• Sharon Chau

Educate Yourself by Reading

Other than donating, signing petitions and other meaningful activities you could do in light of the recent George Floyd tragedy, educating yourself is another thing that could bring change. Knowing more about the structural injustices in the criminal justice system and ways to solve that or what racism feels like on the ground for those discriminated against can make you convince racists in arguments, start difficult conversations with your family or propose policies in schools that can make a difference. Here are brief reviews of three books I've read that have been really useful in my understanding of race. This isn't in any way exhaustive, and I would love any recommendations or reviews of other useful books.

Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge

The most important thing I learnt from Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race is the correct definition of racism. According to Eddo-Lodge, racism is not just prejudice - it is prejudice plus power, where your prejudice can affect someone’s life chances. This is why prejudice against a white boss isn't racism, but prejudice against a potential black employee whose CV you are screening is. This lack of distinction and nuance is one reason the author doesn't like talking to white people about race. Another reason is white victimhood, where white individuals use "reverse racism" to avoid talking about deficiencies in the system. Even without white victimhood, Eddo-Lodge argues that being neutral and moderate about race can also be devastating. She quotes Martin Luther King, who argued that black people’s greatest stumbling block was not the KKK but the white moderate who devoted himself to “order” more than justice and who preferred a negative peace and the absence of tension. Despite rather strong rhetoric on the futility of talking about race, she suggests that everyone should get angry about racism. Being angry is useful if it can directly support those in the struggle. In the context of George Floyd, anger for many has been translated into signatures for the petition, emails to those in power and donations to funds and organisations like Campaign Zero, Reclaim the Block, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Sustaining this anger and translating the anger into actions will hopefully do something to change the system.

Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is in the form of a letter from Coates to his teenage son, explaining the reality behind being black in the United States. Coates uses personal anecdotes from his childhood and also recounts the complex feelings he had after the birth of his son. One of the most memorable passages in the book for me was when Coates's son stayed up until very late in anticipation of the indictment of Michael Brown's killers. After the announcement of the acquittal, he went into his room, where Coates discovered him crying. This is described so vividly that I was able to have a small glimpse into what being a black boy means in the US. Another memorable anecdote was Coates being beaten by his father for putting himself in danger, because it was better that his father beat him than the police. This harrowing account again points to a vastly different reality that black people are subject to. Between the World And Me is written so beautifully and is useful for anyone wishing to learn more about the differences in lived experience between black people and those of other races.

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

The central thesis of The New Jim Crow is that the system of mass imprisonment in the US right now is akin to the segregationist Jim Crow laws in the late 19th and early 20th century. The book is divided into three parts. First is the roundup, which discusses police who conduct drug operations in primarily black communities, where they are rewarded in cash through drug forfeiture laws and federal grant programs for rounding up as many people as possible. Second is the conviction, where defendants are denied meaningful legal representation once arrested and pressured to plead guilty while spending time in formal control through jail, probation or parole. Third is the invisible punishment, where previously incarcerated individuals are legally discriminated against and denied voting rights, employment and housing benefits for the rest of their life. Alexander sheds light onto the massive injustices in America's criminal justice system and exposes just how bad the racism is within law enforcement. At the end of the book, she argues for changes to be made, including data collection, funding for public defenders, and rescinding mandatory drug-sentencing laws, as well as pilot programs that have succeeded. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about how fucked-up the US justice system is, and how that might be changed.


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