The second book in the series, as promised, is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The following book feels impossible to summarize, and yet the words it contains are so important. The reason Alexander has written a book that is so impactful, engaging, overwhelming, and powerful, is because she backs it all up with fact after fact, statistic after statistic. She presents her mountains of research to the reader with drive and then explains it all in understandable, but impassioned terms. I have chosen to include two rather large sections of the book. The first gives a summary of an important part of her thesis and the second gives some predictions for moving forward.
“More African American adults are under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.
“The clock has been turned back on racial progress in America, though scarcely anyone seems to notice. All eyes are fixed on people like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who have defied the odds and risen to power, fame, and fortune. For those left behind, especially those within prison walls, the celebration of racial triumph in American must seem a tad premature. More black men are imprisoned today than at any other moment in our nation’s history. More are disenfranchised today than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race. Young black men today may be just as likely to suffer discrimination in employment, housing, public benefits, and jury service as a black man in the Jim Crow era—discrimination that is perfectly legal, because it is based on one’s criminal record.”
(The New Jim Crow, pages 180-181)
“If we can agree that what is needed now, at this critical juncture, is not more tinkering or tokenism, but as King insisted forty years, a ‘radical restructuring of our society,’ then perhaps we can also agree that a radical restructuring of our approach to racial justice advocacy is in order as well.
“All of this is easier said than done, of course. Change in civil rights organizations, like change in society as a whole, will not come easy. Fully committing to a vision of racial justice that includes grassroots, bottom-up advocacy on behalf of ‘all of us’ will require a major reconsideration of priorities, staffing, strategies, and messages. Egos, competing agendas, career goals, and inertia may get in the way. It may be that traditional civil rights organizations simply cannot, or will not, change. To this it can only be said, without a hint of disrespect: adapt or die.
“If Martin Luther King Jr. is right that the arc of history is long, but bends toward justice, a new movement will arise; and if civil rights organizations fail to keep up with the times, they will be pushed to the side as another generation of advocates comes to the fore. Hopefully the new generation will be led by those who know best the brutality of the new caste system—a group with greater vision, courage, and determination than the old guard can muster, trapped as they may be in an outdated paradigm. This new generation of activists should not disrespect their elders or disparage their contributions or achievements; to the contrary, they should bow their heads in respect, for their forerunners have expended untold hours and made great sacrifices in an elusive quest for justice. But once respects have been paid, they should march right past them, emboldened, as King once said, by the fierce urgency of now.
“Those of us who hope to be allies should not be surprised, if and when this day comes, that when those who have been locked up and locked out finally have the chance to speak and truly be heard, what we hear is rage. The rage may frighten us, it may remind us of riots, uprisings, and buildings aflame. We may be tempted to control it, or douse it with buckets of doubt, dismay, and disbelief. But we should do no such thing. Instead, when a young man who was born in the ghetto and who knows little of life beyond the walls of his prison cell and the invisible cage that has become his life, turns to us in bewilderment and rage, we should do nothing more than look him in the eye and tell him the truth.”
(The New Jim Crow, pages 260-261)
If you are looking for more information and don’t have access to this book, I also recommend the documentary 13th, which features Alexander and many of the topics covered in the book. It is available on Netflix.
Next up in the series will be Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.
Every structure in the resort has a roof of dried palm leaves. They are intricate in their artistry and give the place a more natural feel. The upkeep is continuous and the work takes place around us everyday, trimming, discarding and filling in what remains.
Our room is a haven of calm. Fresh flowers scattered on the many surfaces and bed. Dark wood and grey stone in the large bathroom with two sinks, a jacuzzi tub, and an open, glass shower. Baskets of rolled towels. A large walk in closet. A bedroom that’s double doors open onto a patio with cushion furniture and a swim up pool shared by just a handful of rooms. It is quiet apart from the buzzing of wildlife.
Yoga in a hut on the beach. A reflective way to begin my morning. It is the meditative beginners class, with only four practitioners.
During another walk there are about 10 horses tied among the palm trees and small groups of riders go up and down the length of the beach. Higher up on the beach trash has accumulated where the land is empty. A large clearing with abandoned buildings features one white building intact, where a large two story veranda beckons. A man leading a group on horseback, blows kisses in my direction. Another man, was being followed loyally by a group of dogs we had seen roaming the beach earlier.
