Last week, I suggested that the important book of the year was Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
As is noted on the book jacket, Michelle Alexander as a longtime civil rights advocate and litigator won a 2005 Soros Justice Fellowship and now holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. Alexander served for several years as director of the Racial Justice Project at the ALCU of Northern California, and subsequently directed Civil Rights Clinics at Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor. Alexander is a former law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun on the Supreme Court and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR.
This book, The New Jim Crow, brings clarity to the systemic subjugation of Black in the U.S.; which notably, Alexander evidences as a continuum. She demonstrates that the systemic subjugation of Blacks may have changed in terms of form or by what name we might call it; but effectively has the selfsame impact and results.
Being a lifelong student of observing the worldwide circumstance of Blacks, I’ve noted in my eleven years and 98 days as a Memphian that this place moreso than any I’ve lived in or studied is perhaps the most unwilling to call a spade a spade.
This (calling a spade a spade) is important because it is precisely the how and the why of so little change; how we have today circumstances, for Blacks in 2010, that are as deplorable or worse than in 1910 or 1810.
Are we continuing to get the wrong answers because we are asking and being asked the wrong questions; thereby, we should note, allowing the right answers to the wrong questions be considered as right instead of wrong had they been in response to the right questions. While that may sound convoluted, think instead of how else would it operate so to maintain the status quo or regress while yet giving the impression of progress.
What prompts this writing is a situation where a program is proposed that would be of specific benefit to the city’s majority Black population; but due to its interest, its emphasis, its meaningful intent being Black, it won’t likely happen because what we do, how we do, and who we do for has to be deemed multi-cultural. Yet, as most of us acknowledge, if we were to put an adjective to the noun list of Memphis problems (illiteracy, poverty, crime, single-parent households, low birth-weight babies, domestic violence, etc.) that adjective would be most often and proportionately Black. And we should additionally note, this is true not because Memphis is a majority Black city; but rather because illiteracy, poverty, crime, single-parent households, low birth-weight babies, domestic violence, etc. are the necessarily the outcomes of subjugation and maintaining it in order to insure the status quo.
In a world that mandates multi-cultural fairness, we cannot specify Black and thereby cannot address Black and further cannot target Black and resultantly we cannot remedy Black.
Just as affirmative action and diversity, multicultural intends by being inclusive to thereby diminish and virtually exclude Blacks. Ironically, the day where whites demonstrated their liberalness by having some of their best friends as Blacks, now Blacks are even quicker to having some of their best friends be white. That is not a complaint except that, in the meantime, these are oftentimes the very Blacks that only know their way into the Black neighborhood as some facet of their livelihood; even more ironically, that livelihood, is a derivative of the civil rights movement they now eschew for who else would actually benefit.
What happens is that these Blacks, in an attempt to them selves not appear racist, don’t recognize that their very role as business, civic, community, education, media, religious leaders is to be racial versus racist and always in their capacity as leaders to provide for uplift among the masses – don’t take my word for it; read their charters and mission statements.
Indeed, we do it to ourselves or perhaps better said, they (our very leaders) do it to us on either a unconscious or conscious level (the results however being the same); sometimes not knowingly knowing that they abdicate responsibility to their race in so many subtle ways.
Everyone else it seems is solving or has solved the problems endemic to their group. While most today would not bee thought of as racist, they are, as they should be, proudly racial. Everyone else is comfortable in the skin they are in. We, on the other hand, wish not to call a spade a spade; oftentimes to not ourselves be seen as spades, ending up perpetuating spadeness.
Another 2010 book, I designate as very worthwhile is The Condemnation of Blackness by Khilil Gibran Muhammad, an Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University, published by Harvard University Press.
Hopefully, those that would see themselves as leaders in this community will come to appreciate just why calling a spade a spade comes only behind truly knowing what a spade is. In fact, Muhammad invokes spade caller Ida B. Wells as the principal Memphian “who refused to let racism off the hook.” That said, perhaps reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is the ideal companion read since knowing a spade when we see one might be critical to calling a spade a spade.