GUEST BLOG: The New Jim Crow

GUEST BLOG, by The Rev. Rosalie Richards, member of the Prison Concerns Committee of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, and a founder of the Prison Art Program in our Diocese

This article is based on an interview with The Rev. Richard Davenport. St. Stephen's, Colebrook and St. Barnabas, Berlin, and a member of the Prison Concerns Committee.  The Rev. Davenport was instrumental in bringing this book to the attention of the Diocesan Prison Concerns Committee, and to our Diocesan Convention this past fall.

Q  What is the history of this book, what brought it to the attention of our diocese?

The Rev. Richard Davenport: In 2015 the General Convention delegates decided this book is so important that they passed a resolution that the entire church should read and study it.

I brought this information to our Diocesan Prison Concerns committee and we agreed to read the book as a group and reflect on together throughout the year.  The committee also introduced a resolution to our Diocesan Convention, bringing the General Convention goal to our diocese.  

Q  What was the resolution?  

The Rev. Richard Davenport: The resolution encourages each congregation in the diocese to read and study the book.  This passed overwhelmingly.

Q  Is there a plan for how congregations should read the book together?

The Rev. Richard Davenport: It is up to each congregation to decide how to do this, for instance there can be book groups, adult forums, adult classes, or the book can be available for individuals to buy.  (Purchase information is given at the end of this article.)

The Prison Concerns committee would like to encourage people and churches who want to add this to their Lenten discipline to order a copy.

Q  Can you describe the book in two sentences?

The Rev. Richard Davenport: Michelle Alexander, the author, draws together data that proves that blacks are overrepresented in prisons and jails, and the result is permanent second class status for this group of people.  As the first Jim Crow law systematically withheld the right to vote from blacks, so the result of being imprisoned is to have voting rights withheld.  Even worse, it creates a permanent second class status for a large part of the black population.

Q  This is difficult reading because of the injustice that is pointed out.  How can we deal with that?

The Rev. Richard Davenport: That is right, this isn't light or easy material.  For that reason we encourage people to read this in community, a book group or an adult education class.  Another way to find community around this book is to  follow or visit the author, Michelle Alexander, on Facebook where they can participate in a dialogue with people around the country who are reading the book.  Here is that link.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michelle-Alexander/168304409924191

Q  Can you give encouragement to all of us who want to face this reality but don't want to have to delve into the difficult topic in this book?

The Rev. Richard Davenport: I can tell you three things that we discuss in my church:

  • First, Jesus didn't come to cheer us up, we preach Christ  crucified, and only by facing the reality of death and of evil do we have the triumph of Christ resurrected.  This is not just true in the Gospels, it is true in our lives.

  • Second, This is one mandate--of VERY few--from Christ to us:  Visit those in prison.  Reflecting on this book is one way to be with those who are imprisoned.

  • Third, without acknowledging this reality of this injustice we are doomed to perpetuate it.  Only by facing the truth of this situation can we resolutely choose to not continue this new form of Jim Crow.  It requires that we not be neutral, which is a form of complicity.

As MLK said:  "He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

Please note: The book, The New Jim Crow, can be purchased in bulk (10 or more copies) from www.thenewjimcrow.com and individual copies are available at your local bookseller or online retailer.

Here are some additional resources for book study, gathered by the Prison Concerns Committee:


Here are helpful resources and ideas for studying this issue.
In addition to the Study Guide presented at Convention (which can be ordered from Amazon along with the Book) the website, http://newjimcrow.com/ has a wealth of resources. Lots of articles, media, a trailer, reviews and a few other organizing guides.
 
The Author’s Facebook page offers a chance for people to engage in a broader social media conversation https://www.facebook.com/Michelle-Alexander-168304409924191/
 
The Netflix Documentary  “13th” by Ava DuVernay covers much of the material in the Book and features the Author.  This website has a trailer and several articles and reviews of the film:  http://www.avaduvernay.com/13th/