Traveling the roads provides endless visuals and thoughts.
Lanes full of tourist vans, yellow school buses, new model cars, and dirt bikes.
So many dirt bikes. Often carrying more than one rider.
electric pillars of concrete
gated apartment buildings near resorts
fields of homes with metal roofs
concrete structures painted vibrantly
mountains in the distance
Open aired “cafeterias,” with varying level of crowds and a frequency and size similar to bodegas in Manhattan.
Communities passing time together.
Imposing gates and walls leading to sprawling resort complexes.
Lots of seafood and Tres Leches cake. We sample about 12 flavors of a special kind of infused tequila, everything from coconut to star fruit, while listening to the live music offered each evening.
The same staff who worked dinner service are back at breakfast. I’ve been told that the resorts here have staff housing near the resorts. Another tourist informs me that the housing provided is better than what the employees could get elsewhere, but I'm not sure where he got this information.
Our day trip planner speaks 4 languages: Spanish, English, Dutch, and Italian, plus he is half fluent in French. His father wanted him to be a lawyer, but he didn’t want to “spend all his time arguing.” He confides that he would make more money working in an office, but he likes the resort for the interaction with other people. Plus he gets to use all those languages, his real passion.
I here a woman walking by our beach hut, whisper to her husband, “Honey, this isn’t real.”
After another day under a secluded beach hut, we go to the spa, where little fish in a tank eat our feet, it is ticklish and fun. My sister and I can’t resist swinging in a hammock as the sun sets. Laughing and squirming, just like we have all our lives together. There is no one quite like my own sister.
I wanted to talk to more people, collect more stories, visit more places and walk the streets of Santo Domingo. I will need to return some day, and complete what feels vastly unfinished. There is mystery in this place that exhausts me in questioning.
A snow storm approaches the east coast of the United States. Our cancelled flight to Philadelphia ends us taking a plane to Charlotte followed by a winding train all the way up to NYC. In a course of 30 hours I sleep a lot as I go from the tropical island of warmth, jump high over the ocean, and rattle through forest, rural, town centers, and ever gathering snow. It is a moderated and beautiful trade off that feels like a prolonged dream of landscapes and moving people.
It is a group of small children, mostly girls looking at me through the glass door. A mini mob.
“What’s she making?”
“She must practice a lot”
“It looks like she’s almost done”
“Yeah she is definitely writing something”
guessing along with my hand
"Doo….” shrieks of laughter “doo doo!”
“Look she’s using pink!”
“19.99….she’s selling it?”
With a chuckle, I hold up the real doormat to show them. They are surprised to find out I can hear them, but it doesn’t phase them for a second. “Oh…….its an advertisement!”
My turn to be surprised that they know such a big word.
My dear friend Julie was also my roommate in college and my domestic partner on Facebook for years, something that always made me smile. I could write an entry about all our special times and laughs and cries together, but most of it wouldn't make sense to anyone other than us. We watched ghost shows, had a fish named Puppy, helped each other through some of the stupidest decisions of our young lives, and slept a mere foot apart. That bond is intense.
When we first moved into our Berks apartment near campus, Julie and I were trying to decide what art to hang on the wall. Referencing a quick painting I had done of a marigold, she decided that was what she wanted on our walls and that I should make more paintings to go along with it. While I never got around to it, I always remembered that moment especially when beginning to truly invest in and share my visual art. Julie is one of those rare gifts of a friend who never ceases to believe in me chasing my dreams and true purpose, whose well of pride never depletes, and whose belief in me being talented can always be counted on. As an artist it is something I never want to take for granted.
As a present this Christmas I created the paintings I meant to years ago. I painted these with acrylic and palette knife. Each type of flower represents a different aspect of Julie and her wonderful character. Thank you wonderful lady for the inspiration :)
Rocking thoughts is a serious of short observations made on the New York subway. An interesting cross section and environment that is truly and as much this city.
