I recently, within the past week, completed Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I should have read this book when it was written in 2010 but better late than never, right? It is an eye-opening masterpiece on how mass incarceration and systemic racially targeted policies not only trapped or traps black people in an unjust system “legal” system but how it changes the dynamics of how we feel about ourselves as a people.
Hence, the last statement is the purpose of my blog. I usually wait for information in my research before I make a statement. Well, yesterday I didn’t do that. In Chicago, a West African, US Citizen, and marine veteran was pushed into an incoming train and murdered in a South Loop Redline Station in Chicago. I didn’t wait for a report, I didn’t wait for a video. I automatically assumed that one of our young men, unable to control their emotions, not knowing how to process de-escalation after someone walks away from a verbal altercation, and has no idea how to get a handle on their anger was the perpetrator.
As I rose to prepare for worship and celebrate the Resurrection of my Lord on this great day in Christendom, I also noticed an alert that 18 year-old, Ryan Munn, had been arrested and charged for murder. I had already made up in my mind that an African-American or Latino-American youth had committed this heinous crime.
But, this blog isn’t about the murder, it’s about the erroneous assumptions and biases that I have against my own people. The same young men I mentor to be cautious of their surroundings I find that I am helping them build and reinforce perpetual stereotypes. They are wiser than me, more adept of younger community culture and would probably say “Mr. Briscoe, it’s all good, we understand.” Yet, if I don’t shift my mindset towards those young Black men I don’t know and keep assuming the worst, I will never break the cycle of self-hatred inflicted on us by forces that have put us in the condition, put the knife in our hand and causes us to continually blame ourselves for our own problems. That’s not a pass on being better and improving our lives. We have a responsibility which should start with best intentions. It doesn’t mean we don’t call out inner-community crime statistics (as all communities of racial makeups have).
The New Jim Crow has pushed me to really think about oppressive forces, discrimination, racism, and systemic policies that have caused my people to suffer greatly. In the 90’s I worked at a brokerage firm and I knew guys who snorted cocaine who would never be caught by the police and if they were they’d get a slap on the wrist. While people in my community, on crack – cocaine in a solidified form – were arrested, setup, convicted, and sentenced to excessive prison sentences. This book has put a mirror of reflection to how I must address my thoughts differently and deal with facts and not fiction.
I close with the hardest part of this revelation of facts in this tragic murder. I shared with my daughter the assumption I made associating this crime with our people. I told her always get the facts and don’t fall into the societal pressures that have made us criticize our people without looking through the lens of the creators of these conditions that have wreaked havoc on our community. As we commemorate the Resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus), I also celebrate the resurrection of my thought life to commit to assuming best intentions while dealing with the harsh realities of “Black” plight. Rest on to my fallen veteran brother, Mamadou Balde, from West Africa, a citizen of the United States of America, and a son lost to violence.