors define disgrace as “one-way violence” committed against a person, and that person bears no responsibility for the pain caused to them. They also reiterate the healing power of grace, “one-way love,” offered unconditionally by God to provide redemption, healing, and hope of a better future.

“Rid of My Disgrace” by Justin Holcomb and Lindsey Holcomb offers thoroughly researched and clearly presented arguments about the possibility of redemption following the sin and disgrace of sexual assault. Both authors have experience supporting survivors of sexual assault, and their definitions and explanations align with the commonly cited examples of varied emotional responses to sexual assault. They also personalize the story, offering narratives from individual survivors at the start of each chapter in the section dealing with responses to sexual assault. This humanizes the information and helps make it more accessible to survivors by showing examples of how others have dealt with similar situations. The authors then follow up each response with clear connections to scripture and religious teachings that show how sexual violence is never the fault of the victim, offer examples of recovery, and express the importance of accepting unconditional love and grace from God as part of the recovery process. The chapters in the middle of the book follow a predictable pattern (personal story, emotional response, scriptural teaching), and the book itself flows nicely by starting with an introduction to the issue of sexual violence and closing with an emphasis on hope and healing.

As someone who currently has a fair amount of distance from Christianity, I still found this book to be relevant and applicable. The descriptions, definitions, and examples of sexual violence and the possible impact it may have on survivors matched everything I have encountered as an advocate doing this work, and their suggestions for supporting others or seeking support are spot on. Although I may not necessarily agree with everything presented in this book, I do feel able to endorse it as a source of understanding and help on the issue of sexual violence as it intersects with Christianity. If you have need of this book, it is would be a good resource.

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