It is critical to know when women's movements have failed or could have done better, whether it be in reaching their audience, coping with infighting, or especially when they were not and needed to be more inclusive. I believe that only by learning from past mistakes and listening to the outcry of all groups of women today, can we truly form a movement that will attempt to work for all women regardless of sexuality, age, race, and/or class.
I have gathered a series of quotes that I found helpful and worth sharing. This is the first in a series that will feature books that are shaping me as an artist and activist right now.
There were important reminders for women of multiple generations.
"Today many disavow the term 'feminist,' but often what is being rejected is a narrow and distorted version of feminism that bears little resemblance to the rich and varied feminist philosophies of the past. Many who do not use and even reject the term 'feminism,' have nevertheless been feminists--that is, they have been part of the long struggle for women's rights." (page xvii)
"Anne Draper's (a garment worker organizer, 1971) call for a living wage still resonates in the twenty-first century, as does the larger reform agenda of her generation of social justice feminists. They believed in sex equality and would have applauded the progress women today have made toward that goal. At the same time, they remind us that the women's movement needs to be about more than sex equality. Economic disparities among women are extreme in the twenty-first century, and without decent jobs and sufficient income, dignity and real freedom for most women will remain elusive. They wanted to make it possible for women and men to have fuller, more satisfying lives at home and on the job. It's still not too much to ask." (page 64-65)
"The single most important feminist theoretical contribution to social theory was the concept of gender, i.e., the social structures and meanings attributed to sex difference. Distinguishing social from biological factors, 'gender' would ultimately give rise to many other challenges to practices once believed to be natural. Even discriminatory practices were often considered the inevitable consequences of being a woman....To speak of gender signaled that women's subordinate position was not natural but socially, economically, and culturally constructed. Understanding sexism as learned--taught, like racism, to children from their earliest years--meant that it could be unlearned. It followed that what had been constructed by humans could be deconstructed and replaced with greater freedom and equality." (Page 85)
There were many reminders that spoke directly to my involvement with feminism today and my need to do better.
"Despite their best intentions and despite their conscious opposition to racism, their priorities and assumptions sometimes blinded them to the situation of women of color and poorer women." (Page 92)
And sections that spoke to my everyday life these days, and our most recent experience at the polls (even though this book was published in 2014).
"Women are told they are empowered and that no obstacles remain in their path, yet each day they face covert and overt sexist attitudes--as well as epidemic rates of gendered violence--that confirm that this is still very much a man's world. Girls grow up believing that one day they can be president of the United States, but we have yet to elect a woman president (or vice president), women remain a disproportional minority in the U.S. Congress, and those who run for office often face virulent misogyny that sends the message that politics is still an old boy's club." (page 169)
And in a quote from Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier, "We need a feminism that is dedicated to a radical, transformative political vision, a feminism that does not shy away from hard work but recognizes that changing the world is a difficult and necessary task, a feminism that utilizes the new technologies of the Internet, the playful world of fashion, and the more clear-cut activism of protest marches, a feminism that can engage with issues as diverse as women's sweatshop labor in global factories and violence against women as expressed in popular music." (page 172)
The next book featured will be The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
I think of my Father every time it snows. He usually calls me, Boston to New York.
“How is it?”
“Good. I got a snow day!”
“Nice. You go for a walk?”
At some point during the day I bundle up and hold the door for my superintendent who shovels on and off throughout the day. In and out, in and out.
He says, “Thank you.” I reply, “No, thank YOU,” with a gesture toward his shovel as we exchange a smile.
I never found the words to describe the feeling I experience when first starting out into a snow filled world. I find I’m still just like a child experiencing it for the first time. That pure joy, unlike any other, has never left me.
I plow through the many sections of yet to be shoveled sidewalks, with just a few solitary individuals and service vehicles braving the white sprinkled evening. I’ve never heard 145th so quiet. This version. A different side to the neighborhood and city.
And I think, in this place with so many different experiences that this weather so special to me, is a terrifying inconvenience to others without home, heat, and/or assistance.
Looking down at my mens’ work boots that are a size too big, I am brought back again to thoughts of my Dad. I got this pair of boots back in the 8th grade to emulate the man who owned what was probably 10 pairs of construction boots, but feels like 30 in my memory.
