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MICHELLE ALEXANDER is a longtime civil rights advocate and litigator. She won a 2005 Soros Justice Fellowship and now holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Mortiz College of Law at Ohio State University. Alexander served for several years as director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, and subsequently directed the 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 U.S. Supreme Court, and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is her first book.

Blog Entries by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste

Posted March 8, 2010 | 14:10:54 (EST)

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com.

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted...

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Where Have All the Black Men Gone?

Posted February 22, 2010 | 11:05:19 (EST)

A recurring question has surfaced in mainstream and ethnic media for more than a decade. The phrasing of the question differs depending on who's asking the question and why, but the question tends to boil down to this: Where have all the black men gone? They're missing in churches, missing...

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The New Jim Crow

Posted February 8, 2010 | 21:29:22 (EST)

It's that time of year again, when we hear Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches in 10 second clips, the same clips that get recycled on an annual basis now -- radical proclamations that have been reduced over the years to mere platitudes. His booming voice declares that he's been to...

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Our Women Keep Our Skies From

Falling

Six Essays in Support of

The Struggle To

Smash Sexism/Develop Women

By Kalamu ya Salaam

Writing these essays has been an intensely educational and qualitatively critical experience in my life effort to contribute to the ongoing defense and development of African-americans.

"Women's Rights Are Human Rights" was first presented at an international Human Rights conference that was held during November 1978 at Xavier University in New Orleans; later, it was published in BLACK SCHOLAR (Vol.10, Nos. 6,7).

"Revolutionary Struggle/Revolutionary Love" was written as a contribution to the 1979 THE BLACK SCHOLAR (Vol. 10, Nos. 8,9) forum, "The Black Sexism Debate," which was generated around responses to an earlier article written by Robert Staples.

"Debunking Myths" was written in my preparation as a panelist at AHIDIANA's 2nd Annual Black Woman's Conference 1979. "RAPE: A Radical Analysis From An African-American Perspective" was written in 1978, extensively discussed within our organization, AHIDIANA, and revised in 1979 and 1980. A shorter version of the rape essay appeared in the "Meaningful Relationships" issue of BLACK BOOKS BULLETIN (Vol.6, No.4).

"The Struggle To Smash Sexism Is A Struggle To Develop Women" was presented in outline form at AHIDIANA's 2nd Annual Black Woman's Conference 1979. "On Getting Together" was written in preparation for my participation in AHIDIANA's 3rd Annual Black Woman's Conference 1980. "And Raise Beauty To Another Level Of Sweetness" is a poem written as part of a promotional effort for the May/June Woman's issue of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Magazine (Vol.10, No.5).

Writing these pieces has required an all-around reassessment of social relationships. In fact, my study of the so-called "woman's question" has helped broaden my understanding of how necessarily deep a revolutionary transformation must go into our "personal" lives. This is particularly true for those cadre who strive to be responsible and leading elements of our people's struggle for peace and power.

What has been most difficult - and concurrently most rewarding, most valuable - is getting outside the strait-jacket of my individual self, i.e. my own experiential limitations, and being able to study and begin to understand the experiences and viewpoints of people different from myself. While this process has been facilitated by traveling to different Third World countries, study and struggle around sexism in combination with attempts to practice what is preached has made the biggest difference in opening my eyes to the reality of others.

The socialization of this society, and likewise of most societies in the modern world, intentionally blinds us, not only to the situation of other peoples, but indeed, such crippling socialization also blinds us to the reality of different forms of oppression, exploitation and their effects on us in America.

For many of us, the only vision we have been taught and believe, concerning the possibilities of human existence, is.' niggers, "white folks," and "foreigners." That's a very narrow, destructive and self-limiting conception of human potential and actuality -but it has been this vision of life choices which has (misguided us down the river of underdevelopment. Unknowingly, we have labored mightily at the oars pushing the boat of ignorance further into the social jungles of prejudice, self-alienation and cynicism about human nature and the human condition. In some cases, our twisted perceptions and lifestyles have led us unconsciously, although still backwardly, to become either "oreos" or, worse yet, "brown eyed, red necks."

