I’ve moved away from the discussion/commentary structure of my previous posts in this series to instead just listing the main sources that Alexander cites, along with the facts they reference. My impression has been that most people reading this series are scrolling through for relevant information to aid their own research. Hopefully formatting each post to more clearly focus on the sources and facts will be more helpful.]
In Chapter 3, Alexander focuses her attention on the racial disparities between groups in the criminal justice system that cannot be explained by higher rates of crime, drugs, or other factors. Here are the major talking points and some of the evidence she offers in support:
I’m proud to say that Korea is my new home! The photo above was taken a few weeks ago in Jeonju, a traditional/historical district in Korea. While I did participate in the lion dance, the picture is not of me but of two friends instead. I guess I wasn’t good enough to have my picture taken!
My move to Korea has been the culmination of a two-year long process involving much prayer, research, preparation, and counsel from others. If you’ve been in my life over the past two years, you may have been a part of this process! While it is difficult to summarize all of my reasons for moving overseas, I can at the very least try to give you an idea.
I’ve only been a teacher in a low-income school for four years, but sometimes it can feel like too long, I’ve started the school year with no supplies, no curriculum, and no principal. I’ve walked into my classroom to discover it had been trashed by “construction crews” the night before. I’ve sent thirsty children to get water, only to discover that the fountains don’t work and the water from the classroom sink runs yellow. I’ve taught over 30 students by myself at one time, watched children with learning disabilities sit in classrooms for years without receiving help, given paperwork for parents to sign that makes them believe their child is getting extra support when no such thing is happening, and seen countless children pushed onto the next grade when they don’t even know how to write their name.
I’ve spent nights weeping after laboring to the point of insanity to do everything in my capacity that I could possibly do, and it still wasn’t enough. It never is enough.
And then I read the words of Jesus in Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new,” and it hurts. It hurts because it is easier for me to believe in the brokenness of our systems than it is for me to believe in the power of God to protect our children from the evil at work in this world. It is easier for me to believe that the world is corrupt than to believe it is being renewed. It is easier for me to see the tears of a six-year-old child because they cannot pass a standardized test, than it is for me to see the fullness of who they are, a fullness that even the worst systems in the world could never take away.
We held a “testing rally” on Friday that was quite possibly the most depressing experience of my year. The purpose of the rally was to get kids “pumped up” and “excited” for testing. In preparation, my students and I created a giant poster saying, “Don’t forget the power of yet!” The poster was a reference to Janelle Monae’s Sesame Street song.
We crammed all 320+ students into our gymnasium while they listened to a small speech informing them that, “This test will decide what opportunities you have in life, and even what colleges you will go to.” A speaker came up and told the children to chant, “I am smart. I will pass!” And younger students stood to perform cheers for the older grades.
As the spectacle unfolded, a queasiness settled into the pit of my stomach. The chanting and cheering was supposed to generate excitement, but it created something of an ominous contradiction to the actual spirit of the school. A spirit of defeat. more “Do Your Best: The Lies We Tell Our Children”…
“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.” – Psalm 72:12-14
I have found myself repeatedly returning to this passage of scripture over the last several weeks. In a divided culture that often portrays social justice movements as a threat, it is encouraging to hear scripture describe the “cause of the poor” as a cause that God will defend. In a world of injustice, God judges the poor specifically with justice (v. 2).
And this means that Christians, too, are called to defend this cause. My faith leads me to hope in a future where justice is realized in the kingdom of God, but the example of Christ also leads me to work in the present to achieve this future, even if its only a glimpse. What does it mean to be a Christian if we are not the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world? more “Precious Is Their Blood in His Sight”…
Even though it was only published six years ago, Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness turns up in everything I read nowadays about systemic injustice. After reading yet another article that referenced this book, I finally decided to take the plunge and read it myself.
Given our current cultural context, I expect this book to be highly thought-provoking and intensely controversial. I’ve decided to blog out my thoughts from chapter to chapter in an effort to spark more discussion in my social circles surrounding the issues that Alexander tackles. more “Blogging Through “The New Jim Crow””…
“Oh, I deal with drug addicts all the time with my job.”
As soon as the words came out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. But the damage was done. I had been talking about issues surrounding drug addiction with my mom, and it seemed only appropriate to mention my job. But I knew it was wrong.
A friend of mine, Kyle West, posed this question to me in response to a blog post about racism in my community. The answer requires more space than my blog allows. But I can provide some beginning thoughts.
The gospel has the power to heal historical and cultural wounds, and it’s no secret that the American church is doing a poor job of it. Sunday mornings remain the most highly segregated day of the week in the entire country. Despite what the Bible has to say about “neither Jew nor Greek,” Christians continue to segregate themselves by race and class. The result is that the church continues to perpetuate social injustices.
[I do not blame the psychologist for what happened here. In many ways, she is just a cog in the machine and just as much a victim of the system as my student. The fact is that the following story is all too common. The future of children across the country gets trapped into a never-ending system of useless paperwork and ridiculous requirements that make it nearly impossible to get them help. The sad reality is that the school psychologist in this story really was, more than likely, too busy to do her job. This is a terrible injustice.]
“I’m sorry. Perhaps if it were not so late in the year, we could do something for him,” the psychologist said.
“I came to you in October with this data.” I breathed in slowly, attempting to control the tempest of rage inside of me, then breathed out.
Dante had been my student since the beginning of the year. It was now May, and he couldn’t even write his name. Information slid from his brain like butter, and he was the only student in my classroom whose test scores actually declined mid-year. Something was wrong. Perhaps a learning disability? I couldn’t know. more “Too Busy to Do Your Job”…
Teach for America gives countless surveys to their corps members. One question, in particular, always resurfaced during my two-year commitment: “I believe that one day all children will have the opportunity to achieve an excellent education. Agree or disagree?”