Anti-Racist Summer Reading
Recommendation: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander) and “The House I Live In” (Eugene Jarecki)
Summary and Analysis:
In the fall of 2015 I began teaching English 001 at Lehigh University, and I recall one particular class where my (mostly white and male) students argued that racism didn’t exist anymore; racism was an individual problem, confined to older people and the South.
After a day of unproductive dialogue I vented to my husband, who recommended we read excerpts from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Every year since I have used Alexander’s text, and every year students are persuaded by her arguments to acknowledge that systemic racism exists and continues to harm black people in the United States.
Alexander is keenly aware her argument, that American mass incarceration policies have recreated the Jim Crow racial caste system, is not one most people want to hear. She uses statistics to devasting rhetorical effect and makes the complexities of the American legal system (and all its racism) accessible to a wide audience.
It was not surprising to discover after reading The New Jim Crow that Alexander is featured in another text I often teach at Lehigh: the documentary “The House I Live In.” Director Eugene Jarecki explores the war on drugs and shows how American political, economic, and social institutions work together to criminalize and destroy black communities. Using personal stories to explain systemic injustice, the film is accessible to a wide audience and a good starting point for people who want to begin having a conversation about systemic racism.