Far too many of us have not yet realized how socially damaging the Euro-american indoctrination has been. And now, just as we are struggling through the anti-social aspects of having been victimized by racism, just as we are moving to a higher awareness and advancefrient of class struggle, our whole world is again overturned in the militant and fiercely interpersonal struggle around sexism.

In the cases of race and class struggle, the human agents of enemy philosophies and actions were, for the most part, external to African-american women and men. However, struggle around sexism is a different matter. Macho-isms are mouthed by and manifested in the beliefs and behavior of African-american, as well as Euro-american, men. Now the rain falls on our heads. Many of us do not like this and even go so far as to absurdly suggest that because we are Black we can walk between the raindrops and somehow, incredibly, not get wet. But this is no quickly passing, brief spring shower. What we are facing is a full strength st6~m whose flood water will wash away all of the sexually exploitive, macho-designed social structures which crowd the landscape of our living in this country. Whether we like it or not, we African-americans must swim or sink, must either construct sexually non-exploitive relationships or else socially drown as our various unions crumble and fall apart.

Only after a long period of individual and collective study and struggle have I been able to move toward actualizing, in my own personal life, thorough going anti-sexist/pro-feminist principles and practice. Like many men before me, and, I'm sure, like other men who will come after me, dealing with the truism that "the personal is political," in the context of struggling around sexism, has called for a qualitative transformation of my own social life, a transformation whose magnitude and importance I had not anticipated.

What I now realize is that the three main "personal" social relationships of American society - woman/man relationships, home life, and childcare/child rearing - are all designed to support male lifestyle choices. As men, we could actively participate in past struggles against racism and economic exploitation without confronting the wrongness of our interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, these relationships invariably were male-dominant and female exploitive, thusly providing African-american men a sphere of social control

which compensated for our exclusion from broader avenues of power within the American political and economic system.So comes this question of sexism and everything is upset. There is no rest, no pleasure. "Our women," literally and figuratively, no longer "belong to us. We men were extremely comfortable with the way our relationships were in the past. Today, there is an element of brooding anger at "them" those "women libbers" who have messed up our "good/Black thing" by injecting ideas which originated from "bored bourgeoisie white housewives." This anger and blindness, this refusal to deal with the reality of our woman/man relationships, this reactionary stubbornness is but the emotional skin which covers an adherence to a sexist system of social relationships which affords men both social and material privileges, as well as, automatic authority over the lives of women.

This is the skin and the sexist social system I'm happily shedding. I understand that for women and men in America, the restructuring of our personal lives is a major and difficult revolutionary step. And though it ain't easy, we are steady stepping on, steady struggling toward a qualitatively better social system within which women and men have political and economic equality.

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Scarring the Black Body

Race and Representation in African American Literature

By Carol E. Henderson

Scarring and the act of scarring are recurrent images in African American literature. In Scarring the Black Body, Carol E. Henderson analyzes the cultural and historical implications of scarring in a number of African American texts that feature the trope of the scar, including works by Sherley Anne Williams, Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright.

The first part of Scarring the Black Body, "The Call," traces the process by which African bodies were Americanized through the practice of branding. Henderson incorporates various materials -- from advertisements for the return of runaways to slave narratives--to examine the cultural practice of "writing" the body. She also considers ways in which writers and social activists, including Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, developed a "call" centered on the body's scars to demand that people of African descent be given equal rights and protection under the law.

In the second part of the book, "The Response," Henderson goes on to show that more recent representations of the conditions of slavery by authors such as Williams and Morrison extend the efforts of their predecessors by developing creative responses to those calls centered around the African American body and its scars. Henderson explores Williams's reinvention of the whip- scarred body in her novel Dessa Rose and provides a close analysis of Morrison's use of scar imagery in Beloved. She also devotes a chapter to Petry's The Street and concludes with an investigation of the wounded black male psyche in the works of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright.

Scarring the Black Body demonstrates that the creative acts of these authors bind together that which has been wounded both literally and figuratively. Those who hear the voices of the ancestors are urged to connect to that part of themselves wherein wounds of the past carry a self-knowledge that can alter the experiences of the present. In this way, the disfigured body as a cultural metaphor and social invention can come to terms with its own humanity and embodiment.

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By Carol E. Henderson