My Own Awakening

AlexanderFrom an Onbeing interview with Michelle Alexander (April 21, 2016):

I was raised to believe that there had been extraordinary racial injustice in our history, but that we are on the right path. And we may have a long way to go, but we are on the right path, headed, albeit too slowly, towards that promised land that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently. And in many ways, I think my own parents, being interracially married, felt they had to believe in that, they had to believe that by bringing mixed race children into this world they were bringing them into a world where there was hope for their future.

And so I was really raised on that narrative that we were overcoming. And when I became a civil rights lawyer and was a baby civil rights lawyer, just starting out, and I saw that sign stapled to a telephone pole saying, “The drug war is the new Jim Crow,” yeah, I thought that was hyperbole. I shook my head and said, “Yeah, the criminal justice system is racist in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t help to make such absurd comparisons to Jim Crow. People will just think you’re crazy.”

And then I hopped on the bus and headed to my new job as director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU in California. And it was really only through those years of representing victims of racial profiling and police brutality, and investigating patterns of drug law enforcement in poor communities of color, and attempting to assist people who had been released from prison as they faced just one unimaginable barrier after another — not just to their so-called “re-entry,” but to their basic survival after being released from prison — that I had my series of experiences that led to my own awakening that we hadn’t ended racial caste in America. We had just redesigned it.

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