Working “with the tools,” he always claimed to need a variety: some broken in, and some new, others light, or warm for cold weather, and breathable for the summer months, some for the job and still more for work around both homes he built for us.
What I come from and where I walk now, is somehow wrapped intimately in the memory of those boots.
A young woman calls out, “It’s easier to walk in the street!”
“Thanks, I bet,” but I know I won’t move over. I relish the opportune challenge of the sidewalk piled high, and the footprints of neighbors that came before. People come and go to the faithful bodega, always open no matter the weather. I see the plows cruising by, imagining the frustration in one pass, but no matter how many times it takes the roads will be cleared by morning, ready for our busy commutes.
“Can I eat New York snow?” I think.
I was the child constantly eating the snow, obsessed with the sensation. The debate inside is loud: heart yes, head no. Dad's tip? "Don't eat yellow snow," not so helpful in the current situation.
A particularly high drift reminds me of a storm on Gordon Road, where our first house was.
On a curving back street through small suburban houses loaded with white fluff, little me must walk in the street to keep up with my Father’s long strides. It is still snowing on this dark night, when the sky flashes a muted green. My Dad, ever the one explaining my surroundings, tells me it is lighting. I accept the knowledge openly, even without hearing a thunder clap. If there is a weather love stronger than snow within me, it is of windy thunder storms (but that’s a story dedicated to my Mother). This childhood evening has become the perfect combination of magic forecast.
My Dad and I approach an electrical truck getting ready to raise its bucket and of course we stop to check it out. He likes to be always in the know, best informed.
He stops sharp and throws out his arm in front of me,
With a point down he exclaims, “See the wire?”
There are thick black electrical snakes curling into the soft snow, fallen from their posts above.
“Well that’s live electricity…”
There is a ring of light around the spot where each wire disappears, the color of yellow-green glow stick, it compliments the lightning still flashing above.
He sums it up for me, “Pretty cool, huh?”
Back in my own apartment, I spread my clothes and boots along the heater, just as I once did on the boiler in the basement of our family home. Drying out for another adventure maybe tomorrow.
I chose three settings from different cities that are close to my heart and imagination, Cork City, Boston, and of course New York. The backgrounds are done with watercolors while objects in the foreground are in pastel for the texture.
AND, one of my chalkboard creations for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum was recently used by Ilya Marritz for WNYC Radio as a banner for a short interview with the Head of Education. It was a pleasant surprise to find.
It is 11pm. A family gets on the D train, all dressed up and heading to wherever home is.
They are quiet, the two children indulging in sleepiness.
The young boy sits by his dad near the window and before the father is even done adjusting to sit, the boy leans into him. They wiggle and maneuver until the child, legs curled on seat, head resting on dad’s stomach is comfortable. They are a pair in matching dress pants and leather shoes.
The even younger girl, sits with her mother and tries to imitate her sibling, but with no train wall to brace her feet against, it isn’t quite as graceful. She keeps having to switch position as the tulle skirt of her dress slips along the smooth orange seat. She is so tired that she sleeps through all her own movement.
This little family makes me so happy in their dress clothes and warm winter coats. I don’t know what kind of evening they are coming from, but it reminds me of the New York City version of when my family would get all dressed up to go see a holiday musical. The magic of a special night together. Feeling all grown up, staying up late, and beautiful in fancy clothes.
This family speaks Spanish to each other as they head uptown. The woman makes eye contact with me and we smile across the aisle. She knows I have been watching her little ones doze off.
Is this a family that will be in danger in the coming months? I am not sure. I don’t know this particular family’s story, but there are so many like them that may need protecting. My heart is prepared to stand up, support, and help in whatever way it can, but have I taken the responsibility of gathering the tools I will need to make this desire into a reality. What exactly is at stake? What resources will be needed to make sure these children grow up in love and safety?
The mom eventually picks up the daughter and cradles her child on her lap between two arms. Dad supports her stretched out feet with one hand. For many stops they hold this position, without letting go of the magical night they have created together.
Rocking thoughts is a serious of short observations made on the New York subway. An interesting cross section and environment that is truly and as much this city.
"There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee. No two alike. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative ventures." -Julia Cameron